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:

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