I fell in love with Flash about 12 years ago. I was halfway through a degree in Commercial Design, feeling pretty unsure of myself and what I had signed up for. Some classes were great, but others seriously made me question my career path (i.e., QuarkXPress *shudder*).
Then I found myself in a digital animation class. Flash appeared before me in a veil of white light. It was the software I’d been waiting my whole life to find. Instead of just doodling, I could make my drawings come to life. It was awesome, and I was obsessed. While my professor was teaching, I was sitting in the back, making a star fly into a guy’s eyeball. (No, seriously, that was the first thing I ever animated.)
We’ve come a long way from the days of embedding SWFs directly into HTML webpages with only a 10-minute-long preloader. Recently, I was surprised though, that I couldn’t find a simple tutorial on how to convert a Flash animation to HD video, for upload to YouTube or elsewhere. It seems like a pretty common need and although it’s not too difficult to do, it is a pretty complicated process. I found a couple posts about exporting various formats from Flash and others about creating HD video, but nothing that outlined the process completely. The following steps are an attempt to do so, and I hope they’ll be helpful to someone looking for a quick and easy way to turn an animation into HD video and share it with the interwebs.
Why This Is So Complicated
First, though, a little explanation of why this isn’t the simple process it seems like it should be. Although SWF files are a very common format and export perfectly and easily from Flash, they aren’t video files and therefore can’t be used as such. Of course, Flash also provides options to export as AVI or MOV files, so why isn’t it as simple as that? Well, first off, ignore the AVI option—it’s an older format and lower quality than MOV. Second, using just the MOV export will either give you a high quality file that has a gigantic filesize, or a manageable filesize with horrible quality. To strike the right balance, there are three methods I know of. They are as follows:
- Export SWF from Flash and convert to video using third-party software
While seemingly an easy solution, there are a plethora of converters available, some being expensive, and others, although free, reportedly produce poor quality conversions. Also, I never liked the idea of relying on some weird third-party solution when my awesome Creative Suite is just begging to be used.
- Export PNG sequence from Flash and convert to video with Adobe Premiere
A clever solution that arguably produces the highest quality images, however this method is very time consuming and requires re-syncing any audio. This is probably best used for lengthy animations like full-length cartoons, where you would want to use Premiere to manage your scenes anyway.
- Export MOV from Flash and compress with Adobe Media Encoder
This is my method of choice, as it’s super quick, has no loss in quality, and relies only on software found in the Adobe Creative Suite.
Anyway, here’s how to do it. The steps below are based on CS4, but I’m sure other versions are very similar.
Set Up Flash Document
First, use these settings to make sure your animation will be in HD:
- Change document size to 1920 x 1080.
- Change frame rate to 24.
- Animate your awesome video.
Export MOV from Flash
Next, export a huge, uncompressed, high quality video file:
- “File” → “Export” → “Export Movie” (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+S)
- For “Save as type”, select “QuickTime” and click “Save”.
- Click “QuickTime Settings”.
- Under “Video”, click “Settings”.
- For “Compression Type”, select “None”.
- Under “Motion”, for “Frame Rate”, select “24”.
- Under “Compressor”, for “Quality”, select “Best”.
- Click “OK”.
- Click “OK”.
- Click “Export”.
IMPORTANT: If you experience issues after clicking export, it could be one of the following two things:
- Do NOT save to a network drive.
- Under “Stop exporting”, select “After time elapsed” and enter the time of the last frame, instead of “When last frame is reached”.
The “stop exporting” setting has not been an issue for me, but whenever I try saving to a network drive I get an error message and the export fails.
Import MOV to Adobe Media Encoder and Compress
Finally, import the gigantic MOV and export as a compressed, high quality MP4:
- Open Media Encoder and click “Add…”.
- Find and import your MOV.
- For “Format”, select “H.264”.
- For “Preset”, select “Edit Export Settings…”.
- …For “Preset”, select “YouTube”.
- …For “Output Name”, enter your desired name and location.
- Under “Video” → “Basic Video Settings”, for “Level”, select “5.1”.
- …For “Frame Rate [fps]”, select “24”.
- Under “Bitrate Settings”, for “Bitrate Encoding”, select “VBR, 2 Pass”.
- …For “Target Bitrate [Mbps]”, enter “10”.
- …For “Maximum Bitrate [Mbps]”, enter “40”.
- Under “Audio” → “Bitrate Settings”, for “Bitrate [kbps]”, select “320”.
- Click “OK”.
- Click “Start Queue”.
Special thanks to WhoIsMatt.com for the great info on Premiere export settings.
And that’s it. I hope this helps someone, and please contact us or comment here if you notice any issues or have a better way of doing things. I’m sure there are a bunch of other ways to do this, but this way always seemed to work best for me. What method do you use?