Cityscape: Drawing Houses


The previous post in this series showed how to draw a simple house using PowerPoint “3D” and how to overcome some common problems. This post will present two more detailed examples.

Making these examples was tedious.  The level of detail I used (steps, porch railings, etc.) takes a lot of work. You might want to make less detailed versions, especially since the houses are likely to be used at a small size (e.g., in a cityscape or village).

My general approach is this:

  • Find an example. I have used actual house plans or architectural renderings. An example with both front and side elevations is useful but not necessary – you can create a simple side view given a front elevation. Flat drawings are easiest; a perspective drawing or photo may be harder to use.

Using architectural drawings as a starting point will help assure that the proportions of your house are realistic as well as provide inspiration.

  • Using the example, create a simplified front elevation. I do this by “tracing” over the parts of the example drawing using rectangles and other standard Shapes.
  • Next, create a simple slide elevation using Drawing Guides to align the parts with the front elevation. Use a side elevation from your example as a guide (if available).
  • Using the method outlined in the first post, create the top (or “plan”) elevation.
  • Create a trial 3D construction assuring that the parts are consistent (again, see the first post for an example).
  • Add details (windows, doors, trim, etc.) along with colors.
  • Create the final 3D construction.

Here’s how I “traced” the first example (I think this is a “bungalow”):


You can see the red shapes over the gray original drawing; the house outline, porch posts and the porch roof have been simplified.

Here are the front and side views:


I used Drawing Guides, Snap to Grid and 0.05″ grid spacing to make it easier to draw and align the parts. The blue rectangles are used to assure a consistent roof overhang.

Here are all three views:


Next, I used these views to create a trial 3D rendering. I used the Off-Axis 2 preset rotations; in earlier posts, I used the Isometric presets. Here’s my trial version of the main part of the house:


You can review the first post to see the details of this process. After building the base and the walls, the top view including the overhang (blue) is aligned with the top of the walls. The fascia pieces are added, aligned with the overhang outline. The hip roof is constructed by centering a front view of the roof (green) on the roof top view. This establishes the peak and corners of the roof allowing me to draw the front face of the roof as a Freeform (yellow).

Next, create the intersection of the chimney and the roof; here’s a picture:


I made 2 copies of the front view of the roof with the chimney (green). I aligned these with the front and back of the chimney outline in the base bottom view. This locates the intersection of the chimney with the roof and allows me to draw the front and side views (black) of the part of the chimney above the roof.

Next, I added details and color to the elevations of the main part of the house and completed the roof and the chimney:


I tried two ways to construct the porch, after adding color. The first involves selecting and rotating the various “faces” of the porch parts and carefully assembling them to form the porch. This diagram shows the process:


The front to back order is important here as well as the alignment.

The second approach also involves selecting and rotating faces of the porch parts but uses 3D Depth to add, well, depth. Here’s the process:


As you can see the depth process is simpler but it is more difficult to get consistent colors. You must pay attention to the (mysterious) 3D Lighting Angle as well as the fill color. You can decide which is better for your project.

I completed the porch roof by adding the trim pieces around the top of the columns, aligning the top view of the porch (including the overhang), and adding the fascia pieces. Then, using a front view of the porch roof as guide I drew the roof surfaces:


Here’s the final assembled bungalow:


The second example is a cottage; here are the source drawings and my “tracings:”


Here are the three views constructed from the “tracing:”


I used a Parallelogram for the fascia pieces on the ends of the two roofs and the outline of the porch step railing.  However, I manually rotated the shape and PowerPoint 3D has a problem with rotated shapes; the 3D rotations are created relative to the original orientation. This is hard to explain – try it and see. I overcame this in two ways: I grouped the shapes (end of the main roof) and I redrew the shapes as (black) Freeforms (the end of the porch roof and the outline of the step railing).

Here’s the trial 3D rendering for the cottage:


Here’s the cottage with added detail:


I used Lines in the porch railings; this will work at this scale but remember that, if you enlarge the house, the Line width (like all points-measured dimensions) will not enlarge. Since I plan to convert (Copy/Paste Special) the house drawings to pngs, this will not be a problem.

After adding color, I first built the foundation on its outline:


Next. I added  the house walls and the porch floor structure; the house outline overhangs the foundation:


Next, I added the porch railings, the roof gables and the fascia pieces. I used the Depth technique for the porch railings since there are so many parts. The lighting/color for the railings is not quite correct but at least it’s consistent.


Here’s the complete cottage:


If you would like to build some houses, use the form below to request a free PowerPoint file showing the details of these two examples:


Cityscape – 3D House Basics


In a previous post, I developed some ideas for creating city buildings using PowerPoint’s limited “3D” capabilities. In this post I will apply the same ideas to individual houses.

These are US suburban examples; you can apply these techniques to other housing styles.

This approach to PowerPoint 3D was first presented in my post on alphabet blocks; basically, I apply 3D rotations to individual “faces” of objects and assemble them to create the result.

Here are the front and side “elevations” of a simple house:


The views (elevations) are created using simple shapes; I set the grid to 0.1 inches to make it easier to draw and position the shapes. The roof (blue) is a Freeform carefully drawn to match the triangle and including the overhang (eaves).

I used Drawing Guides to assure that the vertical dimensions of the two views match; this is essential to assuring that the 3D shapes line up in the result.

To make the top (plan) view, make a temporary copy of the side view, group and Rotate Left 90 degrees. Use this and the front view to make the top view – extend the dimensions horizontally and vertically with Drawing Guides to complete the layout of the top view:


The top view of the roof is shown in blue.

Realistically,  you will often make corrections and iteratively redraw the views to build your house,  depending on where you start from (a photo, part of a plan, your own fevered brain, etc.).

I started the 3D version from the bottom; copy the “floor” (the red part of the top view), group and apply the rotation. As in the “buldings” post, I’m using the Parallel/Isometric rotations – the Top Up version for the floor.  I added the end view (except for the roof) and one of the front walls, each with the appropriate rotation:


Continue with the other visible walls, positioning them carefully to align with the floor and other elements; hold down Ctrl while using the nudge (arrow) keys to override the Grid settings. If you’ve made mistakes in the dimensions, they will show up here. Here’s the result so far:


The bottom edge of the roof is below the top edge of the walls. The front view shows this overlap dimension so I used a temporary copy of the front view (green) to help align the top view of the roof.

I hope this diagram makes this clearer. The red outline of the house (in the top view) is aligned with the bottom of the roof in the temporary (green) front view):


Constructing the roofs seems to be the most challenging part of these house drawings; more about this later.

Once the top view is aligned, the roof side view (blue) can be added, aligned with the roof top view (blue):


You can apply a 3D Depth to the roof to extend it to the other end; I used this technique in the “buildings” post:hse7

You may have to adjust the Lighting angle to get the color you want. Another way to complete the roof is to add the other end of the roof side view and draw (using a simple Freeform) the planes of the roof (yellow):


This option makes it easier to control the color and is a more general solution (see the following) than the Depth technique.

Here’s the house with unnecessary elements removed and color fills added:


You may want to color the flat (unrotated) elements of the house before assembly (maybe after a trial assembly). It’s a little tricky to select elements of a rotated group; using the Selection pane may help.

You will not get far in drawing these kinds of houses without dealing with complicated intersecting roof volumes; this is an important part of the appearance of these houses. So, I’ll provide a few examples to show you the techniques.

The first example is a kind of “dormer;” here are the 3 views and a partial 3D version:


I added the second front view of the dormer (green), aligned with the top view, to provide a reference point (the peak) for drawing the visible part of the dormer roof (a Freeform), shown here in yellow:


 Here’s a dormer higher on the roof:


The rotated side view is positioned to align with the edge of the dormer in the top view. A copy (green) of the front view is aligned with the peak of the dormer to provide a reference point for drawing the visible roof surface of the dormer (yellow):


Here’s an example of intersecting roofs; a copy of the side view (green) is used to help draw the roof surface (yellow). The other roof planes can also be drawn with Freeforms:


“Hip” roofs are also common; you can create hip roofs using a Bevel/Angle
as shown here:


Notice that the non-square version using a Bevel will have a ridge; to get a non-square hip roof without a ridge, use the approach shown here:


Unlike the simple house example, none of these roof examples have accounted for eaves/overhangs.

This post has presented some basic techniques for constructing 3D houses in PowerPoint; the next post will apply these techniques to building a typical house.

If you want to see the details of these examples, use the form below to request a free copy of the “source” PowerPoint file:

Wheels of Fortune – “Random” Spins


I previously published a series of posts (Part 1, Part 2) on “wheels” – various circular objects useful for showing parts of a whole (e.g., product line, addressed markets, client types, etc.). One post (Part 3) demonstrated an animated wheel similar to a carnival wheel of chance or TV’s “Wheel of Fortune.”

Several readers have wanted to use the wheel of fortune as part of a game or a learning experience that required random spins. Since the amount of spin is determined by a fixed number, my response has always been that I didn’t know how to make the wheel spin by some undetermined “random” amount.

I’ve done a little research since then; I think there may be two ways to create a “random” spin:

  1. Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)  is a programming language that can be used to add functionality to Microsoft Office applications (sometimes called “macros”). It’s probably possible to create a random spin using VBA. I have used VBA in Excel but not in PowerPoint; I am not an expert.
  2. A user input (click) can be used to stop the Spin animation at a essentially unpredictable point. This makes use of the Repeat/Until next click animation option.

I found this method at the PPT Alchemy site (here); this is a site devoted to weird and wonderful PowerPoint tips and tricks.

Since the first method requires specialized knowledge, I used the second method which is quite simple.

Here’s the scheme:

  • This is a two-slide sequence (more about this later):


  • The first slide is a blank layout (both slides use the same theme so that the background will match). The transition for the first slide is After .01 sec (the minimum) and it has no transition effect.
  • The second slide includes an instruction box (optional), a wheel from the previous post, a stationary indicator and a reset button.
  • Here’s the animation pane for the second slide:


  • The first effect applied to the wheel starts on a click; it’s a Spin (360 degrees clockwise, 1 second duration) with Repeat/Until Next Click set.
  • The second effect applies to the reset button; it’s an Appear starting on a click.
  • The reset button has a hyperlink to the first slide.

Here’s how it works:

  • The first slide immediately transitions to the second slide.
  • The presenter’s first click on the second slide starts the wheel spinning.
  • The second click does two things: it stops the wheel spin and makes the reset button appear.
  • The indicator shows the “winning” sector on the stopped wheel. The animation can stop anywhere so the result might be ambiguous.
  • At this point the presenter can spin again by clicking on the reset button; this links to the first blank slide which immediately transitions to the wheel slide.
  • The purpose of the blank slide is now revealed: it simply provides a target to re-enter the wheel slide. Linking directly to the wheel slide will not reset the animation.
  • The presenter can move to a next slide by clicking anywhere on the wheel slide as usual.
  • The Appear animation on the reset button is necessary; otherwise, the click that stops the wheel would also transition immediately to the next slide. Not what we want.

This basic technique may have other applications; I’ll think about that.

You can use the tips in the previous “wheel” posts to construct your own wheel and apply this technique. If you want to try it, request a free copy of the two slides using the form below.

Tabs in PowerPoint


“Tabs” are often used for navigation among browser windows and in other user interfaces. They can also be used in PowerPoint; here’s a sample slide with tabs:


This slide is in the “Plan” section of a (fictional) investor pitch. The pitch has five sections corresponding to the five tabs. Every slide has tabs, highlighted according to the section. The presenter can start any section by clicking on a tab on any slide so that she can present the sections in a different order or select some sections and not others. Also, the presenter can exit a section at any point.

In addition to the navigation function, the tabs effectively show the presentation agenda and signal what section is being presented.

The tab shapes are made using Drawing Tools/Merge Shapes; here’s the process:


  • Create a Round Same Side Corner Rectangle (red) and adjust the rounded corner so that it reaches halfway to the opposite side (the maximum). The size and proportion of the rectangle is not important at this point.
  • Copy and invert the rectangle (green); position it as shown.
  • Create an ordinary rectangle (blue) half the height of the red rounded rectangle and extending on both sides to cover the rounded part of the green rectangle.
  • Select the blue rectangle and the green rectangle in order. Apply Merge Shapes/Subtract to remove the corner of the blue rectangle and leave the pointy “ear.”
  • Repeat the process to create the “ear” on the other side of the tab.
  • Finally, apply Union to combine the blue object with the red rectangle to create the tab shape.
  • Use the same techniques to create a tab for one end of the tab strip; duplicate and rotate to create the other end.
  • To create the tab strip, align and temporarily group the appropriate tab shapes. Setting the Grid spacing to a relatively large number and using drawing guides will help with the alignment.
  • Now, size the group to fit the desired space, ungroup and add the text.
  • Add a dark rectangle behind the tabs and fill the tab shapes using your theme color scheme. The highlighted tab should match the slide background color (white in this example). I also added a shadow to each tab (on the right edge) to make the layering clear. Here’s a sample tab strip:


  • You might want to consider a vertical strip, especially if you’re using a wide screen format:


Next, organize your pitch into the appropriate number of sections. Then start with a single tab strip and set the hyperlink for each tab object to the first slide of its “target” section. Now, copy the strip to each slide changing the fill and layering of the tab objects as needed. (It is easier to set the hyperlinks once and then copy the strip to each slide.)

For purposes of demonstration, I used this set of slides:


Some notes:

  • There are five sections, each with two (“first” and “last”) slides.
  • I added a “title” slide with the tab strip (no highlight). This allows the presenter to start with any section.
  • I added an “end” slide, also with the tab strip. This allows the presenter to review appropriate sections during a discussion at the end of the pitch.
  • I also added another object to some slides; a “go to end” symbol containing a hyperlink to the end slide. This allows the presenter to end the presentation at any section. (In retrospect, this should probably appear on all the content slides.)

Here are some additional notes on this project:

  • A couple of other similar posts on this blog may provide additional tips and ideas: “Non-linear PowerPoint” and “More Prezi-style PowerPoint.”
  • To use hyperlinks, you must be able to click on the objects during your presentation. You can use “presenter mode,” for example.
  • Use the Insert Hyperlink/Place in this Document option to set the links in this project. It is a very good idea to add Screen tips to the link; this assures the presenter that she is selecting the right link.
  • The links are generally stable; however, if you add, replace or delete slides, it’s a good idea to check the links and re-set if necessary.

If you want to try using tabs in a presentation, a free copy of the PowerPoint file for the sample presentation can be had by using this form:

Clarifying Charts in PowerPoint


Graphs (Microsoft calls them “charts”) are a visual way to present numerical data, often financial. But, because charts can present too much information in one shot, they can overload an audience. In addition, some chart forms can obscure information. While these properties can be useful to the unscrupulous, I assume, dear reader, that your soul is pure.

What do I mean by overload and why should you care? Experts tell us that people absorb information better when it is presented in small chunks. But there is another effect that can be deadly. When your audience is presented with a slide full of information, the natural reaction is to start to puzzle out the content. During this time, the audience is distracted and their audio perception can be restricted. That is, the audience may not “hear” your narration. Eventually, the audience members will surface and try to re-sync with your story. Or, even worse, since they “know” the content of the slide, their attention will wander.

Essentially, the presenter looses control of the audience. So, if you think you can present a bunch of stuff and “talk your audience through it,” you’re wrong.

The good folks over at Acme Services provide an example chart showing the contribution of each line of business to the annual revenue total over a six year period:


This is a standard Excel stacked bar chart with data labels on each series (business) and a legend. With a stacked bar chart, it may be difficult to perceive trends within each series since the stacked segments do not line up horizontally. The designer has added the data labels in an attempt to overcome this problem but the result is numeric instead of visual. And the chart is clearly crowded.

Here’s a relatively straightforward animation that allows the presenter to display each business, one at a time, and discuss as needed before displaying the next:

Here are some notes:

  • In Excel, I created the chart and made some edits to the default stacked bar chart (I am not an Excel guru):
    • Accepted the fill colors (I used the same theme in Excel as in PowerPoint).
    • Modified the default range and increment for the vertical axis.
    • Added a legend.
    • Set the overall chart size to fit the slide layout.
    • Set the chart area background to transparent.
    • Added data labels.
    • Set font sizes (20 pts for the data labels, 24 pts elsewhere).
    • Set the number format to two decimal places; more is pointless.
  • I copied the chart in Excel and used Paste Special/Office Graphic Object to place it on the slide.  With this option, you can access and manipulate elements of the chart (axes, data series, etc.).
    • This option links to the source Excel spreadsheet so that a user of the PowerPoint file can access the original data; this may not be a good idea. The spreadsheet must be local to the PowerPoint file so the link is easily broken or you can always rename the spreadsheet.
    • The Excel Chart Object option embeds the source spreadsheet as well as the chart into PowerPoint so that the data can be edited within the PowerPoint file. I generally do not select this option because I (or somebody else) own the source data/spreadsheet and do not want unsynchronized copies floating around in copies of the PowerPoint presentation.
    • The other Paste Special options create uneditable images of the chart.
  • In PowerPoint, I created a new legend that aligned better with the data series and added a text box to summarize the total revenue by year (I couldn’t figure out how to do this in Excel). Note that these are separate PowerPoint objects, not additions to the chart.
  • Here’s the (static) result:

chart2The next step is to animate the chart; here are some notes:

  • As I noted above, this form (Graphic Object) of the chart consists of several components; a pull-down in the Chart Tools/Format ribbon lists those components:


  • To animate the Series components, select the chart object and apply an animation (Wipe/From Left). If you preview at this stage, you will find that the whole chart is animated. To fix this, open the Effect Options and select the By Series option. (This would be more straightforward if the chart object was treated as an ordinary group but that’s not the PowerPoint way.)
  • Open the Animation Pane. Now that the Series objects appear in the animation pane, you can complete the animation in the usual way. Here’s the final animation pane:


  • The result is a mix of chart elements (e.g., Series) and ordinary PowerPoint objects (e.g., Group 3 is the legend for Series 1).

Here’s another way to present the revenue data:

Now, each business is presented separately, followed by the stacked bar chart as a summary. With this approach, some details emerge visually. For example, it is clear that the consulting business is not performing well, the call center business has recovered from a slight slump, and the tech support business did not sustain its growth last year.

The challenge in this approach is assuring that each separate chart is to the same scale and that the charts are aligned.

I hope that you have learned from this discourse that you are not stuck with the standard Excel charts but that you can help your audience quickly understand your data with a combination of Excel and PowerPoint tools and a little imagination.

If you would like a free PowerPoint file including these examples, use the form below:


Elementary! – Magnifying Glass Effects


In this blog, I have used variations of “zooming and panning” to present an overview of a system, process, etc., followed by detailed views of its components. Check out my post on making screenshots work, for example. The two “Prezi-style Powerpoint” posts (here and here) also demonstrate these techniques.

To make these animations a little more engaging, I created two variations on a magnifying glass effect.

Here’s the first one:

Here are the details:

  • The magnifying glass is a simple construction using standard shapes. The highlight on the lens is a semi-transparent Moon shape:


  • This animation uses two versions of a circle containing Waldo’s face. I used a “cookie cutter” technique to create the circular image:
    • Create a circle and place it over a large version of the underlying scene so that it is centered on Waldo.  The circle should have No Fill and an outline color that contrasts with the scene so that it easy to see..
    • Select the scene and then the circle; use Drawing Tools/Merge Shapes/Intersection to “cut out” the face. (See this post for excruciating detail on this method and others.)
  • The circle should be the same size as the lens – 2.0 inches in the example. Since I enlarged a small part of a large image, I used a large, high res version of the original scene.
  • Set No Outline and Duplicate the circle. Apply Artistic Effects/Blur to one of the circles.
  • Make two versions of the magnifying glass using the two circular images:


  • Convert the two images to pictures (png).
  • Apply the Enter/Basic Zoom/Out Slightly to both png images and align them both over Waldo in the scene. Add a simultaneous Enter/Fade effect to the version with the sharp image of Waldo. The result should look like the magnifying glass zooms in as the image sharpens.
  • Here’s the animation pane:


In developing this animation, I learned a few things:

  • I tried to use just the circular (sharp) image in the animation rather than the whole second magnifying glass. This doesn’t work because the Zoom effect works relative to the center of the image and so the two Zooms are not coincident.
  • When applied to a group, the Fade effect acts on each object in the group separately – that’s why I converted the magnifying glasses to pngs.
  • I tried to delay the Fade animation relative to the Zoom – doesn’t work well.

Here’s the second magnifying glass effect:

The changing view in the lens of the moving glass is a video. To make the video:

  • In a new PowerPoint file, insert the large version of the scene.
  • Create a “mask:” a screen-sized rectangle with a circular “hole” in the center. Use the cookie-cutter technique to create the mask.
  • Apply a motion path (Line) to the scene so that the view through the mask starts at the center of the scene and ends at Waldo. Here’s a sketch:


  • When a motion path is edited, my version of PowerPoint creates a semitransparent “ghost” version of the object to show the end point of the path. This is meant to aid in constructing motion paths, but in this case it obscures the mask (and drawing guides) and makes it very difficult to discern the end points of the motion path and adjust them. Making the mask black helps.
  • Eliminate the Smooth Start/Stop options for the motion path.
  • Set the motion path to Start After Previous and the slide transition to After 2 seconds (the duration of the motion path).
  • Convert to video. Here’s my result:
  • Now, to use this video in the project, Insert the video and set start playback to Automatically. Crop the video to a square with the same dimensions as the lens (2×2 inches) and set the Video shape to a circle. (See this post for more details on using video.) Here’s the result:
  • Over the center of the scene, align the video and the glass so that the video appears in the lens (video is behind the magnifying glass).
  • Add Enter/Fade animation to the video and the glass.
  • Add a motion path to both so that they end up aligned over Waldo. Again, the “ghost” images make this a little difficult.
  • The motion paths are simultaneous and the same duration as the video playback. In some iterations of this project I had to use Trim to eliminate some still frames before and after the desired part of the video.
  • Here’s the annotated animation pane:


By the way, I don’t know any other way to achieve this effect than by using video. Do you?

If you want a free PowerPoint file that may help you create similar effects on your own, use this form to request a copy:


Wham! Bam! Boom! Explosions in PowerPoint


An explosion is a dramatic way to show destruction in your presentation – maybe you want to destroy a problem revealing a solution.

I demonstrated some similar “destructive” effects in my posts on “breakthroughs;” check them out here, here and here. You might also like the post on wrecking ball animation.

The simplest explosion animation is two simultaneous exit effects, Dissolve Out and Basic Zoom/In. Here’s an example of this effect that also hints at how this might be used:

Another relatively simple animation creates a “flash” that fills the screen, then slowly fades away revealing the result of the explosion:

The flash is a large, gradient filled Oval. The flash appears via a fast Basic Zoom/In effect. Before the Oval Fades Out, the “goal” object and the debris pile Appear and the “barrier” Disappears. Here’s the animation pane:


A real explosion is chaotic – difficult to mimic in PowerPoint. My approach here is to use several simple explosions together to create a more complex effect.

Here are some “improved” explosions and a demo with layered elements:

Some notes:

  • These “fireballs” are gradient-filled with yellow (hot) centers blending into red (cooler) at the edges. The gradient uses the Path option to create the radial features.
  • The fireballs also have Soft Edges.
  • The first fireball uses a Cloud shape and is animated with the same Appear/Zoom/Dissolve effect as before.
  • The second fireball uses a Fade effect rather than Dissolve; you may like this better.
  • The third fireball uses an Explosion 1 shape.
  • The final example uses three separate fireballs to create a more complex explosions. I rotated and re-sized the basic Cloud shape to get some variability.

You can experiment with more/different shapes and timing. You can also add animations; this example adds motion paths to lift the fireballs:

Explosions create dust/debris clouds; this example uses gradient filled Cloud shapes to add dust which fades away (and a sound effect from

You might want to add flying debris, rising smoke, “streamers,” etc., or experiment with timing, shapes and color. Search for animated or cartoon explosions for inspiration – real explosions may not be helpful.

If you want to blow stuff up (in PowerPoint), use the form below to request a free PowerPoint file that includes these animations:



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.


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