Friday, January 20, 2017

Creating Graphic Layers

PowerPoint Hacks Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4

This post will show you how to use the “Remove Background” tool in PowerPoint to create layers from your JPG image. By using layers, you can create a more complex animated GIF of your book cover, wine label, or other marketing graphic. In Part 1, we went through some of the basic PowerPoint tools to create a simple animated GIF and presented some useful PowerPoint techniques for editing graphic images. If you are not a PowerPoint power user, you should first review that earlier post.

By the time most authors see their book cover, it’s a single graphic file, often either a JPG or PDF. The challenge is to deconstruct it into pieces that can be used in an animated GIF. For this example, I’ll start with the cover image shown here:

Detailed Description

Bear with me while I walk through a detailed example of using the "Remove Background" tool. Open a PowerPoint file and resize the pages as before. Insert “Pictures,” select your cover and drag it to about the right size. As before “Cut” your image and “Paste” it as “Picture.” Then do the final resize to fit your page. “Cut/Paste as picture” will remove any vestigial JPG or PDF constraints on editing. 

Make a duplicate slide (right-click thumbnail on the left and hit “Duplicate Slide”) and open your view pane. Select your picture, hit “Picture Tools” and click “Remove Background.” The purple areas will be removed (made transparent). 

The box marked with eight white handles acts as a cropping tool. It also changes the initial selection. You can drag the handles around to get different effects. If you use the image I provided, you should get something like these:

The second view is the one I wanted so I hit “Keep Changes” to get the last image. You can go back to “Remove Background” at this point and make additional changes. If you are satisfied, do a “Cut/Paste as picture” over your original image and adjust the alignment so that they appear as one. Voilà, your cover now consists of two layers.

Now to make your image do something interesting. I used “Remove Background” on this skull picture making it appear to float. You can see that the first pass is okay, but it could be better:

Use the “Mark Areas to Remove” pencils to draw lines through the parts of the figure you want to modify. Notice that this whole process is iterative and not terribly exact. In a later post I’ll show some tricks to trim out a more precise area. For this example, I also used the “Artistic Effects” Blur tool to make the skull image look more spectral.
“Cut/Paste as picture” into your cover image and resize to suit. Using the “Selection Pane” position it between your background and your first layer. You can also use the "Selection Pane" to turn off the background and layer pics when you create your animation.


Now with the animation. For this one I used a “Path” animation for entry and a “Fade” for exit. Select your object, hit “Animations” and “Add Animation.” Scroll to the bottom, and select “Motion Paths/Lines.” Set it to start “With Previous” and give it a long duration.

Same with the exit. This example uses “Fade” and staggers the exit with the motion to make the overall effect smooth. Don’t forget to delay the start of your motion about 0.5 seconds and make sure your exit is also set to start “With Previous.” Now, Save, then delete all of the slides except your animation slide and “Save As: Video MPEG-4” as you did earlier. Do a final check of timing and appearance. Good? Then go to and you've got the rest already.

In walking through this example, you’ve seen two useful PowerPoint techniques, the “Remove Background” tool, and the “Path” animation. You likely (hopefully) experimented with some of the other animation options. You’ll note that the critical factor is timing. If you find an effect that ‘almost-but-not-quite’ does what you want, try a small variation on the timing. Also, if you need a compact GIF with a small file size, just start with a smaller slide. You lose resolution, but on the small-screen, who cares. I’ve had success with a 4”X6” format for Twitter posts. You’ve probably also considered more complex GIFs and native MPG4 videos. By using slide transitions, you can create a video using multiple scenes all within PowerPoint. Try it.

In my next post, I’ll show how to use the “Freeform” drawing tool to create useful shapes and masks for precision trimming with “Remove Background.” I’ll also show how the use “Soft Edges” to merge two graphics.

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