Using GIMP to make .gif animated project illustrations

While posting about my hexapod robot Pegleg, there came a point where illustrating the motion was very hard without showing an animation.  Possibly you’ve run into this yourself while trying to illustrate a project.  You could take a video which works well in some situations, but at times it would be better to show the difference between two (or more) photos or drawings.  For this, an animated .gif file works very well, and they’re very simple to create.  Here’s a tutorial I created using GIMP to create these files; I’ll explain more after the video.

One reason I created this tutorial is that most of the tutorials on Youtube were pretty long, and I thought I could create one with just the basics of what you need in under a minute.  This tutorial assumes that you have GIMP, if not, download it here and install it.  Once you do that you can draw a simple illustration like the one shown in the tutorial, or, if you have photos or CAD files that illustrate something, you can copy and past them into your .gif.  I used this technique to create this illustration:

animated GIF of Pegleg's hexapod motion

animated GIF of Pegleg's hexapod motion

As you can see, the alignment isn’t perfect.  To prevent this, make sure you save all your drawings in the same scale and size with the same reference to the edges.  If you set your new GIMP drawing and their layers up as the same size (i.e. 640 x 480 pixels) as the drawings to be pasted, this should help as well.  Also, if you are editing the same frame you can copy and past the original and it will show up in the same position unless you move it.  This is helpful in some situations, and is what I used to create the guy waving in yellow at the bottom.

When you have your animation done, you can post to your site or use it as part of a video in Windows Movie Maker and probably dozens of other similar programs.  One thing to be careful of when posting your illustrations on WordPress, or any other site I assume, is to set your .gif to full size.  Don’t stretch it either.  The .gif may show up as an animation in your editor, but will be static once posted.

animated musket instructions

This illustration was cut and pasted into separate layers to make this animation.

As shown in the tutorial, you can set the delay between frames when you save the GIF.  If you open this up with GIMP again you’ll see the frames as something like “frame 1 (100ms)”.  If you want to individually set the times you can do this by simply renaming the (___ms) part to the time you want on each frame.  One thing to note is that if you set the delay really low (like 30 milliseconds) some browsers have a minimum delay for each frame.  I’ve noticed that if you open a fast changing GIF it will display differently in Firefox and the Windows image preview.  Internet Explorer seems to display correctly as well, so it may be an issue with older browsers.  I’ve used this technique with Windows Movie Maker to create some short stop-motion films, so be sure to check it out.

One handy thing to remember is that if you need to reverse the order of your slides, select “layer” then “stack” and “reverse order”. This should reverse your animation if needs be.

animated gif of man wavingBesides illustrating your projects, I could see this technique being used for time-lapse photography, stop-motion animation, or any number of other things.  Besides animations, GIMP can be used to change colors on your illustrations or zoom on photos or CAD files if you need to.  If you’ve been using paint to try to do stuff like this, you need to download it right now.  GIMP is a powerful photo editing tool, and the price (free!) is definitely right.  Give it a try; I doubt you’ll regret it!

Check out this other tutorial about dimensioning your drawings in GIMP.

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