PowerPoint Animation – Unstacking/Stacking Effects

A client wanted to mimic a web animation in a PowerPoint presentation. The client’s web site effect presented images of the company’s locations that appeared to move from one “stack” to another. Here’s an excerpt from my PowerPoint version:

This animation is a way to present a sequence of  images legibly without taking a lot of slide space; it could be used to present customers, partners, markets, etc., as well as corporate locations.

In this post, I will show you how to use PowerPoint animation to recreate the effect. Also, since the effect is a little complicated and involves several objects, I’ll show you some ways to keep track of the process.

The animation uses a curved Motion Path along with two Grow/Shrink effects making the image appear to move forward and then recede. Here’s the animation (I’m using a simple labeled rectangle here for clarity):


Here are some notes on this step:

  • Use guidelines to help position the objects and define the motion path.
  • The motion path is Arc Down; I used the motion path handles to size and orient the path. Alternatively, you can draw the motion path using the guides to locate the start and end points.
  • Grow/Shrink (200%) is applied to occur With the first half of the motion path (1 sec).
  • Similarly, Grow/Shrink (50%) is used for the second half.
  • To help keep track of the objects, I  used the Select and Visibility pane to label the rectangle (r1). More about this later.

Now, duplicate the rectangle, change the text to “2” and label it “r2.” Place r2 Behind r1 and run the animation; here’s the result:

Oops! There’s a problem:  r2 does not fall in front of r1 in the stack on the left.  This is obviously because r2 cannot be both back of r1 and in front of r1.

Note – this front-back relationship is sometimes called “z-order” reflecting the order of objects along an imaginary z-axis projecting outwards from the screen. The z-order tells PowerPoint how to display objects when they overlap. Every object on a slide has one and only one position in the z-order. New objects are “front.”  If an object is a group, the objects within the group also have a z-order. You reorder objects using Send back/forward commands or you can reorder items in the Select Pane (more on this below).

A solution for the problem noted above is to replace r2 with an identical copy (“r2s”) that is in front of r1 during the animation. This replacement should occur after r1 moves from the stack on the right, exposing r2. The replacement is actually a Disappear of r2 at the same time as an Appear of r2s. The animation sequence and object order are shown below:

anim 2

Notice that r2 is replaced by r2s after r1 has landed, just before r2 moves to the left; it could occur earlier (after r1 clears the stack).

Here’s a video of the result (the replacement has been slowed down for clarity):

Even though this is the required effect, recreating the entire sequence can be a challenge. The original project had 12 company locations and so required keeping track of 24 objects and their animations and z-order. I used two techniques to help organize the construction:

  • Prototype objects  this is a pretty simple idea: rather than build each of a group of similar objects from scratch, create a prototype, duplicate it and make the necessary edits for each object. If you can avoid ungrouping or grouping while editing the object, then it will retain its animation effects so that you don’t have to re-apply the animation to each object.
  • Selection and Visibility Pane – this little-known PowerPoint feature is quite helpful in managing complex designs.   Among other things, it allows you to name objects so that they can be identified easily for editing and in animation sequences. Also, it specifically shows z-order and lets you manage the order directly. You can also hide objects on the screen to allow easier access to other objects.

So, begin by creating a prototype object:


The object consists of a gray rectangle with a shadow, a white rounded rectangle and a text box (green text).  The colors reflect the client’s branding.

Group the prototype and duplicate it twice. Using the Selection pane, name the objects:

ptype 2

To name an object, first click on the object. In the Selection pane, the object will be highlighted; click on it and type the desired name.

Now, apply the animation described above to the prototypes:

ptype 3

Next, duplicate each of the prototypes and edit it to create a pair of the “country” objects. Do this without ungrouping the objects. Select the object and select the text box; type in the country name. Then select the rounded rectangle and use Fill/Picture/File or Clipboard to insert the country image. Here’s an example:

obj 2

Name the objects as shown above.

Continue the process to create all the country object pairs. To figure out the z-order, visualize the unstacking action on the right. The country objects will appear first-in-front (Phillipines is the first object to be unstacked). The substitute objects, the objects that are stacked on the left side, will appear last-in-front (the last object to be stacked is New Zealand). All of the substitutes should be on top. Use the Select pane to order the objects. Here’s how this should look (I did only 3 pairs for clarity):

anim 3

Finally, position all the objects in the start position and, using the Custom Animation pane check the animation order. For each pair, the “original” object should Disappear, followed by the appearance and motion of the substitute object, as outlined earlier. To correct the order, use Select/Shift Select to select the group of animations associated with a pair, and move them up or down to the correct position (the naming helps here).

Here’s the result:

anim 4

As usual, if you want a free PowerPoint file containing the objects and animations shown here, use the form below to ask for the “unstacking” file:

5 Responses to “PowerPoint Animation – Unstacking/Stacking Effects”

  1. 1 Tamsen November 20, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you so much! I was really stuck but with your help all I had to do was replace one of the four side by side thumbnails for it’s turn to grow move to the centre pause and return. (The two on the outside didn’t get overlapped) Its all about layers!

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