Rise Of the SWF: Flash Animations That Will Make You Feel Old [Stuff to Watch]

By Tim Brookes, MakeUseOfSeptember 17, 2012 at 06:31PM

Do you remember when a company called Macromedia introduced their rich web plugin, Flash? Back then, Flash was an exciting new prospect. It introduced the ability to animate, using frame-by-frame and using motion-tweening, add sound, buttons and interactions all from a relatively approachable interface.

The early Internet, or “Web 1.0″ if I dare use that term, exploded with nonsensical, bizarre and downright impressive animations from all over the world as geniuses, weirdos and bored teenagers got their hands on the software. Authors went on to make money, build brands and become demi-ambassadors for communities like b3ta, Something Awful and Newgrounds, and left a bounty of Internet culture in their wake.

These animations are relics of the Internet’s golden age of emergence, when your social network was your phone book and a cloud was merely something that rained on you. It’s time to feel old, kiddies.

Xiao Xiao (Zhu Zhiqiang)

I was probably 13 when I first saw this animation, and I fondly remember being amazed at the detail, fluidity and effort that must have gone into the series. Even today, the Xiao Xiao series of stick figure animations are impressive.

The creator was Chinese animator Zhu Zhiqiang who later went on to receive commissions for advertising from the likes of CityPlaza and Heineken.

There are alledgedly 10 official Xiao Xiao cartoons, and you can watch them all – along with numerous spoofs, parodies and blatant rip-offs – over at Newgrounds.

Radiskull & Devil Doll (Joe Sparks)

In the early 2000s, Joe Sparks created Radiskull & Devil Doll – a rather simplistic and crude Flash animation which soon gained traction and earned a loyal following. Joe initially worked for Paracomp a company who in the early 90s merged with Macromind to become Macromedia.

Joe was an intrinsic part of Shockwave.com and the development of rich media, with Radiskull & Devil Doll being his own personal project. He animated and recorded all sound and music himself, which served only to inspire further random animations. Joe now works for Google and has been featured in a huge range of publications, having worked on some fairly exciting projects. You can read his bio and watch the cartoon on his website.

StickDeath.com (Rob Lewis)

There were a great number of stick animation websites back then, though StickDeath was probably one of the first to really gain traction – with many animated GIFs present that pre-date Flash. Once Flash landed, however, the site became infamous for its graphic and crude content (ok, some swearing and animated violence) which lit-up the faces of children in classrooms the world over.

StickDeath is unfortunately no longer online for one reason or another, so instead you’ll have to turn to the WayBack Machine in order to view the content.

Fat-Pie.com (David Firth)

David Firth is probably best known for his weirdest creation, Salad Fingers, but also enjoyed success with many of his other webtoons. The dark, disturbing world of Salad Fingers (quote: “I like it when the red water comes out”) isn’t as old as some of the animations featured here, having being released in 2004.

Another of Firth’s series was Spoilsbury Toast Boy, an equally weird and unsettling series of animations that featured a silent boy and lots of cockroaches.

Finally there was the try-hard but ultimately useless superhero, Burnt Face Man which also debuted in 2004 and became somewhat of a hit.

You can check the rest of David’s animations out on his website and official YouTube channel.

Weebls-Stuff (Jonti Picking)

The creator of a great many Internet phenomena, Jonti Picking is probably most famously associated with Weebl and Bob, the adventures of two very simple eggs who took the world by storm when MTV picked up the series and renamed it “Wobbl and Bob”. The original episode entitled “pie”  was uploaded in 2002, and can be seen here.

Jonti is also responsible for one of the web’s most annoyingly catchy animations, simply titled “Badgers” which you’ve probably seen more times than you care to remember.

Much of Jonti’s materials consists of looping musical stories that make very little sense. If that appeals to you then you should probably check out the thousands of animations on his site.

RatherGood.com (Joel Veitch)

I really don’t know where to begin with this one, there are so many to choose from and I’m really not sure which are a good idea to put on this page, so I’m just going to say take your pick from this lot.

One particular series that sticks in my mind was Tales of the Blode, a badly-drawn blonde blob with a friend called “Food” that ended up doing something with a zeppelin involving a crab? Yeah… Internet jokes.

The funny thing is that if you’ve seen any of the dancing kitten with rude words and/or loud music videos from the early 2000s era there’s a good chance they were from RatherGood.com, which helped kickstart the whole “lolcats” thing that eventually gained so much real-world traction that there are now actual printed books on the subject available. Joel, what did you do?


The days of Flash are undoubtedly numbered, with extensions like Flashblock increasing in popularity and newer technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 replacing our old plugin-dependent friend. It’s nice to take a trip back down memory lane to when Flash was a brand new fangled toy to play with an exploit, even if the animations look a little rough around the edges now.

If you’re searching for more nostalgia of this ilk then one of the finest resources has to be Albino Blacksheep, a huge collection of Flash goodness – including games, videos and animation. Of course, there’s also Newgrounds which shouldn’t be missed either.  Finally if you’ve ever seen this content hosted on a certain website called eBaum’s world then here’s a video just for you.