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Basic Flash Concepts and Terms

by Ron Kurtus (revised 24 July 2012)

Adobe Flash uses a movie-making metaphor in how they define their concepts and areas of their interface. The basic terms used to describe animation or Flash applications are movie, stage, and motion terms.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Movie metaphors

A Flash animation is called a Movie. A movie contains all the scenes, objects, effects and actions that make up the final animation.

In a real movie, you have a stage where the action takes place and a camera that takes the film.

On the stage are objects, such as actors and props.

The action is broken into scenes, which are


A movie is a collection of Scenes. Just as in a TV show or real movie, each scene may have a different background or camera angle. The plot of the movie flows from one scene to another. A simple animation would have a single scene.


A scene is a collection of Objects that animate over a number of Frames. When a scene is complete, all the objects are removed from the display and the movie automatically moves to the next scene. Typical objects are text objects and image objects, such as a picture of a car or person.

Stage metaphors

Following the movie-making metaphor, the work area for your Flash animations is called the Stage.

Objects—such as drawings, buttons or animations—are placed on the stage in Layers. This allows objects to be in front of other objects. It is also useful for breaking up effects into simple parts.

The very first layer (and the furthest back) is the Background. This layer is usually visible through a whole scene.

Film metaphors

The Timeline is the part of the interface where you can see the flow of a movie, as you would in examining the film of a movie. The Timeline consists of frames, events, actions, and effects.


The Timeline is similar to a strip of film for a movie. It is broken into individual frames that show events and actions.

Just as you could lay one strip of film on an other, you can have layers in the timeline, such that both are seen in the movie.


A Frame is a single time-slice of the Flash movie. It is a similar concept to a frame of a motion picture. Frames are seen in the timeline.

Events and actions

An Event is when something happens at a given time in the movie or as a result of a user action. A frame event occurs when the movie reaches the specified frame. Mouse events occur when the mouse interacts with an object in a scene.

The event will then trigger an Action, which can be used to control the flow of a movie or issue instructions to the browser. Typical actions include stop the movie at the current frame, go to the specified frame (and scene) in the movie, and tell the browser to load a Web address into the specified target HTML frame.


Effects are animations that change the appearance of an object over time.

A Simple Effect is where all components of an object move in unison. An example is when all images slide into view at one time.

Another simple effect is a Transformation of size, rotation and/or color.

Complex Effects are when several objects in a movie or when components of an object move independently (typically letters of a text object). Complex effects are usually done in layers. Some Flash rapid application development tools have complex text effects preprogrammed into one layer.


The basic metaphors used for Flash animations are classified as movies, stages and motion.

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