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Animated GIFs

Learn about animated GIFs, the files prevalent on the Web.

The GIF was created in 1987 by CompuServe and is best used for graphics with sharp edges and few colors. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
The GIF was created in 1987 by CompuServe and is best used for graphics with sharp edges and few colors.

Animated GIFs are animated Graphical Interchange Format (GIF) files. The GIF was created in 1987 by CompuServe. It is best used for graphics with sharp edges and few colors, such as cartoons, line art and text. Animated GIFs can also be used as backgrounds. A GIF is an 8-bit format. As such, it can only support a limited number of colors; in this case that number is 256.

Animated GIFs are found on many Web sites as images that wave, twirl or have other simple motion. The animated GIF file contains a set of images that display in a specific order. These cause the GIF file to have the appearance of being in continuous motion; but in reality, it is just a series of the same image looping over and over.

How GIFs Are Made

All GIF animations are made by compiling separate graphics and using a GIF compiler/animator program to put them into a specific sequential order. An example of this would be the movement of the hour and second hands of a clock. Each image should have the same background (the circle of the clock) with each alteration in a separate frame, similar to a movie being shot frame by frame. The images are then compiled together into a single image file. The program will show each one until they are done. If the program is set to loop, the image sequence will repeat itself indefinitely.

Many GIF animation programs have more sophisticated sequences of animations. The GIF animation programs allow the user to layer more complicated graphics to create what amounts to an animated GIF mini-movie. The more frames an image has (and the more elaborate the finished animation is) the larger the finished file will be. The file size affects the amount of time it takes to load the finished animated GIF into Web browsers.

Software Requirements

There are a variety of software options on the market to create animated GIFs. A few different programs are Corel Xara 2, Macromedia Flash, Easy GiF Animator, Active GIF creator, 2D&3D Animator, Advanced GIF Animator, and Alchemy Mindworks GIF Construction Set. Most animation programs offer the following options: selection of color palette and optimization; speed and duration choice for each individual frame; and further optimization and adjustments.

The selection of color palette and optimization should include global optimization, which means one color palettte is used and the best colors from all the separate images are chosen; individual frame optimization, in which one color palette is used and the best color for each individual frame is chosen; and global Web safe, which means the program is the same as being globally optimized but the program uses the 215 Web safe palette to draw colors. The animated GIF program should allow the user to choose the speed and length of duration of each frame. This affects how the animation is viewed. Further optimization and adjustments tools can add more layering or overlay the frames that came before. This enhances the appearance of more movement and adds to the depth of the animation.

Uses For Animated GIFs

Animated GIFs are used all over the Internet. They are most commonly used in banner ads, but can also be found on Web sites as a marketing tool. Animated GIFs can be designed and created by an individual or pre-created and downloaded from a Web site. No matter how the GIFs are created or downloaded, they can then be downloaded again and put on other Web pages, such as Facebook or MySpace pages.

Other uses for animated GIFs include enhancing presentations, adding flair to a personal Web site, or sprucing up e-mail. Animated GIFs can also be used to make low resolution film clips.

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