Monday, 16 February 2009

Animation with Windows Movie Maker: a step by step guide

Aw man, Windows Movie Maker, the video software that comes bundled with Window XP is really annoying for doing animations with, but for some reason I soldier on.

This is my latest effort:-

Here's a step-by-step guide for how to do this sort of thing.

1. I sit at my computer, with my Wacom tablet and I draw what I can see around my desk, mostly my bedroom.

Just two or three pictures, what's behind, what's to my left, what I can see out the door. I draw them in an old old copy of Photoshop in black and white, then adjust the threshold to give me a line drawing.

2. I like to think of these drawings as key frames, for I then work on doing several frames of animation between them, I set them up as layers in photoshop so I can see two images at the same time, and then figure out and draw the image between them. Its a tedious process, but I nuture a high threshold for boredom.

3. Once I've got a few frames I colour them in. Years back, I did an animationy thing drawing on paper then scanning in each frame, it was so time consumed I could hardly be bothered colouring, but it looks kind of better and stops you getting headaches. Anyhoo, this is the hand-drawn and scanned thing I did in 2005 with almost no colouring.

Now in the later years of this decade I feel colouring is the way forward, no shading mind, just plain, almost cartoony colours.

4. Each frame I save as a jpeg, with the same dimensions and PAL widescreen DVD, that's 1024 x 576 I like to think that in the future people will come to worship my works and release them on DVD or something.

5. Then we fire up Windows Movie Maker and drag in all the jpegs. At this point its vital that you save the animation project in Windows Movie Maker cos its crashes every few seconds and its a real bitch to lose any changes you've made.

6. In order to use still images as anything like animation you're going to have to select
Tools -> Options -> Picture Duration

Its not the most flexible, you can only set it to 0.125 seconds or 0.25 seconds. That's 8 frames per second or 4 frames per second Einstein, which in animation terms is as jerky as hell.

And here's a kick in the balls when you render the movie to make a video file thing, it converts it to 25 frames per second. God knows how, neither 8 nor 4 go into 25 without leaving some frame there for longer or less time than the others, there's no escape from jerkiness. Thats what you get for using the free bundled video software.

Christ, I don't know, at 25fps each frame is up for 0.04 seconds, so if you've chosen 0.125 seconds per image, it probably squishes it into 0.12 seconds per image for the first seven frames then 0.16 seconds for the eighth. Its going to look odd.

Anyhoo, I'm getting ahead of myself, there's not much we can do about this, what we can do is select 0.125 seconds per image, 8fps, and then draw loads and loads of pictures. You want ten seconds of animation, thats eight pictures. Say it takes you three minutes to draw each picture, and then another two to colour it in, five minutes per picture, that ten seconds of footage is going to take the best part of day. Luckily, I'm unemployed.

7. Or you can cheat a little and use loops and stationary bits.

I dunno if they're called 'loops' in proper animationy class, and they're definitely not called 'stationary bits', but hey ho, what they are are sequences of three or more frames that you can repeat for a few seconds without any viewer really caring.

Here, check out the weird morphing thing in this animation to kill a bit of time.

The loop has got to be at least three frames otherwise you're just going 121212121 and it gives viewers a headache and make sure it goes 123123123 instead of 123212321 cos viewers can see right through that a mile away.

8. Oh, I hope you remembered to save that a few times in case it crashes.

9. When you get bored, you can render the movie. That'll be
File -> Save Movie File -> My Computer

And then just accept the defaults. Once its all done and you've watched you masterpiece a few times, called your girlfriend round, forced her to watch it, put up with her slightly patronising adulation, kind of like when your Down's Syndrome son has managed to tie his shoelaces for the first time, you know he'll never be a lawyer or a brain surgeon, but there's still hope for a career in banking. At this point just upload the damned thing to YouTube, and get your friends to watch it.

10. Watch it yourself a few more times, with pen and paper handy and scribble down everything you don't like about it, every unexpected jerk or bit that seem to go too quickly, or when you missed out colouring a section. Scribble these down and get back into Photoshop and fix it.

Repeat until satisfied.

Then dream about how one day a bored advertising executive will see your feeble scribblings on the internet, and then email you about doing a thirty second commercial for a well-known brand of dishwasher tablets for thousands of pounds.

Then be rudely awakened from the dream as you realise that that shit was easy, and the advertising executive will probably just get his creative bloke to knock up something identical in a fraction of the time, and do it all using fancy computer software, and charge at his usual rate.

The best you can hope for is a post on Boing Boing before being cast back into your cell once more.

Things to remember when you're fixing all the bits you messed up first time round
  • Add more frames to slow down sequences
  • Take out frames to speed up sequences
  • Don't be tempted to adjust the duration of each frame to slow down or speed up
  • Trace trajectories if you're not convinced elements are in the right place.


  1. Hi there, I think the reason you get 25fps is because you're selecting PAL as the output in the options. NTSC should give you 30fps