Drawing API example: Algorithmic Visual Generator

Flash Player 9 and later, Adobe AIR 1.0 and later

The Algorithmic Visual Generator example dynamically draws to the stage several “satellites”, or circles moving in a circular orbit. Among the features explored are:

  • Using the drawing API to draw a basic shape with dynamic appearances

  • Connecting user interaction with the properties that are used in a draw

  • Conveying animation by clearing the stage on each frame and redrawing

The example in the previous subsection animated a solitary “satellite” using the Event.ENTER_FRAME event. This example expands upon this, building a control panel with series of sliders that immediately update the visual display of several satellites. This example formalizes the code into external classes and wraps the satellite creation code into a loop, storing a reference to each satellite in a satellites array.

To get the application files for this sample, see www.adobe.com/go/learn_programmingAS3samples_flash. The application files can be found in the folder Samples/AlgorithmicVisualGenerator. This folder contains the following files:




The main application file in Flash Professional (FLA).


The class that provides the main functionality of the application, including drawing satellites on the stage and responding to events from the control panel to update the variables that affect the drawing of satellites.


A class that manages user interaction with several sliders and dispatching events when this occurs.


A class which represents the display object that rotates in an orbit around a central point and contains properties related to its current draw state.

Setting the listeners

The application first creates three listeners. The first listens for a dispatched event from the control panel that a rebuild of the satellites is necessary. The second listens to changes to the size of the SWF file’s stage. The third listens for each passing frame in the SWF file and to redraw using the doEveryFrame() function.

Creating the satellites

Once these listeners are set, the build() function is called. This function first calls the clear() function, which empties the satellites array and clears any previous draws to the stage. This is necessary since the build() function could be recalled whenever the control panel sends an event to do so, such as when the color settings have been changed. In such a case, the satellites must be removed and recreated.

The function then creates the satellites, setting the initial properties needed for creation, such as a the position variable, which starts at a random position in the orbit, and the color variable, which in this example does not change once the satellite has been created.

As each satellite is created, a reference to it is added to the satellites array. When the doEveryFrame() function is called, it will update to all satellites in this array.

Updating the satellite position

The doEveryFrame() function is the heart of the application’s animation process. It is called for every frame, at a rate equal the framerate of the SWF file. Because the variables of the draw change slightly, this conveys the appearance of animation.

The function first clears all previous draws and redraws the background. Then, it loops through each satellite container and increments the position property of each satellite, and updates the radius and orbitRadius properties that may have changed from user interaction with the control panel. Finally, the satellite updates to its new position by calling the draw() method of the Satellite class.

Note that the counter, i, only increments up to the visibleSatellites variable. This is because if the user has limited the amount of satellites that are displayed through the control panel, the remaining satellites in the loop should not be redrawn but should instead be hidden. This occurs in a loop which immediately follows the loop responsible for drawing.

When the doEveryFrame() function completes, the number of visibleSatellites update in position across the screen.

Responding to user interaction

User interaction occurs via the control panel, which is managed by the ControlPanel class. This class sets a listener along with the individual minimum, maximum, and default values of each slider. As the user moves these sliders, the changeSetting() function is called. This function updates the properties of the control panel. If the change requires a rebuild of the display, an event is dispatched which is then handled in the main application file. As the control panel settings change, the doEveryFrame() function draws each satellite with the updated variables.

Customizing further

This example is only a basic schematic of how to generate visuals using the drawing API. It uses relatively few lines of code to create an interactive experience that appears quite complex. Even so, this example could be extended with minor changes. A few ideas:

  • The doEveryFrame() function could increment the color value of the satellite.

  • The doEveryFrame() function could shrink or expand the satellite radius over time.

  • The satellite radius does not have to be circular; it could use the Math class to move according to a sine wave, for example.

  • Satellites could use hit detection with other satellites.

The drawing API can be used as an alternative to creating visual effects in the Flash authoring environment, drawing basic shapes at run time. But it can also be used to create visual effects of a variety and scope that are not possible to create by hand. Using the drawing API and a bit of mathematics, the ActionScript author can give life to many unexpected creations.