Animating a “Breakthrough” in PowerPoint – Part 1

A “breakthrough” effect is a dramatic way to present your product, “punch line” or a big announcement. Or, you can show a solution breaking through a problem.

Here’s an example:

The animation has three parts: the cracks, the breakout fragments, and the “hole” with the message. The cracks appear first, then the fragments fly apart, revealing the message.

This is a revised version of the original post. The first version asked you to create the cracks and fragments as Freeform shapes. The problem with this approach is that the shapes must be accurately drawn to fit together without gaps and it is very difficult to create Freeforms accurately.

The key to this kind of accuracy in PowerPoint is usually to use the Snap to Grid feature. The grid is a set of points arranged in a rectangular array, spaced by a pre-set interval. When Snap to Grid is set, the ends of lines and the vertices of shapes will “snap” to a grid points when the cursor is near such a point. So, you can set the Grid to small intervals (e.g., 0.1 inches) and easily draw shapes and lines to this accuracy. By the way, you can override the snap at any time by holding down the Alt key. You can use Drawing Guides in a similar way (see my post on alignment for details).

However, the genius PowerPoint designers have decided that the snap feature should NOT APPLY to Freeform drawing. So, you have to scratch around and find a workaround. To add to the pain, snap to grid does NOT WORK with motion paths or the yellow adjustment handles on certain shapes.

The process of creating the breakthrough animation is:

  • Draw the initial cracks – they begin at a central point and spread outward.
  • Add additional cracks so that the separate fragments are outlined.
  • Draw the individual fragments between the cracks.
  • Create the hole shape that remains when the fragments fly outwards.
  • Depending on the background, create the appropriate fills for the fragments.
  • Add animation to the cracks and fragments.

Here’s the general approach to get the accuracy needed:

  • Set the Grid Spacing to 0.5 inches and check Snap to Grid. This coarse setting provides a definite snap and is adequate for the effect. If you want more complex fragment shapes, you might try a 0.25 spacing, although I don’t recommend it.
  • Draw the cracks with simple Lines, connecting Grid
  • Create the fragments by combining simple shapes; for this project, I will use only Right Triangles and a few Rectangles (details below). Avoid the shapes that have yellow adjustment handles.

Here’s the first set of cracks:


NOTE: When you set Display Grid on Screen, the grid points will be displayed (for coarse settings). I have added Drawing Guides to make the grid more visible – this helps with drawing and positioning shapes.

Lines (blue) are drawn outward from the center of the slide to grid points. I have drawn five lines; more than this adds more work later. You may want to draw a temporary Oval or Rectangle against your background to approximate the “hole;” you can use this to help guide the construction of the cracks and fragments.

Once you have drawn a set of cracks, you can check that they are accurately drawn and shaped using the Format Shape/Size and Position Pane. The size and position (measured from the Center of the slide) should be integral multiples of 0.5 inches.

NOTE: Using the Size and Position Pane has its problems. Here’s what happens:

  • Select an object and open the pane.
  • The default Position is measured from the Top Left Corner. This shows measurements in inconvenient fractions.
  • Change the Position to “from Center.”
  • This will cause the object to fly to the lower left. What fun.
  • Move the object back to its proper position. Now the measurement is in multiples of 0.5 inches.
  • As long as you keep an object selected, the from Center option will stick and you can check the size and location of the cracks (and, later, the fragments).
    • If you deselect an object, the Position measurement will revert to from Top Left Corner and you will have to go through this crap again.

Throughout the process of drawing the cracks and fragments, avoid the “sharp” vertex configuration marked below. The first three configurations are usually OK; the fourth configuration will create a fragment that cannot be filled with right triangles:


At the end of each initial crack, add two additional cracks, radiating outward. Repeat this process to create the third, outermost set of cracks. Some of the outermost cracks meet, forming fragments:


Now add transverse cracks (yellow) as needed to break up the larger fragments. Also add cracks (green) around the periphery to complete the breakout hole. Make sure the crack lines terminate at Grid points and avoid a “sharp” vertex:


Now, create the separate fragments using Right Triangles (rotated and/or reflected) and an occasional Rectangle. Make sure the shapes are sized and positioned on the Grid points. Group the shapes to form the fragments. Here are a couple of examples:


TIP: You can reorient shapes by using the Rotation handle or the Rotate options. You can also use the resizing handles to “flip” shapes. You simply push the handle “through” the object as shown here:


This method may be easiest for creating the fragments.

Continue drawing fragments:


The fragments are colored for clarity.

Confession: I had to Subtract a triangle to create the black fragment.

Next, copy the array of fragments to a new slide and Union the parts of each fragment. Copy again and Union the fragments to form one object. Copy this to a slide with the background and Subtract it from the background. This will form the “hole” in the background:


To create the background fragments, copy a fragment, paste it on the background and use Intersection; copy the fragment to the “hole.” Here’s the process (fragment outlined in red for clarity):


I’m taking advantage of the fact that when you copy an object to a slide, it retains its position. Note that the Intersection operation destroys the background object; you will have to copy it each time.

Continue for all the fragments (outlined in red for clarity):


Now, when you look closely at your results, you may be deeply disappointed to find that, regardless of your careful work, there may be tiny gaps between fragments. Different gaps will appear, depending on the magnification. I think these are errors at the pixel level; they can’t be fixed. However, I will try to minimize their appearance in the animation.

The animation takes two slides – the first slide is simply the background. A click transitions to the second slide and the animation begins immediately.

To make the second slide:

  • Start with the background with the hole and add the message text box. It’s convenient to add the text animation (Entrance/Zoom) at this point.
  • Add the fragments. Select them all and apply a Line motion path to all the fragments (the default is Down).
  • Select each fragment motion path and modify it so that the endpoint is off the slide (it’s easiest to select the paths in the animation pane). Set the end points so that the fragments fly outward from the center:


  • Add a 90 degree Spin animation With each motion path (the default is Clockwise). Again, select all the fragments and apply Spin to all of them. Now select randomly about half the Spins in the animation pane and set the direction to Counterclockwise.
  • Arrange the Spins so that they occur simultaneously with the motion paths, for the same duration (0.5 seconds in my example). Here’s the animation pane so far:


  • Next add the cracks (change the color to white). I want the cracks to appear in three stages from the center outwards. I selected each set of cracks one at a time and applied Entrance/Wipe to the set. I then corrected the direction on each Wipe so the crack propagates outward. I repeated this for each set. After the Wipes, each crack Disappears. Place the crack animations before the fragment animations. Here’s the first part of the animation pane:


Here’s another application of this animation:

I added the text to the classroom photo and converted the text and photo to a Picture for the background. I applied the fragment process to the background as before and animated the fragments (no cracks this time). I used a Curve motion path for the fragments. I then modified each path by setting the option (right, left, etc.) and stretching the box containing the path so that the endpoint was off the slide. I occasionally had to Reverse the path direction.

Here are some additional possibilities for this animation:

  • Add sound effects (depending on your venue and audience).
  • Add explosive effects (see this post).
  • Experiment with different animation paths (down with a bounce?) and added effects on the fragments (zoom?)

If you want a free copy of a PowerPoint file demonstrating these techniques, use the link below and click on the PowerPoint icon to download a “source” PowerPoint file :

Powerpointy blog – Animating a breakthrough part 1 u

See this page for more on downloading files.

If you have questions, praise or complaints, please add a comment below. If you appreciate my efforts, liking or following this blog might be a good idea.


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