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Creating Animated GIFs Tutorial

Tools and Strategies for Animating GIFs

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Creating animated GIFs is easy once you understand the basic steps.

Animated GIFs are basically nothing more than image files. They group several still images together and store them in a single file, using a special format which provides timing information for playing the images sequentially to create the appearance of movement. (Read more about what an animated GIF is.)

For creating animated gifs, you need to first identify and edit your still images with a graphics editor of some kind. Or if you want to use images from a video to create your animation, you'll need a program that can edit video in order to extract individual video frames.

Next, you'll need an image editing program that's capable of saving and compressing images in the specialized animated GIF file format, which is called GIF89A.

Tools for Creating Animated GIFs

There are various types of GIF animators, or tools dedicated to creating animated GIFs. Some high-end image editing suites such as Photoshop also have GIF animation tools built in or as plug-ins. Here are some tool examples by type:

  • Desktop software animation programs -- GifApp is a low-end, easy-to-use desktop program for making GIFs. It's free, open-source software.
  • Desktop software suites, with animation -- Photoscape from Gizmo may be the better desktop choice if you're not planning to edit your photos with a high-end program like Photoshop. That's because Photoscape has both a GIF animator tool as well as a standard suite of image-editing tools, allowing you to do everything from within one program. More about the freeware app Photoscape is on its home page.
  • Online software programs -- One popular online animator is called GIFpal, which makes animation easy. The only downside is a limitation on the number of images you can use for each animation, no more than 24. But it requires no download, no specialized knowledge and costs nothing to use. You can either upload your own images or use your webcam.

A ton of other software options, both online and offline, exist for GIF animation.

Subject and Style of Animation

As for content, you must first decide what you want to animate and how you want to animate it. Examples of decisions you'll need make or think through:

  • What to animate - You could animate a person's face, or a car, or a three-word quip or a longer saying using word text/art. The content choices are limitless--and represent the most important decision.
  • Video frames or still images -- Most animated GIFs are made from still images, not video. But you can make a good animated gif from a video, it just means extracting the right frames and then using them as still images inside the animation sequence. You'll need to use a video program to select and extract the frames, saving them as still images so they can be imported into your gif animation program.
  • How many images - Decide on the number of images you'll need to convey your animation and then save each of them as an individual .gif file. Remember, the more images you include, the smoother your animation will seem. Conversely, the fewer pictures it has, the more jerky--but the file size will also be smaller, which is a good thing for users who grow impatient waiting for big files to load. The timing and number of images vary widely, but as a rule of thumb, think about having a minimum of two per second and up to 10 per second. You can go much higher, just be mindful of file size.
  • Image size -- Decide how big or small you want your animated GIF to appear on people's screens, and then edit and size each of your images accordingly, so they're basically the same size. It's a good idea to save each individual image with a numbering sequence to reflect the order you want them played, such as redcar1.gif, redcar2.gif, redcar3.gif and so forth.
  • To Loop or not to loop -- Looping means to repeat your image sequence once all the images have played the first time. If your animation is super short, it can be fun to loop or repeat it a few times. If the animation is long, looping is not advised.

Importing Your Images and Sequencing

After deciding on your game plan and saving all your individual GIF images, then you'll need to put them together into an animated GIF file and provide timing instructions.

The process for importing your individual images into the GIF89A file will vary depending on which software program you're using, but the ideas or concepts and steps involved are the same.

You'll first select the files you want to import (or folder containing them all) and then make selections from various menus about their imagery type and how much time you want to devote to transitions and display of each picture.

Most animation programs have an edit function that lets you edit or move around images after you've imported them. There's also an editing option for the previously mentioned looping feature that typically lets you select the number of times you want the animation sequence to repeat--or whether it should only play once.

Save a Full Version Before Compressing

The final step is to save the animation file in the compressed format of GIF89A.

It's always a good idea to save your animation BEFORE compressing it, if your animated GIF program allows it. Once you compress your final GIF file, it won't be as easy to edit without further degradation in quality. Saving a collection of images in the GIF89A format performs compression and degrades the quality.

Hip GIF Talk

GIFs have been around for a long time, but they officially became part of mainstream culture when the Oxford American Dictionaries declared 'to Gif" the "word of the year" for 2012.

If you don't want to create your own, this article offers tips on how to find free animated GIFs.

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