Customer Reviews: Flash Out of the Box
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As Macromedia has beefed up Flash with each revision, its capabilities have become very powerful and numerous. So much so that a comprehensive text on it can span a thousand pages. Which can be very forbidding to someone wanting to quickly learn enough to get started doing useful things. In response, Hoekman offers his book.

The blurb claims that you can come up to speed with this book faster than with any other Flash tutorial book. Take that claim with a grain of salt. A bit of marketing hype. But it is not totally unreasonable. For one thing, he avoids explaining every feature of Flash. There is a lot you don't need to know as a beginner. He shows basic and common operations. Starting with drawing simple graphics. Then doing animations. And moving onto imbuing interactive behaviour and putting in sound and streaming video. There are other tasks he goes into. But this should convey the essence of what he teaches you.

The book might be most useful as a companion to a Flash reference text.
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on December 19, 2004
This volume is neither an omnicomprehensive guide to every single tool or panel of the Flash IDE, nor is a beginner guide to Flash scripting language, ActionScript, but if you are totally new to Macromedia Flash, and you would like to start working with it and being productive in no time (possibly without having to go through a number of tedious thousands pages tomes), then look no further because this is really the textbook you were looking for.

Having experience in teaching Flash, I've been asked to be a tech reviewer for this book, because I do know how difficult could be for beginners to stay motivated, putting into practice what they have learned, when they are just taught each tools by its function, without the essential support of concrete examples on how to take the most of the combined use of them. What I find makes this book the excellent beginners guide it truly is, is its being goals centric, teaching the tools only when, and for the reason why, you actually need them, and offering more details only in sidebar boxes, without interrupting this way the practical exercise. More than this, each chapter presents extremely clear explanations and concise step by step instructions and illustrations, and is written in a colloquial manner, making the learning process easier to people new to Flash's terminology. If you already master animation and drawing techniques, and you are more interested in programming with ActionScript, then you should look for another title, but if you are new to Flash and, each time you open it, you really don't know where to start, than this is the ideal candidate for being your first ever text about that amazing tool Macromedia Flash is.
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on February 22, 2005
This book is succinct and personable with a great hands-on style. For visual learners as well as those who enjoy a more kinesthetic learning style, I highly recommend this book.

I'm a DW/CSS type person. With Flash and Flash video becoming more standard, I wanted at least a cursory knowledge of the program. But where to begin? To start with, I'll only use it for portions of pages and some of the huge books on the market are overkill for me... not to mention overwhelming.

That's one of the things I loved about this book. Hoekman really boils it down for those just starting out. There's no need to confuse the issue by teaching every detail of the program 'encyclopedia style.' He shows you how to get the job done using projects in a logical order. My 12-year old son was able to work through it as easily as I did (except for his tendency to jump around in the book -- looking for things that were 'cool.' Since the projects build on each other, I found it best to do them in the order Hoekman put them in).

I really appreciate his conversational style. He tickles my funny bone at times. That's worth a lot while learning. It was nice to see this style book come from O'Reilly.
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on December 10, 2004
Robert Hoekman, Jr.'s "Flash Out of the Box" is a fun and non-intimidating introduction to Macromedia Flash 2004. It provides exercises (in an accompanying CD) to introduce readers to the basic features of Flash: managing the timeline, developing assets (including sound and video), writing Actionscript, working with buttons and movie clips, loading external files, incorporating preloaders, embedding .swf files in HTML pages, and creating Flash movies for handheld devices and CDs. Throughout the book, as well as in the Resource section, additional Flash references are listed and "best practices" are emphasized. The text is liberally illustrated with screen captures and general illustrations.

Flash is challenging to learn because it is so feature-laden and because you can approach it either from a visual, timeline approach or from an Actionscript perspective. Many Flash references take an encyclopedic approach, just going through the commands alphabetically or by menu location. Hoekman's approach is to have you complete typical design projects, although he also provides sidebars offering additional facts and background about Flash features. The book's focus and tone would probably appeal most to people approaching the software from a visual, timeline perspective and who might be intimidated by a heavy-duty Actionscript approach.

"Flash Out of the Box" is not a general Flash or Actionscript reference, missing manual, or "bible," and it won't qualify you immediately for Flash Developer certification. But it is recommended for those who want a friendly and logical approach to Flash, whether they are learning totally from scratch, seeking to understand certain features new to 2004, or filling in gaps in their Flash knowledge (I was a reviewer for this book and, even though I had a fair amount of Flash training and experience, I picked up some new tricks). It also would be a good text for instructors to use in an introductory Flash course and can help fledgling Flash users to decide whether to go further with this tool.
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on July 21, 2005
I bought this book because I was sick of looking at Flash books that spent the first 40 pages naming all of the components of the Flash workspace without actually having me DO anything. Those books are boring and unhelpful because the vocabulary doesn't mean anything if you aren't actually working in Flash.

Flash out of the Box (FotB) dives right in and gets you started working! Instead of learning WHERE all of the tools are, you actually use them! IT is a much more interesting way to learn a new piece of software. It also introduces some key concepts, such as nested timelines, that other books don't discuss.

This method has a downside, though... The chapters advance very quickly and may cause inexperienced computer users to become lost. I found some of the chapters to be very info-dense; I would have to read and re-read sections in order to understand what I was doing. The book assumes that you know your way around the computer quite well, so it is not for novices.

My 2 biggest complaints about the book are this: (1) it is for Flash MX 2004 and some of the methods that are used will not work in previous version of Flash (so, if you have Flash MX, you will have to skip over some things). (2) It does not always explain the concepts very well, which means that you need to have another book nearby to use as a reference. For example, you create an animated movie clip, but it isn't clear when or why you would use a movie clip symbol.

Overall, I would say it is a good starter book for saavy computer users who want to dive in and learn Flash fundamentals quickly. However, if you plan to really do any serious work in Flash, you will find that you need another book to teach you things that this book doesn't cover. It is NOT a book for novices!
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on January 29, 2006
This beginning flash book allows users to delve right into creating useful flash projects. The author assumes the reader has some familiarity with the toolbars and their functions and therefore only touches on this a little in the beginning. I feel most intro flash books spend way too much time on this.

The author is very good about explaining the best and most efficient way to do things and the reasons for them. He presents an intro to Actionscripting which gives the reader useful code to use in future projects. I appreciate his emphasis on using best coding practices.

His chapter on video in flash was something interesting since I haven't had experience with it. He covers importing and compressing video and how to use it most efficiently. With all of his importing and exporting back and forth, however, it did get a little confusing.

By the end of the book there is a great deal of code given in regards to loading external assets so I'd say this book does have a steep learning curve.

All in all, this is a good book for those who want to get the ball running and create things fast.
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on February 23, 2006
Reviewed by: Scott A. Lowe


Flash Out of the Box is a gentle introduction to the core functionality of Flash that maintains a pace the seasoned web programmer would find acceptable while not losing those who are new to Flash. Although O'Reilly Media acknowledges the book as being "Ideal for all readers -- including programmers" it is best suited for those who are going to commit to the Flash environment and need to learn its strengths in a quick and structured manner.


Written by Robert Hoekman, Jr., Flash Out of the Box is laid out in a format that permits the reader to stay focused on the point being made without one's eye having to deal with competing or redundant information. In part, this is an O'Reilly hallmark in that special care is placed on structure. For instance, supportive information is placed in a shaded area, separate from the central text. This permits the advanced reader to rapidly scan through the chapter without missing the key information. On the other hand, the new user benefits by this format by not being overloaded by new concepts.

For instance, Chapter 3 discusses animation by dividing the total process into individual, linear sections. In the obligatory discussion of managing text there is a side section defining "Synchronization", which is necessary information but is also a slight tangent from the topic. By separating the process into sections and then sub-dividing the section with support material sidebars the beginner can proceed in a slow, methodical pace and the veteran can bounce through chapters with ease.

Hoekman also utilizes the sidebars as launching points to future avenues of learning and potentially vital resources. For example, when discussing "Animation Transitions" in Chapter 6, the subject ends with examples being limited to simple graphic animations. However, there is a note at the end introducing the API (application programming interface), which addresses the question of advanced capability down the road. In general, the author takes care in leaving the user pointed in the right direction once they have exhausted the materials in the book.

In some sense, the content of the book parallels that of most books written about Flash and therefore seems almost cliché in its approach. Topics covered include the usual "how to" sections from drawing boxes and using the ruler to creating a quiz and importing video. However, there is a layer of content that makes Flash Out of The Box two books in one. This becomes evident in the second half of the book where Action Scripts and Behaviors are blended into the exercises. By the time the reader gets three-fourths of the way through the book (the section covering importing video) there is a full comparison of Flash with and without action script. Effectively, a new user can make a first pass at studying the lessons, from beginning to end, and then come back weeks later to learn the more intermediate level of Flash in a context that is familiar. In addition, the advanced programmer or advanced graphics user who is new to the Flash environment can ramp up to speed very quickly.

The book ends with overview sections on placing Flash on hand-held devices and CD-ROM's, a compressed look at Components, and an index listing on-line resources. Unfortunately, the included CD, which is labeled "Contains exercises from the book", really is little more than a disk containing some of the material and evaluation copies of the Macromedia products. Conceivably, there is enough evaluation software to get the reader thought the book without having to purchase a license. Still, the bonus CD is a little thin in what it provides, with no cut-and-paste shortcuts, but at least the basic pieces are there for the exercises. The reader will have to really do the exercises to gain the benefit of learning. Of course, if that is the only real negative aspect to this book then there really aren't any.


Flash Out of The Box is essentially two books in one. It is the ideal rapid-guide for the advanced user/programmer who is new to flash as well as a multi-level learning tool for the beginner. Robert Hoekman provides a focused, linear path of learning that sticks. The acknowledgements state that Tim O'Reilly himself kept a close eye on the production of this book -- and it shows.
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on December 3, 2004
Authors for a beginner book in a computing subject are increasingly chosen on the following basic rules:

1. Whether or not the author has early access to the software and its documentation. Flash books sell best if they are published on the Flash release date.

2. The author is a trainer rather than a designer or developer. Trainers have course notes that can be quickly turned into a book. Trainers also have students, and students buy books throughout the year.

The alternative choice of author is a designer. Designers have to write a book from scratch, usually after a hard day with the client, and take it from me, designers can work *very* long hours! The designer's online work generally contains sections that are too complex to be included as-is in a beginner book, which means lots of rework. This all means that the designer led book is generally released later, take more effort, and doesn't have the guaranteed sales caused by a significant captive audience. Although none of this prevents design based books being published (there are many of them out there), it does make them far less likely and more risky to the publisher. Sadly, it is increasingly far easier just to put the word `Design' on the cover, and leave it at that.

Although turning courses into books is a very good way to make beginner books quickly, such books can lack two important factors. The syllabus for a designer is real life problems. Also - and more subtly - text is not developed for print if it is based on lecture/training notes because training notes tend to rely on the lecturer being there in person.

So why go on about all this in a review for FoTB? Simple - because this book is one of a very rare breed. It was written from scratch by a designer.

It took a long time to write because it was written from scratch, from the ground up specifically for print. It was written by a successful and very busy designer, and reviewed by a team of his peers. That alone makes it one of the best new beginner books out there for people who want to become designers themselves.

FoTB doesn't look like a design book though. That's because it is short, with fast, quick to produce examples. Those examples, however, are carefully chosen to teach you the skills to give you a start in Flash, based on what you would typically do.

The book does not simply split the interface into chapters that sequentially go through the application in an order that makes sense to an editor, but rather presents flash in the order you need to know things to actually produce content. Again, this is because of the author being a well respected and active designer.


I am an author myself, having written or worked on 20 or so books on New Media/Web design. I was also involved in the creation of the winner of the Amazon Computer Book of the Year, 2000.

Disclaimer: I have works published by O'Reilly. I was consulted in the technical review of approximately 50% of this book.
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on December 4, 2004
Robert Hoekman Jr. does a fantastic job of covering the topic of designing and working in the Flash authoring environment. His approach to the subject breaks away from the standard dry computer book style of being a brain dump of information. Robert walks you through the drawing tools and techniques in an easy to follow and often humourous fashion. The excercises presented are fairly short but teach a great deal.

I'm a programmer/analyst not so much a designer/artist, so while I've used Flash a great deal over the past number of years, I really only know it well from a programming perspective. When I was asked to be a beta reader/technical reviewer for the book I wasn't sure what to expect. I was immediately captivated by Robert's style and humour. Robert begins by assuming a limited knowledge of Flash and introduces the tools, concepts and methodologies quickly and clearly. Each chapter and excercise building upon the previous ones in a cohesive fashion. At the end of the day, the reader comes away with a solid well rounded perspective on designing with Flash.

I think this book is an excellent introduction to designing in Flash. It is not a programming manual, it does not cover every single technique available to designers and artists. What it does is introduce and familiarize the reader with the Flash IDE, tools and design concepts as well as how to get the most out of Flash from the start. If your new to Flash or new to the art/design side of Flash then this is definitely the book for you and will serve you well and as such I would highly recommend this book to you.
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on December 10, 2005
"Flash - Out of the Box" by Robert Hoekman, Jr. (published by O' Reilly Media, Inc. Seabastopol). What a great metaphor name for a great self-help book to teach people to think "out of the box" creating art and animation like a child finger painting. Learning "Macromedia Flash" with the guidance of this book is as easy as a child finger painting. A child doesn't have to know how to read to be creative. I still don't know how to read this book intelligently to quote it; but, I can follow it enough to know the "A" button is the "A" button. And, when the "A" button has a word that I have no idea how to pronounce - I still can click on it and make it produce a beautiful finger painting.

If you want to speak Geekease - then go back to college. If you want to jump in head first and learn "Macromedia Flash" software - pick up this book. Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote he thought he was writing "Flash - Out of the Box" for the beginner remembering to introduce the language as if he was learning Flash for the first time Doing so, he learned terms all over again as they have evolved into new terms along with software's ever changing technology.

I personally found that after reading the explanations of how and why Flash worked with the many metaphors Mr. Hoekman uses I learned Geekease in spite of myself. I learned valuable acronym language that is used in most popular design software that I self-taught myself, yet never knew what that termed meant. Mr. Hoekman refers to this book as "Alignment for Unlicensed Chiropractors." It is because of all the "bone structures" you will learn to apply to your work. Naturally, you will carry them through to all the software you already know. So, it is not just "Flash" software you will learn - it is the bones of graphic design. He brings back the simple childlike A, B, C's of time-saving techniques like "just lay out the graphic design" then go back and fill in the text and message instead of stressing over the text and trying to adjust the layout to fit it later. He takes you step-by-step with pictures of rulers and guides to create a simple box to a triangle morph movie. Then

you will understand the thought process and be doing pictures of your mother-in-law into a monkey in no time.

"Flash - Out of the Box" will guide even a person like me who did not know how to spell Macromedia how to purchase and load your software, click on your first box picture, create a movie time-line, to loading your work into a web-site. Mr. Hoekman's use of humor and simple layman's term explanations makes this book a must if you really want to lean the popular Macromedia graphic software bones. All you need is a desire to remember to finger paint again.

Carole Ann Morton

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