Flash Sources

We had a showing of Nina Pasley’s fantastically animated “Sita Sings the Blues” here at DebConf last night. It’s great watching Creative Commons on the big screen and it was great to see Nina there and the reception she got for this and her meme shorts.

One question that we asked was what software was used to make all the artworks and as it turns out all the works were not made with Free and Open Source Software. So what is the problem?

Well Sita was made before Nina was aware of the FOSS community and any of the tools available, as so often happens. The workflows that one builds up as an artist is critical to how one thinks about making art and focusing creativity. It’s hardly surprising that an artist would be reluctant to change workflows.

But then there is the other problem of how to make the resources available in the original source files (available under CC-BY-SA) actually available in useful and open standard formats. Converting from swf to svg actually has more code written than to try and convert from fla to svg. Which is interesting.

FLA is the source format to Adobe Flash creator, it’s an OLE2 stream (Microsoft creation) which is often used for Microsoft’s binary office documents and other such files. It’s like a mini basic fat system inside the fla containing all the resources that make up the animation.

There is a tool in Ubuntu called ‘ripole’ but it doesn’t yet extract the contents of the fla sources successfully, libraries pole and libextract seem to do the same trick so perhaps it’s just some glue required. Perhaps the first step to being able to offer artists the transitioning tools to open standards is to extract the resources from fla files, either as an archive module (open it like a zip/tar file) or mount it as a local drive (bit like iso loop mounting). I favour the archive approach as you could extract all your resources and just keep them in a directory or re-tar them up for storage and distribution.

Obviously once this step is over there will be a conversion of the elements to open formats. But that probably is just another case of finding existing tools that convert swf and seeing how similar they are. We may even find some fla resources are actually just xml.

Update: With a python module and a lot of hacking, I’ve managed to decode all of the media in an fla into their component files. This includes the aif audio and the flash animated elements. Email me if your interested in the python script to do this.

6 thoughts on “Flash Sources

  1. Some links:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Flash#Related_file_formats_and_extensions
    http://wiki.benjaminwolsey.de/FLA_Format

    Basically you can either convert the FLA to an XML format using Adobe CS5 or implement decoding the binary FLA stuff based on the reverse engineered spec. I already mailed Karl/Nina about these options. The hard part is what to convert it to, she didn’t seem to like synfig in the post-film talk and I’m not sure it would even cover the stuff Sita uses.

  2. Paul Wise, I think the first thing to do is to get the data into an international standard that supports the most of what flash does. right now that’s svg (another Adobe product btw)

  3. This is wonderful, sorry I couldn’t respond until today – I was in Wisconsin.

    Is there any way we could set up a meeting or conference for this “Flash Migration” project? Does anyone in New York want to meet up? I was asked to write down what’s needed, but it would be so much more effective to show and tell. I am willing to start studying Synfig in hopes of migrating my work to it. A conference would be ideal – Synfig people could teach me faster, and I could show how I use Flash.

    Also at a conference I could demonstrate just how lost I am with command lines, to make it clear that most animators are totally dependent on GUIs. You can see firsthand how what’s simple and obvious to coders, is incomprehensible to most animators. I am willing to be taught of course, but basically I will astound you with my relative idiocy.

    I could make an upcoming short film part of this project. I could try to help raise money for the software development that way….

    Meanwhile, I could capture a screen video showing how I use Flash. Would that be useful?

    Much of Flash is useless to me; Actionscript is unnecessary for animation film production. I still use Macromedia Flash 8. Adobe has been disabling important export functions of Flash, to force users to use it with After Effects. For this reason and others I want to switch to Synfig or some other Free alternative. I’m sticking to my old Mac system as long as I can, but I know I can’t use Adobe versions of Flash.

    Familiarizing myself with Synfig will take some time, so please bear with me. If anyone in New York wants to show me the ropes, please get in touch.

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