As ActionScript has gotten more powerful, some simple animation operations in Flash have gradually required more code, as opposed to the “shorthand” of earlier versions. Meanwhile, the open source Processing project has built a simple, elegant language based on Java that’s powerful, yet surprisingly accessible to non-programmers — and free.
Brevity is sort of “Flash Strikes Back”; see a nice write-up by blog.blprnt.com. It reduces common animation tasks to simple, readable snippets of code, so you can animate more quickly and more easily, and create complex, but highly-efficient animations of elements like particle systems. Interestingly, part of what appears to make this possible is the developments in ActionScript 3.0, on which Brevity is based. (That’s an important note, or you’ll do what I did, and wonder why the samples aren’t working. They require Flash Player 9.) Certainly, as I’ve noted earlier, having integers for loops will make animations of iterative elements like particle systems much more efficient. Brevity compiles code using the AS3 compiler, much as Processing takes advantage of the Java compiler.
But this is a waste of time, because you can just use Processing for free, right? Well, there are several reasons you might want both Processing and Flash. First, there’s the distribution method: there are times when you want SWF files or projectors and don’t want to have to deal with Java. More importantly to me, though, Processing and Flash still excel at different things: Flash is more optimized than Processing for certain kinds of 2D drawing operations, whereas Processing is still better at intensive calculations. That fact is acknowledged by Processing’s creators, but you can easily see some examples of what works better on each platform. I also like that Keith Peters, one of the great Flash animators, is co-creator. And since speed and elegance are the aim, I think this could be very useful for creating animations, some of which are still faster to create and code in Flash than in Processing.
It’s still a little early to consider Brevity for any serious work; it’s at “proof of concept” stages at this point. Then again, Flash 9 won’t be out until 2007, so we all have time to learn these tools and refine our work in them. (Enjoy life! Take it easy! Go the beach!)
I’m working with Processing and Flash now alongside one another, so expect a report early in fall on each of these, as well as Brevity. (Yeah, I’m slow, but I’m also doing that whole music thing. Send your recommendations for caffeine and other stimulants, preferably legal and safe, c/o the editor.)