Behind the Flash Exterior: scratching the surface of online animated narratives
The flat simplified graphics and limited animation of Flash online creations recall 1950 and 60s cartoons for TV and stand in stark contrast to the photo-realistic forms and naturalistic movement of high-end 3D computer realisations. Celebrated for its ease of use, its affordability, its enhanced dissemination, Flash has become the 'people's choice' in animation software. Yet its widespread use and apparent simplicity (its association with pop culture 'toons) veil sophisticated modes of reception. Just as the animations of the Zagreb School and the United Productions of America (UPA) studio, with their pared down graphics, stylised forms and limited movement are now feted as unique animated expressions, Flash animations can also be appreciated for exploiting medium-specific narrative effects via reflexive strategies and interactivity. This paper argues that despite outward appearances (simple graphics and limited animated movement), Flash can engage an audience in more complex relations with the text through active participation (via interactive functions and reflexive representations) than more passive modes of reception as engendered by high-end realist animations. Flash animations are able to activate imagination in the audience by offering representational cues rather than providing an immersive experience; in distancing an audience - via stylised imagery, flattened space, non-naturalistic movement and overt transitions- space is provided for critical reflection. Online narratives for young children are discussed as an arena in which simple visuals and interactive functions can be employed to engage an audience in active participation and learning opportunities.