Recently a colleague of mine, Ingrid Mengdehl, started having a bit of fun with stop motion. With the many other animation functions available in PowerPoint, using stop motion may seem primitive. However stop motion can actually give off a really cool visual effect; remember that South Park used stop motion for years.

Many visual effects can be created with entrance and exit effects or motion paths, however PowerPoint does not have an animation function that allows you to transform one object into another. Using stop motion, you can achieve this effect less tediously than you might think, as long as you take the right approach.

To give you an idea of what’s possible let’s take a look at what Ingrid has been able to do:

Please note that the entire thing is not in stop motion; the whale coming in and out, as well as the spinning of the ball, are done with standard animations. However, all of the shape transformations are done with stop motion. If you download Ingrid’s example  you can see exactly how she does this in the animation pane. Use this as inspiration for ways you can incorporate stop motion into your presentations, or just ideas for play.

The technique

The best way to create a stop motion is to give yourself a starting and ending point, and work in the middle. Go to insert shapes and start off with two basic PowerPoint shapes. I chose a tilted square and a pentagon. The next step is to draw create shapes in between your starting and ending point. The number of in-between shapes you use will be dependent on the visual effect you want to give off. Using less shapes will give it a jerkier feel, while using more makes the transition much smoother.

I used two different techniques to create these in-between shapes. I found that the most effective way to create the in-between shapes was to copy and paste a shape, right click on it and select edit points. This function allows you to adjust, delete or change points on a shape into smooth, straight or corner points. You can also adjust the segments to be straight or curved, which is how stop motion is possible with circles or other rounded shapes. I found it most helpful to put my copied shape inside the ending shape and drag each point a bit closer to the edges.

Edit Points Screenshot

You can also use the freeform shapes tool to retrace a shape, with incremental adjustments. I preferred not to use this method because a limitation of the freeform shapes tool is that once you plot a point, you cannot undo it, i.e. if you trace 90% of the shape perfectly and then over click on one side you just have to work with it. Of course you can still edit it using the edit points tool, but I think it’s easier to just copy the shape instead of having to retrace it, since you’re going to adjust it anyway.

The type of shapes you use greatly effects how difficult it’s going to be, and how long it’s going to take, to tinker with the in between shapes. For example, shapes with many points like stars, or shapes with curved segments are going to be a bit more tedious.



Once you have all your shapes drawn the next step is to add animations to create the motion effect. Each shape is going to have to disappear at the same time that the proceeding shape appears. So you do not need an appear for the first shape if you want it visible when the slide begins, and you do not need a disappear on the final shape if you want it visible when the slide ends.
This may be a good time to pull out the selection pane (home>select>selection pane…). This will open up a window that lists all of the objects that are on the current slide. Clicking on an object in the slide will highlight it in the list, and then by double clicking on the item in the list you can rename the objects to whatever you like. I find this incredibly helpful when doing successive animation sequences such as this one. I renamed my shapes to Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 etc. to help make neaten things up in the animation pane. Set it up so all of the disappear/appear animations for the stop motion sequences are on the same click. Now make sure that each disappear animation is next to it’s corresponding appear animation. You should have a pattern of alternating red and green arrows.

Next you have to add delays to each pair of disappear/appear animations. In the example Ingrid created she uses .04 second intervals. I think this timing works really well however if you would like to make the animation sequence a bit jerkier try using .06s intervals, and if you prefer something a bit smoother try .02s. I copied Ingrid, so my pairs go off at .04, .08, .12, and .16 seconds.
Once you’re finished adjusting the delays, use the arrange and align tools to layer the shapes on top of each other. I aligned my shapes to the middle and center, but play around with it a little bit to see what works best visually for your purposes.

You can download my file from the attachments tab (hover your mouse pointer at the top) in the video below:

The short cut

Here I’ve only done one sequence, but as you can see with Ingrid’s example you can combine multiple stop motion sequences, adding colors and patterns, to make really cool and intricate animations. I realize this may be bit too time consuming for many people. There is a shortcut, and I must confess I’ve been holding it back because I think it is important to understand how you could do these kind of things on your own in case technology fails us (or the technology within our technology rather). There is a free plugin called PowerPoint Labs which has a stop-motion creator. A limitation of this plugin is that it does not create stop motions when you change shapes, which is why I felt it necessary to explain the process of creating stop-motion to you. If you would like to read about the stop-motion feature, or any of the other features available in PowerPoint labs please read my article on the plugin.

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