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.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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