Creating Workable Slide Backgrounds


A few years ago, I wrote a post on slide backgrounds. I reviewed a sample of commercially available and corporate “templates” and concluded that they were basically exercises for graphic designers and that they seriously interfered with actual slide content. In fact, I suggested that the best slide background may be no background at all.

However, there are a few background approaches that might support your message rather than detract from it. I’ll show you some examples in this post and you can decide for yourself.

First, where does a slide background come from?

  • The slide Layout  – the background of the Layout (along with any other objects on the Layout) will appear as the default background of a slide. A Layout may inherit its background from the Master Slide in a Theme.
  • A Format Background operation. This treats the background like an object and provides the usual fill options (solid, gradient, picture, etc.) This operation will override the Layout background.
  • A photo or other objects “behind” all other objects on the slide. This is technically not a background but it has the same function.

If you are preparing a Theme, you will use Layouts to define slide backgrounds. You might use a Format Background  or an “object background” for a one-time application.  However, an “object background” can interfere with editing other objects on the slide.

By the way, there is no rule that says every content slide must have the same background. You could provide options by carefully creating a few variations as Layouts with, of course, consistent colors and your beloved corporate logo.

A “workable” slide background should contribute to your message and, at the same time. not interfere with the slide content. For example, it is difficult to create easily discernible content against backgrounds with large high contrast images. See the earlier post for some horrifying examples.

One approach is to use “textures.” You can find textures on the web; these are often photographs of natural or man-made materials like stone, wood grain, concrete, leather, etc. Here’s an example slide  from a presentation on PowerPoint “abusers” using a “grunge” texture as a backgound:

OFFENDER 1 static

The texture reinforces the premise that PowerPoint abuse is a disgusting criminal activity in the back alleys.

Here’s an “old paper” texture that I used for a fairy tale (!!) project:


This textured steel image might be used to evoke a sense of strength or security:


As it is, this stock texture might interfere with slide content. Adjusting Contrast and Brightness can make the detail more subtle and improve the clarity of the slide using this background:


Here’s an example using a stock (but recolored) circuit image as a background:

bk4Adding a gradient filled rectangle over the background reduces the interference, especially near the center of the slide:


Another source of “textures” is the Pattern fill option. Here’s a Large grid background fill (suggesting engineering or architecture) with a semi-transparent gradient overlay:


It’s worth pointing out here that the Pattern fill has some unusual properties. Here are some examples using a Pattern filled rectangle along with a png version of the rectangle:

bk8First, the spacing and orientation of the pattern is not changed by shrinking, rotating or stretching the shape. Oddly, the pattern does change appropriately under 3d rotation. The spacing changes when converted to a Picture (and also in slide show mode).  The spacing also changes if you Zoom in edit mode. Controlling or adjusting the coarseness or orientation of the pattern requires conversion to a picture.

Another approach involves “watermarks” – shapes created in subtle colors against a solid or gradient background. The shapes may suggest an aspect of the company or its products; I’ve seen corporate logos used this way. Often the watermark is placed so that interference with likely slide content is minimized.

Here are some samples I recently prepared for the folks over at Acme:


These backgrounds use arrays of shapes in colors that are low contrast relative to the overall slide color – transparency helps here. The first four slides use outlines; slide 4 introduces  a little color variation to the array. The last four slides use filled objects and transparency.

The shapes are not arbitrary but are meant to suggest an aspect of the client’s business. One client liked the hexagon array because it reinforced the modularity of his software products. The gear motif actually uses a part of the client’s logo.

So what have we learned here today? To create workable slide backgrounds:

  • Acquire stock textures.
  • Use background pattern fill.
  • Adapt these to a workable background by re-coloring and/or adjusting brightness and contrast.
  • Overlay semitransparent and/or gradients to reduce interference with content.
  • Create arrays of simple shapes in subtle colors for a “watermark” effect.


Video in PowerPoint – Title Slides


Have you ever used a video in a serious PowerPoint presentation? Probably not. If you have, maybe you included a product demo or a clip from a speech by your CEO. That is, you played a video for your audience that happened to be embedded in a PowerPoint file.

Here’s another idea: why not use a video as a component of your design, integrated with other objects, like you might use a photo?  Recent versions of PowerPoint (I’m using 2013) provide some useful tools for this approach. A huge variety of video clips is available from the usual stock photo sources at reasonable prices (I have paid $15-$60). Or you might make your own video.

However, like many PowerPoint features, video must be used with care or it will become a distraction. Make sure that your design actually adds to your message and engages the audience in a positive way.

Over at Acme Services Inc., title slides (presentation and section intro slides) often get considerable attention and use large impactful images and professional graphic design. Like other organizations, Acme wants to make a powerful first impression and, in the case of section titles, provide a clear transition and set the stage for the upcoming section.

This seemed to me to be an opportunity for “title slides” featuring video.

Here’s a video-based title slide for Acme’s customer service business:

Here are some notes:

  • I acquired this video from For purposes of this demo, I chose a low resolution version (240p) for 15 “credits” ($15 or less). You will probably want to use higher resolution for business purposes.
  • After you Insert/Video, set Start to Automatic on the Video Tools/Playback menu. This will add the video playback as an event in the animation pane so that you can coordinate the playback with other animations.  There will also be a “Trigger” item on the animation pane that implements the play on click option. For simplicity, I Remove the Trigger item.
  • The original clip was in 16×9 widescreen format. There were visible artifacts at the lower right corner of the white background. I cropped the video box to eliminate them using Video Tools/Format/Crop. This made the video background match the white slide background.
  • The original clip was 19+ seconds long. I used Video Trim to get the part I wanted (the last 9.1 sec). This is pretty easy; move the sliders and watch the playback to get the result you want.
  • I added the red rectangles above and below the video box.
  • Annoyingly, the playback briefly returns to the first frame shortly before it stops. I couldn’t find a way to fix this so I applied an Exit/Fade animation effect to the video object just before the end; that is, the video disappears before it ends. I also added a Entry/Fade to the video object before it starts. Note that these are animation effects, not the video playback fade in/out option.
  • The text entries are timed to synchronize with the video. An Entry/Fade for the logo occurs With the Exit/Fade for the video object .

Here’s the annotated animation pane for the slide. Unfortunately, the duration of the video clip is not shown on the animation pane; I added a blue line to approximate the duration.


Here’s another example


  • This video is also from and is resized to full screen size (the video object has been stretched like any rectangle). As you can see, a higher res video should be used for this application.
  • The video is Trimmed and Entry/Fade is applied as before.
  • A dark blue slide background is used.
  • An audio clip from provides a sound effect. It is set to Play “Automatically” so it appears in the animation pane. It has been Trimmed like the video. Playback fade-in and fade-out are applied.
  • Two text objects are animated as before.
  • Near the end of the audio/video playback, a semi transparent rectangle overlays the video/text and the text and logo appear.

Here’s the annotated animation pane for this slide; lines have been added to indicate the audio/video durations:


As you can see from these examples, you can apply most of the animation effects to the video object so that they occur during the playback. You can also apply format effects to the video as if it were an ordinary object. This pretty silly demo applies an outline, 3d Depth and rotation along with a motion path and a Shrink effect:

Using video in PowerPoint is a relatively easy way to add movement (and sound) to your presentation. However, like animation, video must be used with deliberate care or it will be intensely distracting. In particular, selecting the right video (and audio) clips may be a challenge.

Since this post uses licensed video and audio clips, I won’t provide a copy of the PowerPoint file as I usually do. I hope the post includes enough detail to allow you to apply the power of video to your presentations.

Please comment if you have questions (or answers).


Cityscape – “3d” Buildings


I have in mind a “cityscape” project – a view of a city showing buildings, streets, vehicles, etc.  I don’t need a detailed and accurate model  of a real city, just a representation that is reasonable to create in PowerPoint.  In this post, I will create a variety of simple “3d” buildings and demonstrate some useful techniques.

Faithful readers will know that I have used PowerPoint “3d” in the past; see the network demonstration, alphabet blocks and a “watchtower” icon. If you’ve seen some of these you will know that PowerPoint 3d is limited in capability and that you shouldn’t expect too much.

But why create your own images? You can find hundreds of 3d building stock images (clipart) on the web, some of which are free. Well, if you take a DIY approach you can control color and style elements to match your branding/theme. You can meet specific requirements: do you need a tall hospital or a tiny factory? You can edit the objects (in PowerPoint) to create variations and new versions. And, you will increase your PowerPoint skills.

The general idea is to use PowerPoint “3d” tools to create an isometric building image piece by piece. This diagram shows the process:


These are the steps:

  • Create 3 objects representing “views” of the building: front, side and top (labeled 1, 2 and 3 above).  In more complicated shapes (see next example), a view may have several parts.
  • Apply the indicated rotations to each “view.” These are selected from the Parallel/Isometric group of 3d rotations.
  • Notice that the Top Up rotation for the top view/roof (as it is drawn) doesn’t produce the desired result. You can fix this by using the Bottom Down rotation or by creating the top view in a different orientation. (Rotating the top view object before applying the 3d rotation doesn’t work; try it.)
  • Nudge the rotated views together to form the “building;” more about this later.
  • 3d Format/Lighting adds to the 3d effect. The  default angle is 0 degrees which produces a result that looks like it is lit from the upper right. You can change this by changing the lighting angle (using the same setting for all the pieces) or by changing the color(s) of  the appropriate view. The steps shown in the example above result in a more conventional top left light source.

Here’s the layout for the first example:


The upper stories of the building are “set back” and the windows are vertical ribbons with some variations. The detail at the bottom of one of the views represents the building entrance.

Here are some (familiar) tips for creating this kind of drawing in PowerPoint:

  • Set Snap objects to grid and select a Grid spacing that allows a palpable “snap” when creating or moving objects; I typically use 0.1 in or 0.05 in. This will help in aligning objects “by hand.”
  • Use Drawing guides to align and center objects.
  • Use Duplicate to create repeating patterns. Specifically, select an object (a window, for example) and Duplicate it. Without  un-selecting the duplicate, move it to the desired position (e.g., horizontally aligned with the original and spaced by a particular amount). Then, without un-selecting, Duplicate again. The third version will have the same spacing and alignment. Repeat to create a row. If needed, group the row and use the same process vertically to create an array of windows.
  • I find it easier to create the window layout first and then add the building outline.

Here’s the layout with fill color added:


The windows are blue, reflecting the sky. There are two tops, one for the lower part of the building and one for the upper part. I put a faint outline of the upper part of the building on the lower top to help with alignment.

Since I expect to use these objects at a relatively small size, I can avoid a lot of detail (contrast the watchtower example).

Here are the building “faces” with the rotations applied and roughly positioned:


Here’s the final assembly:


There is no shortcut for this last step. The Snap to grid setting and other alignment tools are of no use; hold down Ctrl to override the snap and use the nudge (arrow) keys to make small adjustments. It helps to use a large Zoom. You may want to temporarily add outlines to make the edges easier to see.

Here’s a similar example:


This building has individual windows and a simple street level treatment. The window color is the same as the previous example. Since all of the sides are the same, only one version of each part is needed.

The top of this building is a square with a Bevel applied to form the roof. The Bevel is the Angle type with Height and Width equal to half the side of the square. I find that I have to fiddle with the lighting angle to get the colors right when I use a Bevel.

You can experiment with other kinds of Bevels to create additional roof forms; here are some examples:


Here’s the layout for a more complicated building along with a preliminary isometric view:


I created the “barrel” roofs by adding Depth to the curved shape:


I suggest you adjust the depth of the roof(s) to match the other parts after the building is assembled. (Selecting a shape inside a rotated group is a little tricky – using the Selection Pane can help.)

Here’s the resulting building (after some lighting adjustments):


I’ll need other types of buildings; here’s a small factory:


Here are some notes:

  • The brick color and larger windows suggest an older factory.
  • I added a Frame shape with Depth to two of the roofs to suggest a low wall around the periphery. Here’s the process:


  • Similarly, the chimneys are Donut shapes with Depth added.

Here’s a building designed for housing (dormitory or apartments):


And here’s a hospital:


If  you want to try these techniques, you can request a free PowerPoint file containing these examples using the form below. Please double check your email address; if it has an error, you won’t get your file.


Using Text “Over” Images


Presentation experts suggest a design style that uses large, impactful pictures along with minimal text. This is a good idea; in particular, it requires the presenter to deliver the message, not the slides.

There are a few practical issues with this approach; not the least of which is making the text legible against a complicated background image. This post will demonstrate a few techniques to assure that your text is clear and readable.

The first approach is to simply to avoid the problem. If you use stock images you will find some are available with space deliberately designed for “copy.” Since text legibility is also an issue for print media, it is not surprising that traditional sources provide these kind of images. Some stock image sources provide a search tool that can specify “copy space.”

Here’s an example slide using this kind of image:


Here’s another more natural image (one of my favorites), composed so that space is available for text:


You can also acquire stock images that feature elements isolated on a uniform background (sometimes called “cutouts”). You may be able to use “isolated” as a keyword to search for this specific style.

You can use PowerPoint or other tools to make the background of these images transparent (png format) and combine with other elements to get space for text. Here’s an example of a slide using this technique:


The woman’s face is the stock image; a gradient rectangle background and text have been added.

You can modify an image so that overlaid text is clear; this example uses a re-colored image with adjusted contrast and brightness:


Recent versions of PowerPoint include tools to colorize images and adjust contrast and brightness. Other low-cost software is also available with photo editing features.

Sometimes you want to use a specific image without modification. For example, the folks over at Acme want a testimonial slide using a specific photo of the customer’s facility. Here are a couple of attempts to add contrasting text to the image:


Using dark text against the lightest part of this image doesn’t work very well. White text in the dark corner is better for this particular image.

Your image may not have an area where you can successfully add contrasting text. In the past, I have suggested that using Text/Shadow or Glow will help in this situation. Here are two attempts:


The second (Glow) effect seems better here.

Another method that seems cleaner and more foolproof than text effects is to use a semitransparent (dark or light) rectangle as an “underlay” to clarify the text. Here’s what I mean:


This has become my preferred method but you should pick the location and degree of transparency carefully.

This method works especially well with longer text and complex images. Here’s an example (the folks at Acme did not want to edit the testimonial quote or the photo):


This example uses light text against a dark underlay.

So, here’s the recap:

  • Acquire or create images with open “copy” space.
  • Adjust color, brightness and contrast of the image to get text clarity.
  • If neither of these is practical, use a semitransparent rectangle between the text and the image.

Drawing and Animating Gears – Planetary Gears


This is the third in a series of posts (here and here) on gears in PowerPoint. It might help you to read those first.

This post is about “planetary gears;” here is a photo of a real planetary gear set:


The center gear is called the “sun” gear; the surrounding gears are called “planets” or “idlers.” The outer gear is called the “annular” gear. (Nomenclature varies.)

From the point of view of the arithmetic, the outer gear (with the teeth inside) acts just like a large ordinary gear. As we learned before, the trick for laying out gears that mesh is to keep the ratio of the number of teeth to the diameter the same (and not a fraction) for all the gears. Here’s a combination that will work:


Here are the numbers for this combination including the relative rotations:


As I did in the first post, I added radial lines (corresponding to tooth positions) and an inner and outer circle to each gear layout:


Then I experimented with the tooth size and shape until I found a version that did not create too much interference where the gears mesh:


By the way, these “gears” don’t work in reality since there is some (unnoticeable, one hopes) interference and/or gaps where the gears mesh. Real gear teeth have a special curved shape so that the teeth “roll” against each other smoothly.

Again, I used the techniques in the first post to add the teeth to the gears. Briefly, for the gears with an even number of teeth I grouped a pair of opposite teeth together and duplicated and rotated the group around the gear layout. Use Drawing Guides and the Format Object/Size pane to center and rotate the tooth pairs. For the gear with an odd number of teeth, I temporarily added a line (in red) to a tooth to help with positioning:


To complete the inner gears, I deleted the layout lines leaving only the teeth and the smallest circle; then for each gear, I used Merge Shapes/Union to combine the teeth and circle into a single object:


For the annular (outer) gear, I merged the inward-facing teeth with a Donut shape:


Finally, position the planet gears at 60° intervals and add the simultaneous Spin animations: use the rotation numbers above and a common duration (10 seconds in this example). Voila!

It is worth noting that some people complain that PowerPoint animation can create dizziness or nausea in the audience – not a desirable effect. This may in fact be true for this example; you have been warned.

Undaunted, the brave folks over at Acme Services created this rather extravagant version to support their position that “Acme drives the universe!”


Well, here are some notes:

  • The sun gear contains the Acme logo; the planet gears represent Acme’s experience areas (manufacturing, finance, etc.). The universe is represented by the star field.
  • A larger Donut shape was merged with the outer gear (so that it fills the slide) and a star field photo was used to Fill the gear.
  • If you use Fill/Picture for the other gears (the logo and icons), you will find that the result is rotated. This is because the gears have been rotated during construction and the Fill process remembers the rotation. Merging the logo and icon pictures with the gear shape retains the desired orientation. (See this post for more on this “cookie cutter” method.) Here’s a diagram showing the difference:


  • Actually, the star field was rotated but it doesn’t matter.
  • Using the Merge technique loses the animation; once the gears have been positioned, you can use the Animation Painter referring to the “plain” version to restore the animations.

As usual, if you want a free PowerPoint file containing these projects, use the form below:

Animation in PowerPoint – Opening the Book


Opening a book is a way of introducing an idea, displaying an agenda or presenting facts. This post provides a simple example animation and a more complex version. Both rely on the Stretch entry effect and its exit analog Collapse.

Here’s the first example:

Here are some notes on this animation:

  • Four objects are involved in the “open” animation:


  • I used the Selection Pane to name the objects and set the front-to-back order (front on top):


  • Here’s the Animation Pane (with some notes):


  • The basic animation consists of the Collapse to Left of the front cover, followed by the Stretch of the back of the front cover and pages. The back cover and pages are not animated but appear as the front cover “opens.”
  • To enhance the effect, I added the “edge” of the front cover (black in the example) that gradually appears and then disappears as the cover moves. The effect is created by a Stretch (Across) and Collapse combined with simultaneous motion paths (a single path could have ben used).
  • The timing is relatively slow; this helps when verifying the animation.
  • You can guess how the “close” effect works given the “open” example. The close effect is faster – I would use this timing for the actual presentation.


Powerpointy Tip:  The Selection Pane (one of my favorite tools) is useful in this example but it is crucial in more complex, layered constructions like the second example in this post.

The Selection Pane allows you to:

  • Assign meaningful names to objects – these names will also appear in the Animation Pane.
  • Easily select objects even if they are hidden under other objects
  • Collapse group entries so that their details are hidden in the list
  • Temporarily make objects invisible
  • See and manage the ordering (layering) of objects

There is no checking for duplicate names so be careful.


This first try at a book animation is pretty flat looking.  It looks like a pamphlet since the thickness of the book is not apparent.

To create a more convincing effect, I developed this model:

book4This model presents three stages in the animation, vertically aligned and viewed from the bottom edge of the book. In the initial position, only the front cover of the book (blue)  is visible from above, but in later stages the spine (green), pages (red), and back cover are visible.

The crosshatched elements are “rulers” used the help size the elements of the animation. I have set vertical Drawing Guides (barely visible in this screen shot) at critical positions so that they can be used later to position and size elements of the animation and to determine the end points of motion paths.

The intermediate stage shows the front cover in a vertical position so that only its edge is visible from above. Only the edges of the front group of pages are visible. The spine is rotated half way and the back group of pages is visible. The back cover does not move.

I hope the movement of the stacks of pages is clear from the model. I kept the top page (top edge of the red parallelogram) anchored to the middle of the book and the bottom page at the original position. As you can see, the page edge exposure increases in width during the animation.

In the final position, the covers and spine lay flat. The pages still meet in the middle and the page edge exposure is larger.


Powerpointy Tip: To help size and align objects, enable Snap to Grid and set the grid spacing to a useful number. In the model above,the smallest dimension is 0.1 inches so I set the grid to 0.05 inches. This provides “snap” action to help align the edges and centers of objects.


In the spirit of “divide and conquer,” I will do the animation in “layers” and in stages. This simplifies the process and avoids some issues with locating motion paths that are close together.

The first step is to animate the first transition of the top layer (the front cover). The black arrow shows the intended motion on the slide layout:


The front cover is aligned (using the Drawing Guide) with the appropriate part of the model. A Collapse exit effect With a motion path terminated on another Drawing Guide completes this part of the animation. Here’s the result:


Special Announcement: All motion paths in this post have the Smooth Start/Stop timing set to zero. Some Microsoft genius set the default motion path with non-zero Smooth Start/Stop timings, so I have to reset them each time.


By the way, when you combine the Stretch effect With the motion path, the Stretch must appear first in the animation pane list; otherwise the motion path will not occur. There may be other anomalies of this kind; I don’t have the energy now to ferret them out.

Here are the rest of the animation parts and some notes:

  • The first animation shows the first transition of the spine to a partly open position.
  • In the “Second transition – front cover and spine,” the back of the front cover and the remaining part of the spine are grouped together.
  • In the “First transition – right page and edges,” the right page moves left to reveal the page edges.
  • Next, the top stack of pages opens to the intermediate position and then to the final position, revealing the edges. The second transition animation includes a Grow so that the page edge exposure widens (the grow value is 166% computed from the two widths in the model).
  • The final animation shows the front cover edge as before.

I combined these objects and animation onto a slide, using the Drawing Guides, making sure that the front-to-back order is correct (reference the model and use the Selection pane) and that the order of animations is correct. This is the result:

Now I need to make this look more like a book and include the message. Unfortunately, I can’t ungroup or add details to the objects by grouping without losing the animations. So, I will create the details, convert to pictures and fill the objects with the pictures. (I think I could have used the Animation Paintbrush to reapply the animations after adding details by grouping but I didn’t.)

Here are the parts of the book and some notes:


  • I used Pattern fill (the Confetti pattern) for the “leather” parts. Also, the page edges object uses the Light Vertical pattern.
  • I added internal shadows to the text and other parts of the cover to get an embossed look.
  • The pages have a temporary red outline for clarity. The small “text” lines are Rectangles with a Wave fill.
  • I added a gradient fill to the pages to create a shadow where the pages meet.

To complete the fills, select a fill object and Copy it to put it on the Clipboard. Then, select the corresponding animated object and use Fill/Picture or texture/From clipboard. You should check out my post on picture fill to learn more about this.

Here’s the result:

Here are the Selection Pane (showing the front-to-back order) and the annotated Animation Pane for this project:


Well, dear reader, what have we learned today about attacking a complex animation?

  • Have a plan – build a model showing the locations, orientations, etc., of the objects at various stages of the animation. This can be simple or complicated but the object is to create reference points for the animation.
  • Be precise – Use Snap to Grid to make it easier to locate and size objects in the model. Set Drawing Guides for key alignments and locations (end points of motion paths, for example).
  • Divide and conquer – if necessary, temporarily animate objects and phases of the animation on separate slides. This helps avoid confusion.
  • Combine with care – Use the Selection Pane to name objects, temporarily hide objects and to manage the front-to-back order. Use the Drawing Guides based on the model to locate, size and align objects.
  • Separate “design” from the mechanics of the animation – assemble the animation with simple objects and use Picture Fill and/or the Animation Paintbrush to complete the details of the objects.
  • Finally, control you expectations; this ain’t Pixar.

As usual, if you want a free copy of the source PowerPoint for this project, use the form below:

PowerPoint Secrets – Where’s the Center?


Here’s a a 144 pt Calibri character:


An outline has been added (blue). The alignment is Center; the text box attributes are:


Since you have read my post on the size of Calibri, you will not expect the character itself to be 144 pts high. The actual character height (green box) is about 1.26 in. The text box (blue) is 2.42 in high; I don’t know why (maybe it has something to do with line spacing). I have added a red bar 144 pts (2 in) high. None of the other dimensions seems to have any obvious relationship to 144 pts.

The situation is similar with Arial:


The “graphical center” of the character is as indicated by the “handles;” rotating the object manually bears this out.

Or is  it?

Here’s the object with a Spin animation:

I added the blue lines to the object to indicate its “graphical center” and the red lines to show the position in the background.

Note that the Spin animation rotates the object around a different “animation center.” Some other animations are also affected; here’s a Grow/Shrink animation:

The gray image indicates where the animation should end up, based on the graphical center. The animation thinks the center is somewhere else,

Text typed into a shape has (apparently) different dimensions; here’s a 2 in circle with a 144 pt character (Do not autofit is selected):

c25The alignment tools treat this shape as expected, given the bounding box and handles.

However, animation treats this kind of shape differently. Here’s what a Spin animation looks like.

The shape wobbles because it is Spinning around a point different than the graphical center. Here’s how a few other objects containing the text Spin:

There is another area where the presence of text has an unexpected effect: conversion to pictures (pngs). Here are examples:

c24The first object is a rectangle with some lines added; the png version appears identical. The second object is the same but with text typed into it.  The png version is substantially bigger and the center is offset. I don’t know why.

The moral to this overall story is that when you’re working with text, there can be some unexpected results. There may be other anomalies than those mentioned here.

Following are some workarounds for these examples:

  • You can deal with the picture conversion issue by cropping the result to any size and shape you need.
  • You can also cure the wobble by converting the object to a picture and then cropping to get the center of the picture congruent with the geometric center. The disadvantage is, of course, that the picture can’t be edited like the original object.
  • You can group the object with a containing circle to force the center of rotation to any desired position.  Here’s an example; the circle is green but would normally be made invisible (No line). The circle must be made fairly large to eliminate the wobble:
  • When a character is typed into a shape, these anomalies occur when the text is large relative to the shape (even though it appears to be contained within the shape). You can fix them by reducing the text size but I assume there’s a reason you wanted the text large in the first place. By the way, I had to reduce the text size to 60 pts in a 2 in circle to get the wobble to go away – a reduction to about 40%.

Well, dear reader, I tire of these irritants and end this treatise. Resume your duties.

PowerPoint Animated Infographics – Timelines


Infographics are “graphic visual representations of information… intended to present information quickly and clearly. They can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends,” according to Wikipedia.

Infographics are often used in business to present information, trends or relationships that are favorable to the company’s pitch, generally educating customers or establishing context for a discussion.

Typically, infographics seem to be print-oriented; that is, they are designed as if they were to be presented statically on an oddly-shaped sheet of paper. Here are some examples:


In a web or presentation context, reading this kind of infographic requires considerable zooming and panning.  I have always thought that an interactive or scripted video is a much better way to present infographics. And, of course, PowerPoint can be used to create animated infographics. (Followers of Professor Tufte, please excuse the blasphemy.)

Infographics is a broad subject; I don’t propose to cover the entire field or pontificate on information graphics design and technique. Rather, I want to show you how to create video/interactive versions of common infographic styles.

To start with, consider “timelines.” This kind of infographic is used, for example, to show milestones in a historical context or to show sequential steps in a procedure. A video form can be interactive, allowing the reader to browse the information as needed, or scripted, presenting the information in a particular order, perhaps with an audio narration.

For this post, I’ll create a scripted version, starting with an overview of the timeline followed by sequential exposure of the milestones. Also, I will use a simple graphical model to represent a five step timeline rather than a fully developed infographic (I’ll try that in a later post). Here’s what I’m shooting for:

Here are some notes:

  • The overall timeline is shown first, followed by individual milestones with details, in order.
  • The overview would label each milestone  – perhaps with a date and/or title (first long distance electrical telegraph line,  1843).
  • Each milestone view would add detail and additional graphics (e.g., Samuel Morse, Morse’s biography, portrait, map, etc.). These can be exposed (animated) as needed to help comprehension.

The opening zoom effect is created combining Grow and motion path effects as I described in my two posts on “prezi-style” PowerPoint: here and here. By the way, this is a good application for prezi, if you can tolerate its idiosyncrasies.

Here are the details of the opening effect:

  • The timeline model  is a simple combination of Ovals (milestones) and a Rectangle. I want the result of the zoom to have the first milestone enlarged and centered on the slide space, along with the “line” leading to the next milestone. I chose an enlargement of 300%. Since the text may not automatically resize the way you want it to, adjust the font size manually as needed. Here’s what the slide should look like after the zoom:


  • I used a “transition slide” between the first slide and the first milestone slide to implement the effect. I started by duplicating the first slide, making sure Drawing Guides are set to define the center of the timeline overview object.
  • I will apply a Grow/Shrink effect With a motion path to the timeline to create the transition. I need a “target object” to help get the motion path right.
  • To make the “target,” duplicate the object on the result slide (the enlarged milestone). For clarity, remove the fills and set the outlines to red:


  • Now, add “crosshairs”to the first and third (center) milestones. These are just lines drawn horizontally and vertically on each circle and letting the lines “stick” to the appropriate 4 points on the circle. This is what I mean:


  • Now move this target object to the transition slide so that the number one milestone is centered on the slide over the timeline object. (use the Drawing Guides to accomplish this). The target may not snap to this position; use nudges (arrow keys) to carefully position the target object (hold down Alt with the arrow keys if needed).
  • Here’s what the transition slide should look like; the target represents the desired position and size of the “zoomed” milestone:


  • Select the timeline overview object and apply a Right motion path, Carefully extend the motion path to the center of the target object (marked by the crosshairs on the third milestone). Add a Grow/Shrink 300% effect to the overview object With the motion path. Here’s a closeup of the slide showing the motion path:


  • Set the Smooth Start/End to zero for the motion path. You can experiment with other values to change the zoom effect.
  • Set the first animation on the transition slide to Start After Previous. Set the slide transition to None and Advance Slide to After 0:0:0 (this assures that the transition to the milestone slide will occur immediately after the animations).  By the way, this replaces the poor image that results from the Grow animation.
  • The slide order should be overview, transition, first milestone detail. Test the result to assure that the transition is smooth. You may have to adjust the motion path or the milestone object position.
  • Add animations to the milestone detail slide as needed.

The transitions to the subsequent milestones are Dynamic Content/Pans; this kind of transition keeps the objects on the slide Layout unchaged while applying the the transition to the slide “content “.  A special slide Layout containing the title line must be created; I covered the details in a post on transitions.

Make sure that the slide transitions and animations are timed appropriately and use File/Export/Create a Video to, well, create the video version. I use Internet Quality.

A final note: I have created a “scripted” infographic using video. An interactive version that would allow the reader to browse the timeline would require an interactive medium (e.g., Flash). I will experiment with this in a later post.

As usual, If you want a free copy of the timeline PowerPoint file, use the form below. Double check your email address or you may not get your file.

Animation in PowerPoint: Flow


Presentations often show processes, networks, organization charts and similar structures. These systems are sometimes explained by “flow:” data flow in computer networks, material flows in industrial processes, information or cash flows in business processes, etc.

Animation is very useful in these kinds of representations; you can actually show and explain the movement and effect of  data, messages, and other “flow” elements.

This what I call a rational use of animation – actually adding to the impact and effectiveness of a presentation as opposed to distracting or actually putting off your audience. If you want more on this subject see this rant.

One very simple technique for showing a flow is a Wipe animation applied to a Dashed line; here are some examples:

The blue lines have a Round Dot Dash type and a Round Cap type. The green lines also have the Round Dot (oddly) but a Flat Cap type. The animation for all the lines is Wipe From Left; the lower lines have Repeat set to 4.

Here’s how the Wipe effect might be used in a diagram:

Here the flow is from left to right and the starting times are staggered.

There are a few other effects that work with some object outlines. Here’s an example:

Here I used the outline of an Oval shape and applied an Entrance animation effect called Wheel; the Repeat option is used. This effect has a parameter called Spokes; setting Spokes to 4 yields this result:

There are limitations to using Wipe and similar effects. A more flexible approach is to use motion paths; this example shows a continuous flow of separate objects:

Some notes on this effect:

  • Each of the four objects (circles) has a Line motion path with Smooth Start/End set to zero.
  • The Duration of each motion path is 2 sec.; each motion path is delayed by 0.5 sec. relative the the previous one.
  • Each motion path has Repeat = 3. The timing is set so that the flow is uniform. Here is the animation pane:


An attempt at 2-way flow, this version applies Auto-reverse and Repeat =3 to the motion paths for seven objects with the same timing as above:

As you can see, this is pretty confusing. It’s probably better to use separate sets of motion paths to demonstrate 2-way flow as in these two examples:

The second example uses a curved motion path.

For some applications, it is useful to animate discrete messages and use callouts to identify the messages. Here’s a whimsical demo showing interactions in a network:

My post on demonstrating a computer network includes a more elaborate example.

You can also show continuous flows (like a fluid); here’s a simple example:

This applies the Wipe animation to five separate objects in order. Since the options for Wipe (and Stretch) are From Left/Right/Top/Bottom, this technique works best for horizontal or vertical straight flows. (My post on liquids shows similar effects.)

Here’s another example:

This uses some of the techniques in my post on pipes and wires. Here are some details:

  • Basically,  the pipes are created as shapes with 3d effects applied and converted to png images. To get transparent pipes, apply transparency to the shapes before converting to images.
  • Rounded rectangles are used as the fluid – this makes the flow through the bend a little more convincing (this ain’t perfect but it took several tries to get this effect).

Showing a continuous fluid flow over a curved path is a little more complicated. Here’s a way to do it:

The first animation is essentially the same as the earlier examples but with a shorter interval between motion paths (0.1 sec). The second animation adds curved Lines to complete (I hope) the illusion.

If you use a different shape (not a circle), you may have to rotate it as it follows the path. My roller coaster post addresses this.

If you want a free PowerPoint file containing these examples, use the form below. If your email address is wrong, you won’t get your file:

PowerPoint Secrets: More Transitions as Animations


This is a follow-up to the last post which was about using slide transitions in the role of on-slide animations. One technique I demonstrated was to create a separate file using the transition effect, convert it to a video, and insert it into the presentation.

This post will not make much sense unless you read the last one.

At the end of the post, I suggested that this doesn’t work very well for some transitions. For example, if I try to create a photo carousel effect  using a Gallery transition, this is the result:

The black artifacts that appear are probably not desirable. About 11 of the available transitions in my version of PowerPoint have artifacts like this.

I also said that the size and shape of the slides in the presentation used to create the video can also have an effect. Here’s an example with a custom slide size:

Here’s how I did this one:

  • I created a new presentation and inserted the contract image into the first (blank) slide.
  • The image is about 7″x5.4″. I changed the slide size (Design/Slide Size/Custom…) to the same size plus an inch vertically. I’ll explain the extra inch later. Here’s what the slide looks like:


When you change the slide size, PowerPoint offers two options: Maximize and Ensure Fit. If you pick the first option, PowerPoint will basically leave your slide content alone. If you pick the second option, PowerPoint tries to scale objects on the slide to fit the new slide. This will often lead to distortions. I  usually pick the first option and layout the slide manually. Thanks but no thanks.

  • Next, I created the second blank slide and added a Crush transition.
  • After a few adjustments , I converted the presentation to video and inserted the video in my original presentation. (See the original post for details). Here’s what the resulting slide looks like:


  • I did not crop or resize the video frame. I did set it against the bottom margin of the slide so that the crushed contract appears to fall off the bottom of the slide (this is what the extra inch in the slide slide size is for).

Here’s another example announcing a new service:

This example uses the Curtain transition and shows how you can combine the re-sized video with an object (a simple proscenium) on the slide. In some ways, a video is just another PowerPoint object.

Here are some other useful things you can do with videos:

  • Crop and resize the video frame
  • Change the shape of the video frame
  • Synchronize the video with other animations
  • Edit (in a limited way) the video

Of course, you can do these things with any video, not just the ones you create. And there are other possibilities that I will explore in later posts.

Here’s an example

This example combines a video created with a Fracture transition with a simple Fly-in animation. Here are some details (again, refer to the previous post if you haven’t already):

  • The PowerPoint file from which the video was made has a square (7.5in x 7.5in) format.
    • The first slide contains the target image and the second contains the text.
    • The first  slide has no transition; the second has a Fracture transition with a 0.5 sec duration.
    • The first slide is set to advance after 0:00 sec; the second  advances on click.
    • The file was exported as a video.
  • I inserted the video into my presentation file, resized it to fit and changed the shape of the video to a circle.
  • The black circle has a Fly In/From Lower Left animation with the Hide After Animation option.
  • To get the timing right, I used video Trim to make sure that the video started at the time the Fracture effect started (there is a slight delay in the video – I’m not sure why).
  • I also used Trim to eliminate the last 5 seconds of the video; here’s what the Trim pane looks like:


The extra 5 seconds in the original video is the default slide timing for the video conversion. This showed up because the last slide had Advance on Click set rather than a time – it was easier to fix this here than go back and re-make the video.

  • I also overlapped the animation with the video to get the timing to look right; here’s the animation pane:


Here’s a similar experiment using the Ripple transition:

The details are similar to the Fracture example except that the Ripple effect has an unwanted “artifact” around the edges. I eliminated that by cropping the video a little more.

If you want to try some of these effects,  use the form below as a request for free PowerPoint files containing these examples:



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