Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Flash vs Animate: SYMBOLS

In ANIMATE, Symbols do pretty much the same thing as what they do in Flash, but there are some differences.

Here are the similarities:

In both FLASH and ANIMATE, Symbols are like containers that live in the Library and can be dragged out and reused. They have their own internal timelines and nested layers. You can have Symbols within Symbols. Symbols are important if you intend to use motion tweening or effect changes to a drawing over time. To edit a Symbol, double-click on it to be taken inside the Symbol. All instances will be edited too.

Off the top of my head, here are the main differences that I have noticed so far:

In FLASH: Symbols can be easily swapped out for other symbols. (select > properties >swap)
In ANIMATE: Symbols cannot be easily swapped for other symbols. You have to delete a symbol from the timeline and drag out the other symbol from the Library.

In FLASH: Symbols can be reused across different Scenes.
In ANIMATE, each file is ONE Scene (no multiple scenes per file) and the Symbols only exist in that scene and cannot be accessed from any other scene. If you want to reuse a drawing for another scene, you have to save it as a Template (.tpl) - which can contain Symbols. If you create a bunch of Symbols in one scene, save them in a .tpl and drag that .tpl out into another Scene, you can then access those Symbols, however.... ANIMATE will make a copies of those symbols in the Library. This can be useful or confusing.... like finding multiple identical copies of a Symbol in your Library....

Question: Is it safe to delete duplicates in the Animation Library? Will my other scenes will be affected?

In FLASH: When you convert a drawing on the stage to a Symbol, it appears in the Library becomes a Symbol right there and then. To convert several frames/layers to a Symbol you have to "Create New Symbol" and copy/paste those frames into the new empty Symbol and then make sure the Symbol is in the correct position on stage. There are different ways to do this.
In ANIMATE: Life is much much easier!!!! You can drag anything (one drawing or multiple frames/layers) from the timeline into the Symbol Library to Symbolize. One difference though is that the drawings and layers in your timeline don't get Symbolized right there and then. You have to delete what's on your timeline, and drag the Symbol out of the Library onto the timeline. Notice that the drawings automatically appear in the same position where they were created.

In FLASH: When you "break apart" a symbol, it becomes a Drawing Object. If you have multiple layers in your symbol, they all appear on the same layer when broken apart. You lose your symbol's timeline too.
In ANIMATE: When you "expand" a symbol, the internal layers and drawings are expanded on the timeline underneath the original symbol, with timeline intact!

In FLASH: Symbols can be positioned anywhere on the stage, with pivot points that you can edit knowing that other instances won't be affected.
In ANIMATE: Every symbol is registered to the position on the stage where it was created. This is useful when you are rigging a character and want body parts to always have the same placement to each other. It's not so useful if you accidentally move a symbol (without creating a keyframe) which could screw up your animation. All instances will shift out of place.

In FLASH: Instances of Symbols can be modified by the same tools that you use to modify all drawings. Scale, Skew, Flip ... you can also change Alpha and Tint.
In ANIMATE, Symbols are not visible in the program's Drawing View, only in the Camera View. This is kinda frustrating when you are constructing a character and want to use Symbols. (In the manual they suggest that you do ALL your drawing first, before converting to Symbols.. but this isn't really feasible to me.) To modify or move a symbol on specific frame, insert a keyframe on the timeline. With no keyframe, you will risk modifying the source symbol and all other instances of it on stage. (I learned this the hard way!) Similarly if you want to move the Symbol's pivot point for one frame, make sure you insert a keyframe first.

In FLASH: there are Graphic Symbols and Movie Clip Symbols. By default, these all "loop" when played.
In ANIMATE: All Symbols behave more like Flash's Movie Clips. They have their own layer (nothing else can exist on a Symbol's layer). They don't loop. You have to copy cells from the timeline and "Paste Cycle" to create the loops.

In FLASH: Using Symbols is efficient practice and keeps your file size down.
In ANIMATE: File size isn't affected whether you use Symbols or Drawings. Via this forum thread: "you can call back drawings that were previously made and this won't create anything new in the file structure (basically it will simply call an existing drawing regardless of it being in a symbol or not)."


  1. Nice article, I have a couple of thoughts though.

    -Instead of dragging in a new set of symbols, you can embed multiple versions of an object and then swap between them using the 'Cell' property window.

    -You can set the pivot points of symbols via the rotation tool. Make sure that the in the properties window 'Rotation pivot ' and 'Scale pivot' are the same, you shouldn't have any problems moving pieces around, even without setting a key frame.
    -By turning on the virtual light box(default 'L')you can see every object that is on your time line in drawing mode, this way you can build characters piece by piece.

    Looking forward to seeing what else goes up on the blog!

  2. Thanks, Stephen!

    Yes, I know about the Drawing Substitution window (without using symbols) and this is a very cool feature. I'll do a post on this soon.

    Re: Pivot points - thanks for this. I haven't looked at the Properties window... Will explore.

    RE: Lightbox. Yes! This is a cool feature. However, I find that the parts that have been symbolized don't show up in the Drawing View (lightbox or no lightbox). Am I missing something? Are you able to see Symbols in the Drawing/Lightbox view?

    Perhaps I should not have symbolized my body parts so quickly before finishing the full character construction but I'm still grappling with old Flash habits :)

  3. Very good! I have a question that nobody can answer me, can you help me?
    Working on Flash, I usually make a SCENE and finish I click the option STAGE SCENE and created another blank and there created the other part of my animation. Can I do it this way, much of the scenes I want. When I save these scenes saw one film.
    In Toon Boom can not do it, after I create my first part (do not know if the calls SCENE toon boom) how do I create a second, third, within the same project? Thank you!!

  4. do you have an idea about why i cannot view symbol when i double click on it? Only "edit symbol" command allows me to.