Peter Luining

Peter Luining: I’m: she told my name already. I’m Peter Luining I studied philosophy in Groningen and after my study it didn’t work out to well with getting publications, so I then started to mess with computers around text editors and started to do text animation and at some point a friend of mine proposed to show these animations. At this point I became apart of the VJ scene in Amsterdam. This VJ work was not really satisfactory. I really put a lot of time into the animations and then I started to do my own videos and then at a certain point I discovered the internet. I think it was 1995, that was the first time I saw the internet, and experienced the easy interactivity, and the large amount of people you could reach on the internet using HTML and sound files.

I was always interested in sound and interactivity. The ease of being able to put some sound on a site put some links on a site; you clicked on a link and then you had more links, and these were the basis for the first primitive sound animations I made. These are some of the first interactive things I did with the internet.

I think another important note here in this story is that when I started to do things on the internet they were autonomous, so I didn’t earn money with it. Also it is important to know that when I started to do these autonomous things I started to forget about my philosophical training and I favored working from my intuition, feeling, and what I knew from art history. So I’ll just start with some early works of mine.

I’ll start with a piece I did for the Life Saver site in 1999, for the VPRO. This site is still online. This is a Flash piece; you have to click on these blocks.

My work developed further sound and interactive pieces.

After that period I developed more and more of these kinds of works, with more interactivity on based on the internet. At a certain point I did a large assignment for the Department of Justice in Holland. This was sort of an anchor point in my development. With this assignment I started to think about the material and the code that I was working with. This led me to develop a browser. This is a browser that translated HTML code directly, each character into ASCII code, and then played in sound the ASCII code. You type in a URL. What you see here is the number of characters of the URL being converted into ASCII and then played in sound.

I will now start with the history of Flash. I will start with some pre-historic nodes. First you could say the father of Flash is Jonathan Gay. He was a programmer and he worked on several games throughout the 80s and early 90s. He also worked on the Aldus project, which was a very early vector based program. He founded with Charlie Jackson a company called FutureWave in 1993 which was really focused on making a drawing program for a pen computing OS, that they believed would be, at that time, the future.

At this time there was already a company called Go, that were developing software for an operating system aimed at pen computing, like Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s) now days you have them everywhere.

This is the interface; I couldn’t get anything about this program online. There are no pictures I just have here a picture of the interface of the Penpoint OS by the Go Corporation which promised to be the next greatest thing. This was the first commercial device it’s called NCR3125, which used the Penpoint OS.

The company FutureWave worked on a drawing program for this operating system. The application was called Smart Sketch. But already in 1994, AT&T had taken over the Go; here it is, the AT&T EO Personal Communicator 440 and it ran the Penpoint OS, but by the time Smart Sketch was ready AT&T pulled the plug, and Smart Sketch the vector graphics program was left with no market anymore.

So Charlie Jackson and Jonathan Gay were very stubborn and thought they would port the software to Mac OS, they wanted to make the Smart Sketch program Mac OS and Window OS compatible. By this time they were competitors with the Adobe Illustrator program, which is still, I think, the most important drawing program. But stubborn as they were they kept developing it and they really transformed it into an animation program. Luckily for them, in the fall of 1995, Netscape was developed with the first API so that people could write programs for Netscape. Before that you had Java, but Java was very slow in animations. Jackson and Gay really changed Smart Sketch into a very fast and swift animation program with vector graphics, this was way faster than Java.

They then changed the name from Smart Sketch, to FutureSplash Animator, I can show you, it looked like this. It looked effectively the same as Flash. The FutureSplash Animation was quite successful right from the beginning. MSN used it and also Disney online, and it was shipped in May 1996 and in December 1996 it was then sold to Macromedia and re-branded as Macromedia Flash.

Here I’ll just show you the interface, you can hardly see anything different, the only thing that changed from the FutureSplash Animator was the file format, which was called SPL in the first version and it became SWF. If pronounced it sounds like, “swif”, which stands for Shockwave Flash Format.

Okay, now to my own experience. I started to work with Flash in early 1997 and one of the main reasons for me was, at that time I was working with sound and animation, and it was really the compatibility between Mac and PC; at that time there was no talk about Microsoft Explorer, Java was really slow; with this program the ability to really create something on one platform that looked the same on another, was one of my main reason to try Flash.

Another reason was that it was quite easy to use. I will show you how easy it is to do something with Flash.

I’m opening Flash 4, for people who are not really into Flash.

You can insert buttons, first I set one button, then I open the library and set another button, and then I go back to the scene. You drag this to the scene. I make another layer. Okay I’m going too fast here I think. I think I will make it blue, a blue block. I drag it over here. Then you can insert a “keyframe” here. Then insert a keyframe over here. Then you can really start to animate this thing. Just move this to here. And then you animate this one and move that to here. And then you can give the command, “motion tween”, by that you create motion between here and here. If you play it you have your animation.

To show how very seriously easy it is to animate something even further. Insert a keyframe here; insert a blank keyframe here and then you go to…


Audience: [Laughter]

Peter Luining: Okay, my batteries are fully charged. It’s a cool voice.

We’ll do some more with sound effects. We go to the standard sound library and we’ll do a simple sound effect. We just drag and drop that on this point, and then we can animate it and now we have an animation with sound if we play it.

This is how easy you can do something with Flash. I just wanted to show this.

Another thing about Flash that was really quite new was the speed. Because it was very small it compiled very quickly. It also had unique streaming capabilities from the start.

Another thing and perhaps more important was that Flash had right from the beginning small communities of users that were very helpful. If you used Flash it was important to share. It was really sort of open source, not like UNIX, Flash wasn’t in this sense open source, but it did have communities and people sharing their code, and that was really helpful. Also code, if it was not compiled code was called FLA, spoken like “fla”. These small communities grew bigger and bigger up to today where this sharing is still very important.

Right now I am going to one of the biggest Flash sharing sites called FlashKit. I’m going to go now to the open movies section to show what is shared here, and here you can see a bunch of open source movies, 753 animations; there are applications and interfaces. Here I will just take one interface, I don’t know what will happen, but you can look at it, ah it is 5 megabytes, so I will stop this and go for something else. People can also rate how good something is. Maybe this is interesting, “Islam At a Glance”, this is a small movie; it already runs, this is an interface, but like I said you can download the open source movie, you can extract the sounds etc.

Another thing about Flash that is important is that Macromedia gave away the definition of Flash in October 1998 in a response to other competing formats, so that from this date, October 1998, all types of small Flash type programs came to the market, and reinforced the openness I described earlier.

The openness of the code really launched a series of programs that backed the industry. Another part of this industry was the Flash decompilers. Of course it was easy to get source resources and people were helpful, but there are always people who want to get it even easier and just want to rip off particular sites to get only that code. Within this context many Flash decompilers were built by Flash hackers and began to arrive on the market. As Flash grew more complex, by the use of ActionScript, which is a scripting language for Flash, many people built tools to get that code, and put those tools into the market.

One of the first decompilers was by Burack, it was called ActionScript viewer in which you can decompile the ActionScript, but before this he made commercial tools. He made Swifty tools that were open source and you can use to open up SWF code with it. These really appeared on the market right after Macromedia gave away the definition of Flash.

The latest tool in this market is Sothink. This is a Chinese company that made several different Flash formats. I will demonstrate how easy it is to use these tools. First I’ll open up Quicker, the interface looks nearly exactly the same as Flash itself. It extracts everything and anybody can hack into the code.

Now I will go to this site, here is a game site. Ah, lets take this one. This game we will hack. Also Quicker gives you the capability to add a button to Explorer and that makes it very easy to download this “Breakout” SWF file. Now it is downloaded to the directory SWF on my C drive. Then you just import this, and also there is a warning because this is illegal. So you get the warning, “The file has been protected by its author, continue importing this file anyway?” and then you just say, “Yes”, and now it is imported.

Now what you can do is change the name from “Breakout” to “decade of web design” and now you can preview it. Now the “Breakout” is gone. And we can hack the game even further by changing the background for example and we can make it slow; I’m just doing some very easy modifications. Change the frame rate to be very slow.

So this is also a part of the very open community.

Thinking about the downside, this is very open community, and easy hacking of code lead to an enormous use and abuse of people who just took the things they really liked, using only particular aspects of the code. So you really get a lot of stuff that spreads very quickly, even if it is bad design. I will now show you some sites from the early Flash period which seem to be annoying but…

This is how standard Flash files used to look and sound in 1998-99.

Of course there had to be an intro.

And after navigating this thing we are in the “Showroom” of this site.

Here you see the cool effects.

Okay, that’s one site.

Then you had a development into gradients. So everyone used gradients.

Again, the intro, which now has the option button “Skip Intro”.

Here Flash became very dominant and some experts like the famous Jakob Nielsen really were annoyed by Flash, and feared that the whole Internet would become a crazy un-navigatable mess. And through this came his famous article in 1999, Flash: 99% Bad. The point Jakob makes is that [Flash] it makes bad design more likely, using as an example the Splash Page. This is where the “Skip Intro” button is located. Back then everyone made these cool intro pages that you couldn’t avoid. And as early as 1998, someone already took the domain name skipintro and made a parody of this.

Another point Nielsen pointed out in Flash: 99% Bad article is that it breaks with web fundamentals like buttons, because everyone was designing their own buttons, and their own scroll bars. It really became a mess. Everyone wanted to use Flash, commercial companies wanted to have Flash, and everything was becoming Flash. But luckily for Nielsen designers became aware of this and started to use Flash in a much more subtle way.

Flash also became more refined because of new tools in Flash 4 and 5 especially with ActionScripts. ActionScripts were becoming more and more popular throughout 99-2001. You can see websites that began to make really cool things in Flash. Joshua Davis, mentioned here earlier, was one of these famous Flash Masters, or Flash Gurus. These superstars were the ones invited everywhere and they also shared their code because sharing your code is cool.

I’m just going to Praystation, which most of you know. Just clicking around. His whole site is made up of these kinds of effects. Here is a zip file where you can download the code if you want. So again this coolness and this sharing.

Also another special aspect of the Flash format is its vector graphics. Because it is vector based it is very easy to use in print. You can get very hi-res prints. So they also made very nice books.

I’ll now go to Jared Tarbell, who I think won the “Golden Micha” at the Ars Electronica, for web vision, or something like that. Here is another very cool graphic, and of course it is downloadable.

Flash really developed into a culture. There are Flash festivals and conferences where the stars are shown. Flash Forward, I think is the most important festival is held every year and it is actually next week in California.

I don’t have very much time, but I’d like to show some recent examples of Flash abuse. The first one is the legendary site, 010101, of the San Francisco MoMA. This site was changed one week after its release because nobody knew how it worked. They’ve changed it but it is still totally incomprehensible. This is also two years after Nielsen criticized Flash design. There is also a user-guide for this site.

The more actual example of Flash abuse is the Cassina website. Cassina is one of the most well know Italian furniture design companies, and even today it has one of these Flash sites where you can hardly enter the site. It starts with a pre-loader, and then there is this sound you can’t turn off. Now you have to wait. Now I’m going to the English version, where I again have to wait, and now there is the English pre-loader. Finally we’ve entered the world of Cassina and another loader, and you can see how slow it is and we are talking about a 2005 site. Now there is a map, but where is the furniture? Ah, contemporary furniture design 2005 series. Click on that, and you get the building with the different floors, and it takes time and time and more time.

Okay, the last thing I will close with one of my favorite series xiaoxiaomovies, or the Stick Man and it is a whole series about stick man and this is done in Flash.

Okay I’m finished.