Round and Round

What goes around, comes around. Everything old is new again. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Enough cliches to kick things off? Let’s talk about animated GIFs* and how to create them.

The GIF format was introduced in the early days of the Web, when 256 colors in an image was plenty. As computer display technology improved, JPG started to take over. GIF, however, stayed relevant by introducing extensions to the format to enable transparency and animation. That latter capability led to a GIF boom when the slow speeds available to most users made doing full video impractical. Those of you who remember the glory days of the dial-up connection may recall the ten thousand or so variations of this classic image:

uc

As connection speeds improved, camera resolution and frame rates increased, and the typical web browser’s video display capabilities improved, the GIF faded in popularity. Lately however, it’s made something of a comeback, driven by the desire to embed images in places that don’t support video.

* Let’s end one holy war right now: In the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter whether the ‘G’ is hard or soft. Steve Wilhite, who created the file format prefers it to be soft. Can we please just go along with him and pronounce it “jif”? Thank you.

Tools to create animated GIFs are plentiful. I picked a few at random to play with, and they surprised me with how easy they were to use. Allow me to introduce a few.

Let’s start with a web-based tool. Imgflip is free and can be used without registration. Its features are somewhat limited in order to drive sales of “Imgflip Pro”, but it still does a quite acceptable job. There are ads on the page, but I didn’t find them particularly obtrusive; I’ve left them in the screenshots so you can judge for yourself.

Beginning with the URL above, I uploaded a video. Although the site says that mp4 or ogg video will work best, I had no trouble with my avi. Click the “Upload Video” button, select your file, and wait while the movie is uploaded. Once the upload finishes, you’ll see something like this:

Imgflip1

Use the sliders to choose how much of the movie to convert. I’m trimming a smidge off the beginning and several seconds off the end. The “Crop GIF” button is nice: there’s nothing going on in the top half of the frame, so I’m throwing it away by just dragging the top of the box down in the preview image. I’ve also chosen to keep the GIF private, since I’ll be downloading it to share here instead of on the Imgflip website. The rest of the controls are, I believe very self-explanative:

Imgflip2

Hit the “Generate GIF” button, and it’s done.

Imgflip3

Enjoy the video below of one of our neighbors coming to visit. Note that the original movie was 25 MB. The GIF version is 1.5 MB and is still quite watchable.

hineighbor

Tradition, by the way, seems to require that animated GIFs loop. All of the software I looked at seems to allow you to turn off looping, but as far as I can tell, nobody does.

One apparently well-regarded GIF creator for iOS and Android devices is GifBoom. I attempted to try it out, but discovered that you have to log into GifBoom’s social network to use the apps. That’s a non-starter for me, but if you don’t mind it, feel free to try the apps out. If you do, by all means report back here and let us know how they work out.

Most of the focus in the app space seems to be on capturing directly from your camera, which makes sense. If you have pre-existing movies to convert, you might look at Android Video to Gif Beta, which seems, despite the “beta” tag to be pretty solid.

I experimented with GIF Camera. The interface is simple; it gives you a standard camera view. When you tap the usual trigger icon, it takes a series of 20 images and then stitches them together into your animated GIF. That can then be uploaded to the usual assortment of social networks or file sharing sites. I present the major motion picture “Crow Flying Past My Den Window”, coming soon to a theatre near you.

crow

(I wasn’t able to test any iOS apps, as my iPad is a first-generation unit with no camera, but the developer of GIF Camera cites Cinemagram as his inspiration.)

Meta: This post was an experiment in writing “How-To” content. While I don’t think it’s a failure, I do think there’s room for improvement. I’d like to do a few more How-Tos over the next couple of weeks. If there are any subjects you would be interested in seeing me take a swing at, let me know, either in the comments on this post or via email if you’re feeling shy.

2 thoughts on “Round and Round

  1. All nice and pretty if you like to use photos for animation. My favorite tool is still the grand daddy of them all, GIF Animator by Microsoft. It has been unchanged for almost 20 years and still works. It just perfect for stick figures and moving signed since it had a build in color picker for a transparency layer. Its also Free. Oh heck, did i just age myself.

    Like

    • You did just date yourself, but we still love you anyway.

      Yeah, that’s one of the areas where I think the post could have been improved. I focused exclusively on the “convert video to GIF” scenario, and didn’t even touch “convert a series of stills to GIF”. (Some other problems: I probably should have treated apps as an entirely separate piece, since the goals are rather different; I could have better separated the background from the “how-to” portion; and I should have added more detail on why you might want to have an animated GIF instead of an embedded YouTube video or something similar.)

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