How to do Powerpoint Animations


Microsoft Powerpoint has unfortunately become the default program for doing presentations because the Microsoft monopoly ensures that it is the only one available on most computers. Also regrettable is that, these days, both academic & business presentations are usually judged more on flashy appearance, novelties and animation than on content. These two requirements are not very compatible because Powerpoint was only really designed for bullet point presentations.

Microsoft obtained the program now called Powerpoint when it bought out Forethought Inc. in 1987 and has since then bodged in more graphics features but they don't work well either in terms of efficiency or functionality.

In the following I am referring to the 97 version of Powerpoint (any before that are inadequate for image importing and animating) for Microsoft Windows (I expect other platform versions will be similar except that commands might be in different menus). Later versions will probably have the same features plus some more but, even, so it is good practice to only use the oldest set of features that do the job because (a) those are most likely to have been debugged, and (b) the presentation should still work when saved as an older file type lest you have to use it on a system older than your own.

How to do a Simple Bullet Point Presentation

Create a new presentation and add a slide to it. Choose the form of a title and a content box. Click on the title and type that in. Click on the content box and type your bullet points and indent sub points. This is simple and Powerpoint can cope with it. You can also import a Microsoft Word document and, provided it has standard heading styles for paragraphs, it will be converted to bullet points.

How to set up a Style

To give all your pages one style (i.e. fonts, sizes, colours, background, logos) to look 'professional' either apply a design from another presentation or make your own one.

To apply a design, choose Format -> Apply Design from the menu and choose either one of your existing presentations to copy it from or one of the default ones that came with Powerpoint. Bear in mind that the latter will look cheap & tacky to anyone in the audience who has looked through the selection of default designs.

To make your own, choose View -> Master -> Slide Master. Whatever you do on that slide acts as format and background for all slides.

If you have one slide which you want to override the master style (typically because you have a large image that looks ugly when placed with your background image) then, for that particular slide, either Format -> Background -> Omit Graphics from Master or simply paste a shape over the offending area, give it Outline=None and Fill=Background (although this is not perfect if you have a tiled image background in the master because there is a bug in the lining up of the fill tiles with the background ones). If you want to miss out the master style totally from a slide simply fill the whole slide with a big rectangle filled with the new colour and put everything else on top of that.

How to insert Photographs, Screenshots etc.

Assuming that you already have pictures on the computer in files, use Insert -> Picture -> From File. Photographs are usually best saved as JPEGs to get the file size small whereas example screenshots of programs and other things with expanses of uniform colour compress best as PNG. Of course, retouch & edit images as needed in a bitmap editing program like Adobe Photoshop, Corel Photopaint or Jasa Paintshop Pro before putting them in Powerpoint. Do not simple cut and paste from your bitmap editor though or Powerpoint will insert it uncompressed and the Powerpoint file size could be huge. Always save them as files and then import them. Also keep those individual files for later use because extracting the images from Powerpoint without losing resolution is difficult.

Clipping images in the bitmap editor instead of Powerpoint of saves on the size of the files because Powerpoint retains the trimmed off parts in the file.

Warning: producing an artistically good quality image-based presentation can take a lot longer than a purely text based one because of the time needed to draw the pictures well or find appropriate clip-art with a consistent visual-style. Of course, using the clip-art from Powerpoint's own library is quick but the result does look cheap and tacky because so many of the audience will have seen the same pictures before, they are unlikely to fit your meaning exactly and they are unlikely to be in matching style without being restricted to a small subset and even then having to do a lot of recolouring. The number of slides needed to create a cartoon-like effect is also huge. For example a 10 minute presentation I could have done in 6 boring slides of bullet points became 40 slides of pictures with a couple of hundred animated builds.

It is a good idea to also have a text version (it is quick to do!) of the presentation as paper & floppy disk handouts if one is doing a largely pictorial presentation with all the detail in the spoken commentary lest a member of the audience is deaf.

How to do Vector Graphics

These are distinct from photos in that they are not edited as a collection of pixels but as "circle here, square there" information files giving several advantages including the ability to stretch them to any size without the messy blockiness of big pixels and the ease of editing them into different variations. They can also give a very clear clean look. If you are drawing images from scratch it is usually better to do them as vector graphics than bitmaps and keep copies because vector images are amazingly reusable.

You can draw graphics with the inbuilt Microsoft Draw commands within Powerpoint but that is very pathetic drawing package with awfully limited functions and many bugs when it comes to resizing or rotating objects (e.g. if one has a picture with text in it and stretches it, the text remains the same size but the rest changes size so the result is a mess!). Only use it for dead simple things like boxes and arrows and ensure you are drawing at the final size you want. Have Draw -> Snap -> To Grid turned on to get a neat result with lines joining up pixel-perfect without having to fiddle at high magnification.

Instead of Powerpoint, use a decent vector drawing package like Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator. That leaves the question of how to import the result. One can import some vector graphics directly but that does not work very well and the increase in Powerpoint file size suggests they are stored partly rendered into bitmaps anyway. It is better to export the images to a bitmap file at roughly the resolution that you will be needing and import them from that into Powerpoint (remember to keep the vector file version though lest you want to modify & reuse the illustration later). Vector images typically compress very well as PNGs or GIFs. If you are doing it as GIF then make sure that you use an optimised palette not the default one so that it does not make shading scruffily dithered having wasted most of the GIFs limited 256 palliate colours on colours not present in your image (to do this in Corel Draw 7, first save it as a PNG, then open it in Photopaint, Image -> Convert -> Paletted -> Optimised, then save as GIF).

If you need transparent areas that show the slid background through (virtually always unless your illustration is rectangular or its background exactly matches that of the slide) then you can either tell Powerpoint to make one colour transparent or do it the image as a GIF with transparency. The former is very crude (it does not work with the antialiasing so images look very scruffy if this is done unless all edges are precisely horizontal or vertical) and the latter tedious (open the image in a bitmap editor, do a flood fill on the area to be transparent to ensure what looks like one colour really is only one palette entry not two nearly identical ones, specify that colour to be transparent and save). Unfortunately GIFs do not have partial transparency (PNGs do but Powerpoint frustratingly ignores all PNG transparency) so where the pixels closest to the edge of the transparent region have been antialiased (i.e. pixels set to between background and foreground colour to softened out otherwise spuriously jagged edges) they will remain blended to original background colour not that of the slide. The only way around this is to make sure that the background of the original vector image is set to something close to the final slide colour (or at least not dark for a light slide background or vice versa) before exporting it. Unfortunately this means that one really needs to decide on a dark or light slide background (and preferably the general colour) before inserting the images and stick to it.

If you have a load of image components from one vector graphic that need to be accurately spaced relatively to one another but nevertheless be imported from separate files (why? so you can animate them to build one after another) then some hidden structuring is needed. Firstly add a big background rectangle to the vector image in a solid colour (similar to the slide background of course) that is sufficiently large that none of the other components extends beyond it. Then export each required component to a separate bitmap file but include the same background rectangle with each. Now go through the process of converting them all to GIFs with transparent backgrounds. Now import then one at time into Powerpoint without moving or resizing any. Because the images have the same dimensions in pixels and Powerpoint puts all new images in the centre of the page, they will line up perfectly. The wasteful background space is not too bad because it a large block of uniform colour takes up negligible space when GIFed. Unfortunately it will be difficult to select components individually because the mouse click selection routine in Powerpoint ignores transparency. To solve this, crop as much invisible background off as possible (using the Crop tool on the Picture toolbar) each image just after it is imported without resizing or moving the image. When all images components are imported, group them (select them all & do Draw -> Group). They can now be moved and resized as one so their relative positions are maintained. When they are in the right place and size Draw -> Ungroup and it is done. Phweph!

How to do Animations

Now to really start using our initiative to get Powerpoint to do what it is not designed for! Powerpoint does not have any proper animations. What it does have are build-effects which are a limited collection of simple once-only animations (Slide Show -> Custom Animation) which can only act on one object a time, start with that object not visible and end with that object in its final place. With these, some artistic ability & some tricks one can make it look like an animated presentation (if you really want to do professional animations you need something like Macromedia Director). Here are some of the tricks:

If the effect you want is not available you can get something that gives a similar visual feeling. For example Zoom Out Slightly gives the impression of something having descended into the scene, even though it only does the last bit (better than a full Zoom Out because that is too slow) and if one has a set of diverging arrows spreading out to the right with Uncover Right it givers the impression of the arrows having spread out in different directions at once.

Most importantly: keep animations meaningful & tasteful (unless you doing a parody of course)! It is all too common for people to give shove in build effects almost at random. The result is tacky, irrelevant & tedious. You'll just look prat if you do that, and you might as well use the 'random' build option to get the same naff result with less effort. Instead make the build meaningful. For example, even a simple 3 element page of 2 pictures with an arrow linking one to another could be made clearer through a logical built effect of the first one appearing large with 'box out' effect as soon as the slide appears then, after one has talked about it, shrinking down to one side of the screen (faked with disappearance followed by a smaller copy appearing with 'zoom out slightly' effect) with the arrow growing to the other picture's location (using an 'uncover' effect) followed by the second picture appearing with a 'box out' effect. This is much better than the first image 'spiralling' on, the second 'dissolving' on & the arrow 'flying' on from a arbitrary direction unrelated where it points. Also avoid build effects in the slide master because they get tedious when repeated every time a slide changes (as well as giving away when a slide change has been used for an object build effect).

How to Add Background Music

For presentations that are run as stand alone shows automatically progressing through slides, some people like to have background music played by the presentation. Personally I find it annoying & one can always use a separate Hi-fi system or just a separate program on the same computer to play the music but some people still want the presentation to automatically play the music.

Firstly get the a copy of the music as a WAV or MIDI file. A WAV file is likely to be huge but Powerpoint 97 does not understand compressed formats like MP3 (hardly unexpected considering that it took Powerpoint a decade to cope with compressed images!). Put it in the same directory as the presentation. Go to the first slide of the presentation, Insert -> Movies and Sounds -> Sound from File and select that file. The file should appear as a blue loudspeaker icon representing a link to the sound file. Do not embed the file in the presentation or it will appear as a yellow loudspeaker icon and it not have some of the vital options enabled. Then select select the icon and Slide Show -> Action Settings -> Mouse Click -> Object Action -> Play which will tell it to play when clicked. After OKing that dialogue box, with the icon still selected, Slide Show -> Custom Animation -> Timing tab & select "Animate", "Automatically" & "0 seconds". If you have other animations on the slide, repeatedly click the up button until this sound file is the first thing in the animation list. Switch to the Play Settings tab and select "While Playing Continue Slide Show" (so that music does not hold up the visual animations) & "Stop Playing After" (so that it does not stop when the slide advances). Raise the number of slides to "Stop Playing After" to the number of slides in the presentation & click the Options button to get a another dialogue box & select "Loop Until Stopped" unless you are sure your sound file is longer than your presentation. OK all that. To hide the sound file icon on the first page, put a background-filled unoutlined object on top of it. Remember to distribute the sound file with the presentation and put it in the same folder before running the presentation.

That process is not at all obvious (at one point it involves setting a check box on a dialogue box accessed from a button on a tabbed window in a dialogue box opened from a menu!) but the following more obvious methods all fail: embedding a sound file (yellow icon) because the Play Settings tab is disenabled; recording a narration because it simply chops the recording into WAV files and has one playing per slide; and embedding the presentation and the sound file in a one slide container presentation that runs both because it cuts short the sound playing when the embedded presentation starts playing.

Know your Target System

Ask in advance how the presentation will be displayed because this affects how you do it. If it is not going to be live but given to people to work through alone then there is no voice over from you so make sure you explain everything in text (either on the slides or the accompanying notes) as well. If it is going to be shown on a VGA resolution project make sure everything is bold and clear. If it is going to be e-mailed make sure the file size is as small as possible. If it is to be printed on OHPs forget animations. Etc..

Converting a Presentation into Poster

There is far more involved to this than simply printing out the presentation; unless you don't mind a really scruffy poster, that is. The optimizations and bug work-arounds needed for producing a neat poster are different to those needed for producing neat animations so I've added as separate article on "How to do Powerpoint Posters".

Converting a Presentation for the WWW

Do not use the inbuilt converter (File -> Save as HTML); it is shit. It truly is the worse HTML converter I have ever come across. Essentially it just does a screen shot of each slide and saves each as a JPEG! Even the pure text slides!! The result is a load of web pages, one per slide, that take an unnecessarily long time to download, have hardly any text for search engines to pick up, are difficult to read (if one increases the font size of text stored as a picture one just gets the blur magnified) and are hardly accessible to blind readers using computer speech output.

Instead you will need to do it manually. Take your bitmap images, your text and your backgrounds and assemble a set of web pages from scratch. Sorry.

Earlier Versions of Powerpoint

The instructions here are for Powerpoint 97. Earlier versions are even more inadequate. 97 was the first version to store imported images compressed. Even in version 95 (the immediately previous one) Microsoft had not grasped the idea that images could be compressed despite it being common on the Internet for a decade and used elsewhere for long before that. It would import a GIF or JPEG but then store the image in the Powerpoint file as uncompressed bitmap making presentations typically 5 to 20 times bigger that they need have been (and as this was in the days before common CD-ROM writers this meant having to tediously spread a presentation that should easily fit on one floppy disk across a dozen disks!). Neither did it even support GIF transparency. Either of these two alone effectively meant one was limited to using the slow ugly inbuilt drawing system (which was the only one saved in any form compressed) or importing only rectangular pictures and making sure one had one's own personal lap top computer so one never needed to transfer the resulting huge file.

The version before that (version 4) did not have animation for objects, only for whole slides and was really just for slides to be printed and used on an OHP not a computer projector.

Later Versions of Powerpoint

Powerpoint 2000 for Microsoft Windows to has all the animation features of Powerpoint 97 (albeit some of the menu commands are hidden by default and the default editing view is more cluttered). The main improvement is that fly-on transparent GIFs are no longer left with faulty anti-aliasing so the fudge of splitting the build across multiple slides should not be needed. However, a serious new bug has been added to this instead. On some systems the background of the destination location moves into place with the objects. This looks messy and can disrupt the final picture where such objects overlap. I think the difference between the systems which suffer this & those that don't is that the bug-fix called 'Office Service Release 1' fixes it when applied. However this bug-fix also adds new bugs to Microsoft Outlook preventing it working on some systems so don't rely on it being in place on other's computers.

Powerpoint 2001 for MacOS has a similar bug.