A Eulogy to Flash

With many of the big platforms rounding on Adobe’s Flash and September 1st being the start of its probable real decline I wanted to raise my hand and say how much I loved Flash, and that without it, I wouldn't have had the career I've had.

I owe that little application, and the community of people around it, a lot.

My relationship with Flash (sounds personal I know, but this is a Eulogy right…) started near the end of last century. As an ex-advertising creative, then working as a social worker, a documentary about Antirom ignited an interest in interactive art. I can't find a reference to it now but I can remember some people scanning physical objects and making something interactive with them. It was then a short journey to buying a used Mac of questionable provenience loaded with Macromedia Director. Director’s heavy plug-in Shockwave, quickly turned me to Flash as it was more suited to creating interactive art and content for the then emerging web.

It was in a tiny little tab in Flash 4's movie clip called ‘Actions’ that I found Flash’s hidden beauty — ActionScript. This opened me up to the possibilities of code. I spent ages with no knowledge of code on a 33k modem trying to learn what it could do. That spirit of just trying stuff led to lots of happy accidents between timeline and code and I enjoyed making art move as it felt like back then. After sticking my hand up one day to put myself forward for creating an interactive screensaver with little understanding of how I would create it, it felt like a good time to go back to a career on the outskirts of advertising.

It was very much a time in a fledgling ‘digital’ industry where experimentation was encouraged. Often you didn’t know how you would begin to create what you were being asked to create, but you felt like just about anything was possible.

But this uncomfortable child of animation software mixed with code that started life called FutureSplash, really came together properly for the first time in Flash 5, when ActionScript was introduced more formally. This coincided with the relatively new designer-orientated publisher, Friends of Ed (now Apress) launching two notable books. The New Masters of Flash by Yugo Nakamura et al blew all of us away, showing what could be done if you really understood code, and how to use it. The other was Foundation ActionScript by Sham Bhangal. Finally a book that helped us non-programmers get our heads far enough around code (and maths) to make what we were dreaming up.

New Masters of Flash

I owe a lot to Sham. He, probably more than anyone, gave me the first accessible way to blend art and code.

Flash has been through a number of iterations. From its heritage of blending art and code, through to trying to be a grown up application for creating web interfaces (Flash MX on which I was a beta tester), right back to a tool for creativity again. Even now if we want to prototype something fast to see how, or if it works, we turn to Flash. We've connected it to physical sensors, Kinect, hardware, made augmented reality software with it, integrated it into film, you name it… there’s not many applications that can do all of that with a pool of people willing to help and share experiences.

Whilst it got bad press sometimes as the application that created the millions of banners we suffer daily, and it’s excessive loading times, I believe Flash was the birthplace of creative technology. At a recent event with creatives and technologists a presenter asked the audience to put up their hand if they were an ex Flash developer. Well over half the room had it’s hand in the air.

There’s a lot of people at senior levels in the creative industries that either started their career with Flash, or it radically changed our paths for the better. There’s always the argument that the intellectual property is in the idea — especially in advertising. But those with a deep seated understanding of technology and creativity know that having this understanding and knowledge can properly help you have digitally cultured ideas, not just ideas that are executed in digital.

Without Flash I would never have taken the journey I have of connecting creativity and technology and had the great fortune of making a career out of something that I love.

Although no one seriously looks at Flash anymore for commercial development in the if else statements that have decided the paths of my life, I'm pretty glad I got to meet Flash.

Goodbye Flash. I owe you one. And so do a lot of others I know.

Here’s a nod to all my Flash heros.

Yugo Nakamura

Sham Bhangal

Brendan Dawes

The late Arnaud Mercer

Joshua Davis and Praystation


Aral Balkan

Jared Tarbell and Levitated

Jim McNiven and Kerb

Rob Corradi and Preloaded

Andries Odendaal

Daniel Brown

Todd Purgason

Michael Cina

Vassilios Alexiou and Less Rain

Nicolas Roope

Thomas Roope

The late Andy Cameron

Steven Bennett-Day is Group Executive Creative Director for Havas helia. An eternal optimist who loves creativity and technology but feels lucky that the one thing technology cannot solve is a lack of imagination. @sbd.

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