PowerPoint Secrets: Motion Paths



Many of my posts are about animation; here’s a post on creating and modifying animation motion paths. This is not meant to be a complete or detailed tutorial but only some helpful (I hope) notes.

Caveat: a PowerPoint Bug

The starting point of a motion path is normally at the center of the object. For example, here’s an object with a Right motion path; note that the starting point (green arrowhead) is at the center of the object:


If the starting point is not at the center, the object will instantly jump to center itself on the starting point before the animation takes place – not a desirable behavior. Unfortunately, in some editing circumstances, the motion path will inexplicably become “unstuck” from the center of the object. In particular, a motion path may attach itself to the starting point of a nearby motion path (attempting to breed, perhaps).

This is another long-standing PowerPoint bug. I have perused several blogs and fora on this subject and the consensus seems to be that there is no way to overide this behavior; it  must be corrected when it occurs.

You can re-stick the motion path by moving it so that the start point is back near the center of the object; it will snap to the center. Sometimes, merely clicking on the path will re-center it.

Even though it can be corrected, this bug makes motion path editing harder than it should be.

Pre-defined Motion Paths

PowerPoint provides a bewildering array of 60+ predefined (built-in) motion paths; I have found that all but 5 or 6 of these are useless. And, I have never used a predefined path without modifying it. At the very least, the end point will have to be moved. (This is why the “unsticking” problem noted above is so irritating.)

A linear motion path (Up, Down, Left, Right) is edited like a line (not a Connector); you click on the path and move the end point to the desired position:


Other predefined paths are edited as if they were Freeforms. You can change the size by clicking on the path and manipulating the “handles.”  You can also rotate the path but it will become unstuck from the object’s center.

Resizing or rotating predefined paths is rarely useful; in most cases, you will edit the points of the path to get desirable results. Just like with a Freeform, right click on the path and select Edit Points. Move, add, delete and modify the points to get the path you want. Here’s an example that starts with a predefined Arc Up path:


“Custom” Motion Paths

Almost always, I create the paths I need (like the paths of the stones in the wrecking ball animation) rather than using built-ins.

To create a path from scratch, using Draw Custom Path; I usually select the Freeform option. Click near the center of the object (the path should automatically snap to the object’s center) and continue to drag and click to draw the path. To edit the path, select it and select Edit Points; you can add, delete or move points on the path. Here’s an example:


For a curved path, select the Curve option when creating the path or edit a Freeform path:


Other Settings

There are some other Effect Options available for motion paths:

  • Lock/Unlock – oddly, an unlocked path (the default) is stuck to the object; that is, if you move the object, the motion path obligingly moves with it. A locked path stays put when you move the object. I don’t know what the locked option is for; I’ve never found a use for it.
  • Smooth start/end – a “smooth” setting (the default) means that the object will appear to accelerate when starting and/or decelerate when stopping. Sometimes this is effective; however, I often uncheck these options when the motion path is combined with other animation effects (see the discussion of the rolling wheel in the vehicle post).
  • Auto-reverse – the motion path will be executed and then is executed end-to-start. I’ve never used this option.

Other Tricks

In some animations, you will need to position the endpoint of a motion path carefully. I often duplicate the object and move it to the desired position (the “target”). Then, set drawing guides to the center of the target object and use the intersection of the guides to locate the endpoint of the motion path. I often use a red outline for the target object to avoid confusion. Here’s a simplified example:


For complex animations, it sometimes simplifies things to use multiple slides to complete the animation – this can sometimes avoid the motion path “unsticking” problem discussed above. However, some extra steps are required. Here’s a simplified example:


  • The first slide contains the first step in the animation, the motion and 45 degree spin of the blue square.
  • The second slide contains the blue square in the position and orientation that results from the animations in the first slide. Use drawing guides set at the endpoint of the motion path to precisely position the square on the second slide. if the object is not accurately positioned, a “jump” will appear as the slide transitions.
  • Add the second step of the animation – the motion of the orange circle.
  • On the first slide, set Advance Slide to  Automatically After 00:00 and the slide transition to No Transition. Also, set the animation on the second slide to start After Previous. These steps assure that the second animation will follow the first without a click and with no delay.

This seems like a lot of work but, for complicated animations, it may actually simplify the construction.

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