Flash cartoons

Web Design & Development Guide

Flash cartoons


A Flash animation or Flash cartoon is an animated film which is created using Adobe Flash animation software and often distributed in the .swf file format. It can be created in Flash or with other programs capable of writing .swf files. The term Flash animation not only refers to the file format but to a certain kind of movement and visual style which, in many circles, is seen as simplistic or unpolished. However, with dozens of Flash animated television series, countless more Flash animated television commercials, and award-winning online shorts in circulation, Flash animation is enjoying a renaissance.

In the late 1990s, when for most Internet users, bandwidth was still at 56 kbit/s, many Flash animation artists employed limited animation or cutout animation when creating projects intended for web distribution. This allowed artists to release shorts and interactive experiences well under 1mb, which could stream both audio and high-end animation. One example is the first episode of The Goddamn George Liquor Program released in 1999, rendered at only 628kb.

Some hallmarks of poorly-produced Flash animation are jerky natural movements (seen in walk-cycles and gestures), auto-tweened character movements, lip-sync without interpolation, and abrupt changes from front to profile view. Although Flash is able to integrate bitmaps and other raster-based art, as well as video, most Flash films are created using only vector-based drawings which often result in a somewhat clean graphic appearance.

Flash animations are typically distributed by way of the World Wide Web, in which case they are often referred to as Internet cartoons, online cartoons, or webtoons. Web Flash animations may be interactive and are often created in a series. A Flash animation is distinguished from a Webcomic, which is a comic strip distributed via the Web, rather than an animated cartoon.

Today, Flash animations are being more and more widely used in the multiuser community with flash generators and embeded videos in user's profiles across the internet. Many popular remakes are appearing over and over again with the growing success in a less pioneered subject. Youtubes are poping up over the internet with google video and myspace video, and flash generators are too numerous to count. Many of the flash generators are now used for webmasters in menu creators but the dynamic lipsyncing flash characters and font to image manipulators are still the most dominant.

Simple animation in Flash MX; a square moving across the screen in a motion tween, one of the basic functions of Flash.
Simple animation in Flash MX; a square moving across the screen in a motion tween, one of the basic functions of Flash.


The first prominent use of the Flash animation format was by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi. He embarked on a mission to bring cartoons to the Internet. Kricfalusi employed George Liquor (a fictional character rumored to have ended Kricfalusi's employment on Ren & Stimpy) and his dim-witted nephew Jimmy the Hapless Idiot Boy on their own Internet program titled The Goddamn George Liquor Program. Later, John produced more animated projects with Flash including several online shorts for Icebox.com, television commercials, and a music video. Soon after that, web cartoons began appearing everywhere.

The Von Ghouls went live in November 1999, featuring the first music group with cartoon episodes online including original songs, in the vein of Saturday morning cartoons of the 1970s. A number of popular portal sites featured Flash animation during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, including Icebox, MondoMedia, CampChaos, MediaTrip, and AtomFilms. Stan Lee of Marvel Comics launched an animated comics site.

The Internet also saw the proliferation of many adult-only Flash cartoon sites. Some of the shows from that period made the transition to traditional media, including Queer Duck, Gary the Rat, Happy Tree Friends, the politically-minded JibJab shorts and the popular Homestar Runner. Occasionally, the trend has been reversed: after being canceled from both ABC and Fox, Atom Films created net-only episodes of The Critic in 2000-2001. In another instance, Flash almost made the transition to the big screen. In 2001, production began on what would have been the first Flash-animated feature film, the ill-fated "Lil' Pimp," which also began life as an Internet series. As potentially controversial as its subject matter was, it had a relatively large budget, a number of well-known actors (including William Shatner, Bernie Mac, and Lil Kim), a full crew, and a running time of nearly 80 minutes. Although Sony Pictures decided not to release the film, it was eventually released on DVD by Lion's Gate.

Several recording companies experimented with releasing animated music videos to promote their artists' releases online, including Madonna, the Beastie Boys and Tenacious D, however none became the hit that allowed for the expansion of Flash animated music videos. Adam Sandler and Tim Burton among others, released original Internet-only animated works, but were not able to devise successful financial models and the trend dissipated, largely as a result of a lack of viable micropayment systems.

Several popular online series are currently produced in Flash, such as the Emmy Award-winning Off-Mikes, produced by ESPN and Animax Entertainment and Gotham Girls, produced by Warner Brothers.

Many animated television series are produced using Macromedia Flash, inspired by both the comparatively low cost of production and the unique style that can be achieved with the software, including Metalocalypse, Being Ian, Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, Happy Tree Friends, Odd Job Jack, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, the BBC Three show Monkey Dust, Yin Yang Yo, Aaagh! It's the Mr. Hell Show and Queer Duck from Showtime, and Shorties Watching Shorties on Comedy Central.

Other television series, such as Home Movies and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, both broadcast on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block, have switched to Flash from other animation technology.

Many animation film festivals have responded to the popularity of Flash animation by adding separate categories in competition for "web cartoons" or "Internet cartoons." Additionally, several exclusively web-based Flash competitions have been established. It is speculated that only the category "made for Internet" will survive, as competitions at animation film festivals are typically arranged in categories defined by film length and distribution channel, rather than by animation techniques or tools used to create the films.

Timeline - First Flash Projects on Television

Year Project Notes
2000 The Rosie O'Donnell Show - Opening Titles For the 2000 and 2001 seasons, the show opens were created by Bullseye Art, which has spun off into a company called Magic Butter. These titles were nominated for a daytime Emmy for 'Main Title Design.'
2000 Breakup Girl This aired on the Oxygen Network in March 2000 as part of the "X-Chromosome" block a sort of female Liquid Television overseen by Kit Laybourne and Machi Tantillo.
2001 Ollie's Under The Bed Adventures This was a half-hour special on Teletoon in March, which eventually spawned the series now known as Olliver's Adventures.
2001 Quads! In November of 2001, this series launched on Australia's Special Broadcasting Service network.
2001 TV Warehouse The title sequence for this BBC program was produced in Flash by Elephant Egg.
2002 Meena One hundred minutes of a series of Public Service Annoncements (PSA's) for the project Meena were animated by Future Thought Productions for UNICEF Asia.
2002 The Proud Family Shorties These episodes of The Proud Family were animated at Hyperion Pictures under the Animobile label. Two episodes were animated by Animax Entertainment (The Beach and The Picnic).
2002 Home Movies The second season of this series was produced in Flash.
2002 ˇMucha Lucha! The first US network Flash series.
2002 The Mr. Dink Show Canada’s first broadcast Flash production.
2002 Bobinogs On BBC Two Wales.
200? Xiao Xiao #3 A stickfigure animation shown on MTV
200? Stroker and Hoop Canceled Adult Swim series.

Timeline - Other Flash Animated TV Series

Year Project Notes
2003 Chilly Beach Launched on CBC Television, this became one of the first Flash productions to make the move from online "webisodes" to national TV.
2006 Yin Yang Yo The Second Disney series made entirely in Flash.
2006 Pucca A Flash series based on a series of online shorts produced by VOOZ in South Korea. The TV series is produced by Studio B in Canada.
2006 Chaotic A Flash series based on the story of the original Chaotic Trading Card Game.

Timeline - First Flash Feature Film Projects (Theatrically Released)

Year Project Notes
2005 The Golden Blaze Directed by Bryon E. Carson, starring the voices of Blair Underwood and Michael Clarke Duncan, had a limited theatrical run making it the first flash animated film to be released on the big screen.
2006 Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss Former Disney animator Phil Nibbelink took 4 1/2 years to make it and he drew 112,000 frames with a Wacom tablet directly into Flash 4, in combination with Moho.
2006 That Darn Jesus An animated segment of nineteen minutes produced at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and HD 1080 (1920 px X 1080 px) for the movie Universal Remote by Future Thought Productions.

Flash Animation Distribution

While the creation of animation using Flash can be easier and less expensive than traditional animation techniques, the amount of time, money, and skill required to produce a project using the software depends on the chosen content and style. Internet distribution is considerably easier and less expensive than television broadcasting, and websites such as Newgrounds and UGOplayer provide free hosting. Many Flash animations are created by individual or amateur artists, although it does require some amount of technical knowledge to create a notable work with the software. Many Flash animations first distributed on the web became popular enough to be broadcast on television, particularly on such networks as MTV and G4TV.

Flash Animation in Professional Studios

Flash animation production is enjoying considerable popularity in major animation studios around the world, as animators take advantage of the software's ability to organize a large number of assets (such as characters, scenes, movements, and props) for later re-use. Because Flash files are in vector file format, they can be used to transfer animation to 35 mm film without any compromise in image quality. This feature is used by several independent animators world-wide, including Phil Nibbelink, who saw his 77-minute feature film Romeo & Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss released in theaters in 2006.

Creating Flash animation from other software

There are a number of other software packages available that can create output in the .swf format. Among these are Animo, (Cambridge Animation Systems), Toon Boom Studio, Toufee, Celaction and Anime Studio (previously named Moho from Lost Marble, now eFrontier). These front-ends often provide additional support for creating cartoons, especially with tools more tailored to traditionally-trained animators, as well as additional rigging for characters, which can speed up character animation considerably. Additionally, there are programs available which translate 3D information into 2D vectors. There are loads of flash designers all around the globe, of which quite a few are mentionable. Neostream appointed 8 designers worldwide to create their site of which the leading designer was ABM Kamran, a boy of 17 from Bangladesh.

OSFlash hosts a number of different open source methods of dealing with Flash animation.

External links

  • Newgrounds: Everything, by Everyone The biggest repository of user-submitted Flash animation in the world. People are free to submit their own Flash work, or browse the thousands of submissions.
  • Homestar Runner - A flash animation site very popular for its web cartoons and games.
  • JibJab - A collection of flash cartoons popularized by a parody of Woodie Guthrie's This Land is Your Land for the 2004 presidential election.
  • Flash Cartoons - One of the first flash cartoon sites, original cartoons, tutorials on animation.

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