I've had some requests to write a tutorial on making GIF animations so I'm finally getting around to doing it. Sorry for the delay.
The first tutorial will cover some tips and tricks about making quality GIF animations within a 512kb file size restriction (which I hope the new owners will increase!).
USING MOTION BLUR
When making GIF animations, the most essential thing to consider is object movement
. Always think about your animation as if it was recorded on film, frame by frame. The closer you mimic the effect of video capture, the more realistic your animation will appear. (For example, when a ball is dropped in front of a video camera the frames will show a blurred object during free fall instead of a perfectly round ball in each frame). Using motion blur (filter>blur>motion blur) creates a more realistic movement and eliminates the unrealistic jittery movement and unnecessary frames of a stop motion photography style approach. When restricted to 512kb of file size, it is important that motion blur is used to it's fullest potential. This serves two purposes: 1.) reduces the amount of frames (and thus file size), 2.) gives your animation believable movement and realism.
Motion blur tips:
* You must make a separate duplicate layer that has motion blur applied because motion blur settings are not individually adjustable from frame to frame on the same layer.
* Overlaying the blurred layer with the non-blurred layer at the last frame of movement adds a realistic effect of movement.
Each frame on the animation timeline can be adjusted to play at a certain speed (individually from the other frames). For example, in the animation below, the beginning frame is selected to play for 1 second delay. However, once the quick movement occurs in the second frame, the frame timing changes to 0.0 seconds (no delay). This creates the illusion of speed and movement
while keeping file size considerably lower than if all frames were set to 0.0 seconds and multiple redundant still frames were used.
Frame timing tip: Objects that are in movement and are close to the "camera" appear to move much quicker than the same object moving at the same speed far away. In other words, an person running through the frame while close to the camera, would require motion blur and a couple frames set at 0.0 second timing, while the same runner viewed from a distance would require no motion blur and maybe five or six frames set to 0.1 second frame timing.
USE OF LAYERS
The quickest and most efficient way to make an animation is to start with importing each of the layers, arranging them in order of depth, and fine-tuning the movements of each layer. After the movements look the way you want them to, then focus on blending the layers together. The blending of animation layers is the same as when making a still image (contrast, exposure settings, color saturation, slight edge blur, adding shadows, etc.). The final step is to "save for web and devices" (file>save for web and devices) and play with the adjustments to get the file size as close to 512kb as possible.
* Each layer's opacity settings can be adjusted individually from frame to frame.
* If you import a new layer while on any frame other than frame #1, that layer will be posted to all of the previous frames.
* You can select multiple frames in the animation timeline and make an adjustment to one layer. This will make the same adjustments to that layer on all frames selected. This will save you the extra time of adjusting each frame individually and will guarantee uniformity of adjustments. (This is the most useful when hiding or showing a layer on multiple frames)
MEETING FILE SIZE RESTRICTION
Once your animation is complete, you must save it as GIF by "saving for web and devices" (file>save or web and devices). Once the window opens, you will see the file size at the lower left corner under the word "GIF" (CS3). If the size is greater than 512kb, the first adjustment should be to go to the "colors" drop down menu and select a lower number (less colors). Don't take away so many colors that it hurts the quality and appearance of the animation because there are still other steps to take if your file size is still too large. The next step is to go to the "lossy" field and add small amounts of lossy at a time. If your file size is still too large, try going back to the animation and setting the image size (image>image size) to the minimum (550 wide X 450 high). If your file size is still to large, then try removing unnecessary frames from the animation (remember motion blur vs. multiple still frames). Lastly, reducing color saturation settings (image>adjustments>hue/saturation>saturation) can decrease the file size.
File size tips:
* The more items/pixels that move or change in your animation, the larger the file size will be.
* Take into consideration how much movement will occur in your animation versus the number of frames required. (more movement = less frames, less movement = more frames).
* A long animation with a lot of movement can be desaturated to black-and-white to meet file size restriction.
* Adding dither increases file size (and doesn't seem to change much in the animation). I always leave the dither setting at 0.
* Adding "lossy" will decrease your file size (and also your image quality). Do not add more than 30 lossy or the image quality will be too poor. Adding lossy gives you the most amount of file size change.
* Reducing the number of colors will decrease your file size (and also your image quality). Reducing the number of colors give you the least amount of file size change.
There are two options for animation playback: continuous looping or single playback. To select which option you want, there is a drop down menu at the lower left corner of the animation window (CS3) with both options listed. When creating a looping animation, careful consideration of end-to-beginning transition is necessary. Seamless loops are very appealing when done correctly.
* Animating layers in reverse of previous order helps (frames 1 through 5 played forward while frames 6 though 10 are the same frames played in revers order).
I can't seem to think of anything else right now but if something pops up, I will add it to this thread later. Feel free to ask me about anything that wasn't covered in this tutorial and I will do my best to answer.