Cleanup on Aisle Four
These blog posts have only scratched the surface of PowerPoint’s graphics potential. However, we’re mostly talking hacks here, because I’m convinced that PowerPoint was originally created as an instrument of torment for college students and conference attendees. You haven’t lived until you’ve spent an hour watching the backside of some guy while he reads his slides to you. The thing does have its limitations and a well-deserved bad reputation. In this post I’ll discuss some of those limitations (and additional virtues) before tackling a few final hacks.
I know I said earlier to use a nice big canvas when you started a project because it helped you maintain image resolution while you copy, paste, crop, stretch and generally pummel the hell out of your image. However, I’ll walk that back a bit: 1) It’s better to use a smaller page if you really need to control file size or if your original image just won’t stand being stretched to fit a large canvas. 2) If you need your final product to be square, start with a square page; if you need a particular aspect ratio, start with that ratio. 3) If you must resize a project that you’ve already put a lot of work into, I’ve found that choosing “Ensure Fit” when you do will maintain most of the spatial relationships you developed in the original layout.
Page size is a key element of file size. Some venues (Goodreads for one) will only accept graphics and GIFs of a certain maximum file size. It can be frustrating to put a lot of effort into a nice animation and then find you can’t even use it. PowerPoint does not have good file size control and your project can get into the megs very quickly. Multiple layers can be the worst offenders; be sure you Cut/Paste-as-picture and then use the “Compress Image” tool on your final product. And breaking news: Giphy.com now lets you download your GIF in four descending file sizes including “small.”
For many application, a subtle animation can be more effective than one “filled with sound and fury.” Of my examples, the “Dark Romance” cover is more attractive than the circling bat in “Scary Story.” These examples were developed to illustrate a technique, not a style. While “Dark Romance” would work well on a venue such as Facebook, a flashier style may be more effective on Twitter where it has to compete with other sparkly images. PowerPoint has many animations that serve more to distract than to enhance. Keeping your final product simple will also help reduce file size.
Transparency and Soft Edges
Any transparency including glow, drop-shadows, and soft edges is mostly a product of the PowerPoint software itself and doesn’t always transfer to an external image format. Therefore, be sure to Cut/Paste-as-picture anything that includes transparency, before exporting it. This especially applies to still images printed to an Acrobat PDF file.
Grouping and Ungrouping
Selecting a set of objects and setting them as a group is a convenient way of handling multiple related images. You can move them, re-size them, or rotate them without changing their relative orientation. However, you can’t animate objects individually within a group, and when you animate a group of objects, you will lose the animation if you ungroup them.
PowerPoint offers a selection of textures and patterns to fill a vector shape. These are handy for a quick background or to add a little extra interest to a drawing. However, the patterns don’t scale. Therefore, if your image size is too big, the pattern will only show up as tiny grains. One solution is to draw your shape at a smaller size, add the texture, then Cut/Paste-as-picture and re-scale it to fit. Another solution is to create a set of your own textures saved as JPGs and use them for custom fills.
A Few Virtues…
Text is where PowerPoint rocks. You have complete control over size, shape, font, and special text features such as shadow, fill, and 3d. If Microsoft didn’t provide the font you need, there’s always Fontsquirrel.com and a bunch of other sources of free fonts.
PowerPoint was designed to use multiple “Slides.” This harkens back to the time when physical slide transparencies were used in presentations. For a graphics project or an animation, these additional pages are most useful for “scratch” pads to develop graphics components. These scratch pages can mess up your GIF, so save first, then delete the extra pages, save-as MPG4, then close without saving.
…And now the bat:
Two techniques are needed to make a bat or a bird or a moving character like my janitor up there. First is the flapping motion itself, and second is movement on the screen.
PowerPoint has two rotating motions that are useful, “Spin” and “Wiggle.” You’ll find these under Animations/Emphasis. For the bat wing, I used “Spin” and selected “Quarter Turn” from the “Effect Options” menu. One problem, the wing you’ve drawn wants to rotate about its mid-point. To solve this create a line with the center at your desired point of rotation and group it with your bat-wing. Now rotate the entire group.
I’ve illustrated it here with a box to illustrate the idea, even though only a line is needed. The trick is, when it rotates the way you want, select the line and set the color to “No line.” It’s still there… just invisible. Now your batwing will flap instead of rotating.
To make the animation work, you have to start with the wing at 45 degrees, rotate it down, then rotate it back up. Then repeat, and repeat, and repeat… Using the selection pane makes this process a little easier. It’s still tedious, but whoa, look at the cool results.
The second part is simpler. Once you have the wings and the bat’s body all together (say three shapes), then select all three and choose “Custom Path” in the “Animations/Motion Paths” menu (do not, I beg you, do not group the three objects). This way, you apply the same path to all three shapes. The wings flap, the bat flitters around, woo hoo!!
In this final part, we’ve clarified a few items on using PowerPoint to develop animated scenes and make them into GIFs for use in social media and other web applications. We’ve also explored how to use “Spin” to make an object turn about any center we choose, even a center that is off-screen, and how to move a group of moving objects using the “Custom Path” animation.