Animation deep dive

Last year, I got to record one of the episodes in the Flutter Animations series, and I thought I’d publish the same content for those who prefer text over video. https://medium.com/media/7d47b8b14929040b3a32a3f8f35335d9/href In the other episodes of the series, my colleagues talk about all the practical ways to build animations in Flutter. Not so in my episode. Here, you’ll learn how to implement animations in the least pragmatic way imaginable. (But, you’ll also learn some things along the way.) Let’s start with something simple and lighthearted: What is motion, really? You see, motion is an illusion. Look at this: A video of Filip waving his hand. It’s a lie. What you’re actually seeing are many still images shown in quick succession. This is how movies work. The individual pictures are called frames in cinema— and because digital screens work similarly— they’re called frames here too. Cinema normally shows 24 frames per second. Modern digital devices show 60 to 120 frames per second. So, if motion is a lie, what are all these AnimationFoo and FooTransition widgets really doing? Surely, because the frames need to be constructed up to 120 times per second, the UI cannot be rebuilt every time. Or, can it? In fact, animations in Flutter are just a way to rebuild parts of your widget tree on every frame. There is no special case. Flutter is fast enough to do that. Let’s look at one of the building blocks of Flutter animations: AnimatedBuilder. This widget is an AnimatedWidget, which is backed by _AnimatedState. In the State’s initState() method, we are listening on the Animation (or Listenable, as it is called here), and when it changes its value, we … call setState(). This confusing screencast is just showing that I am telling the truth in the previous paragraph. Animated Builder really does call setState() on every frame. There you go. Animations in Flutter are just a quick succession of changing the state of some widget, 60 to 120 times per second. I can prove it. Here’s an animation that “animates” from zero to the speed of light. Although it’s changing the text on every frame, from Flutter’s perspective, it’s just another animation. Let’s use Flutter’s animation framework to build that animation from first principles. Normally, we would use the TweenAnimationBuilder widget or something similar, but in this article, we’ll ignore all that, and go with a ticker, a controller, and setState. Ticker Let’s talk about Ticker first. 99% of the time, you won’t use a ticker directly. But, I think it’s still helpful to talk about it — even if only to demystify it. A ticker is an object that calls a function for every frame. var ticker = Ticker((elapsed) => print( 'hello' )); ticker.start(); In this case, we’re printing ‘hello’ every frame. Admittedly, that’s not very useful. Also, we forgot to call ticker.dispose(), so now our ticker will go on forever, until we kill the app. That’s why Flutter gives you SingleTickerProviderStateMixin, the aptly named mixin you’ve seen in some of the previous videos. This mixin takes care of the hassle of managing a ticker. Just slap it onto your widget’s state and now your state is secretly a TickerProvider. class _MyWidgetState extends State<MyWidget> with SingleTickerProviderStateMixin<MyWidget> { @override Widget build(BuildContext context) { return Container(); } } What this means is that the Flutter framework can ask your state for a ticker. Most important, AnimationController can ask the state for a ticker. class _MyWidgetState extends State<MyWidget> with SingleTickerProviderStateMixin<MyWidget> { AnimationController _controller ; @override void initState() { super .initState(); _controller = AnimationController(vsync: this ); } @override Widget build(BuildContext context) { return Container(); } } AnimationController needs a ticker for it to function. If you use SingleTickerProviderStateMixin or its cousin TickerProviderStateMixin, you can just give this to the AnimationController, and you’re done. AnimationController AnimationController is what you normally use to play, pause, reverse, and stop animations. Instead of pure “tick” events, AnimationController tells us at which point of the animation we are, at any time. For example, are we halfway there? Are we 99% there? Have we completed the animation? Normally, you take the AnimationController, maybe transform it with a Curve, put it through a Tween, and use it in one of the handy widgets like FadeTransition or TweenAnimationBuilder. But, for educational purposes, let’s not do that. Instead, we will directly call setState. setState After we initialize the AnimationController, we can add a listener to it. And, in that listener, we call setState. class _MyWidgetState extends State<MyWidget> with SingleTickerProviderStateMixin<MyWidget> { AnimationController _controller ; @override void initState() { super .initState(); _controller = AnimationController(vsync: this ); _controller .addListener(_update); } void _update() { setState(() { // TODO }); } @override Widget build(BuildContext context) { return Container(); } } Now, we should probably have a state to set. Let’s keep it simple with an integer. And let’s not forget to actually use the state in our build method, and to change the state in our listener according to the current value of the controller. class _MyWidgetState extends State<MyWidget> with SingleTickerProviderStateMixin<MyWidget> { AnimationController _controller ; int i = 0; @override void initState() { super .initState(); _controller = AnimationController(vsync: this ); _controller .addListener(_update); } void _update() { setState(() { i = ( _controller . value * 299792458).round(); }); } @override Widget build(BuildContext context) { return Text( ' $ i m/s' ); } } This code assigns a value from zero to the speed of light depending on the animation’s progress. Running the animation Now, we just need to tell the animation how long it should take to complete, and start the animation. class _MyWidgetState extends State<MyWidget> with SingleTickerProviderStateMixin<MyWidget> { AnimationController _controller ; int i = 0; @override void initState() { super .initState(); _controller = AnimationController( vsync: this , duration: const Duration(seconds: 1), ); _controller .addListener(_update); _controller .forward(); } void _update() { setState(() { i = ( _controller . value * 299792458).round(); }); } @override Widget build(BuildContext context) { return Text( ' $ i m/s' ); } } The widget animates as soon as it’s added to the screen. And it “animates” from zero to the speed of light in a second. Disposing of the controller Oh, and don’t forget to dispose of the AnimationController. Otherwise you have a memory leak in your app. class _MyWidgetState extends State<MyWidget> with SingleTickerProviderStateMixin<MyWidget> { AnimationController _controller ; int i = 0; @override void initState() { super .initState(); _controller = AnimationController( vsync: this , duration: const Duration(seconds: 1), ); _controller .addListener(_update); _controller .forward(); } @override void dispose() { _controller .dispose(); super .dispose(); } void _update() { setState(() { i = ( _controller . value * 299792458).round(); }); } @override Widget build(BuildContext context) { return Text( ' $ i m/s' ); } } Just use a built-in widget, maybe? As you can see, doing it all by yourself is not great. The same functionality can be achieved with the TweenAnimationBuilder in much fewer lines of code, and without having to juggle an AnimationController and calling setState. class MyPragmaticWidget extends StatelessWidget { @override Widget build(BuildContext context) { return TweenAnimationBuilder( tween: IntTween(begin: 0, end: 299792458), duration: const Duration(seconds: 1), builder: (BuildContext context, int i, Widget child) { return Text( ' $i m/s ' ); }, ); } } Summary We saw what Ticker really is. We saw how to manually listen to an AnimationController. And, we saw that, at the basic level, animations are just fast, consecutive rebuilds of a widget. You can do whatever you want on any frame. This article is part of a series! Check out the other articles here: Flutter Animation Basics with Implicit Animations Custom Implicit Animations in Flutter … with TweenAnimationBuilder Directional Animations with Built-in Explicit Animations When Should I use AnimatedBuilder or AnimatedWidget Animations deep dive (this article!) Animation deep dive was originally published in Flutter on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.