Making Your Own Animated GIF


Q: Animated GIFs once ruled the Internet, appearing on every teenager's Geocities homepage or MySpace profile. Now I can't seem to find any that I like. Can I make my own instead?

A: Created way back in the 1990s, animated GIFs once looked hi-tech in a Netscape browser running on a Gateway PC. Now, the choppy sequences have evolved into a big Internet joke. No Internet meme is complete without an animated GIF accompaniment -- the jerky sequences populate several blogs, paying homage to early Internet culture.

If they look quite amateur, well, it's because they are. Incredibly easy to make, anyone can create their own GIF using either an online program or Adobe Photoshop.

Making a GIF is like putting together a virtual flip book. Whether you're using an online program, or going the do-it-yourself route via Photoshop, you first need to assemble the individual still frames of your animated movie.

To do that, find an online video of the clip so that you can take screenshots of snippets of the action -- as many as seem necessary to complete the full motion of the clip. For a sequence from DuckTales (you know it and you love it), this YouTube video, complete with Dutch lyrics, will do the trick. The desired section happens around the 20-25 second mark:

To capture the full range of motion for this segment, take at least five screenshots, each representing a different aspect of the scene. To take a screenshot on a PC, simply hold down CTRL and the Print Scrn buttons. This will copy the image onto your computer, which you can then save by using Microsoft Paint. To take a screenshot on a Mac, hold down Apple, Shift, and 3. That command will take a picture of your current screen and save it to your desktop.

Once you have amassed your still frames -- try to keep them all around the same size -- you can put them together either using some very simple online programs or Photoshop.

One of many GIF-making sites available for free on the Internet, works just fine. Upload your screenshots in the appropriate order, select your animation speed, and there you have it, an animated GIF. You may have to play around with how many photos you upload and your speed selection depending on how well you captured the scene.


Let's see how it fares against the Photoshop make.

For those who'd like to better understand the mechanics of GIF making, you can also create this lovely sequence on Photoshop. It takes a bit longer, but for some, the end product might feel more satisfying. It also allows you to customize speed more than the program.

With the Photoshop technique, you will use the same screen shots as before. First, take the shots and create layers for each of the segments in the order you'd like the animation to flow. After setting up your layers -- this GIF used five, one for each shot -- add animation frames (Windows > Animate). For the first frame, Visibility (that little eye icon next to the frame) should be turned off. Adding one frame at a time, turn visibility on for the next shot in the sequence until you've reached the final frame (and have therefore made all of layers visibly animated).

After finishing the animation, adjust the time, which appears at the base of each frame, to make the animation flow as smoothly as you'd like. Again, you might have to play with the photos and speed to get just the right amount of choppiness.

Here's the Photoshopped GIF:


Tools mentioned in this entry:

More questions? View the complete Toolkit archive.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a writer based in Brooklyn. She was formerly on staff at The Atlantic Wire.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Technology

Just In