Making things disappear in PowerPoint

I’m not an advocate for animation in PowerPoint UNLESS it serves a communications purpose.  If it helps me get my point across, or in a sense even becomes the point (the medium becoming the message) then I’m for it.  I bring this up because I had the opportunity to lead a PowerPoint 2 workshop today, something we call “Advanced PowerPoint.”  One of the things we cover is animation, of course, and I have a section dedicated to disappearing effects.  Unfortunately, I did not have time to get to the practicum for disappear animations today, so I thought it would be appropriate to go over the ideas here, where the workshop attendees can supplement their handout materials, and others may be interested.

The practicum I usually do in the workshop is to have attendees create a slide where is picture, centered on the slide, gradually appears by means of a set of masking rectangles, colored the same as the background of the slide, disappear.  The skills this exercise teaches are not only the disappearing animation effect, but timed animations, based on the “with previous” triggers, modified effect and delay times, use of the animation pane, use of drawing guides, formatting of masking objects so that they appear to be part of the background, and the larger discussion of the use of animation effects in making a point.

The exercise we do is a simplified version of a slide I use when speaking about malaria.  The point being made is that one child under the age of five dies every 30 seconds in sub-Saharan Africa (actually, this number has increased since I first developed my presentation, but is still horrendously high).  To illustrate this idea, though, I do not show a chart.  What I do is show the picture of a little African girl gradually appearing, as 30 squares, colored the same color as the background of the slide, disappear at 1 second intervals.  Since I have them fade out, and since I arrange them in a clockwise spiral around the picture, the picture appears to be gradually fading into view.  It is effective, because I say something like ‘Statistics only mean something when you put a face to them.  Let’s watch in silence as malaria does it’s work.’  Then we stand and watch the effect of the little girl’s face, which just about fills the slide, gradually appears over 30 seconds.  Afterwards, I say something like, ‘In the time it look to see this girl’s picture, some girl or boy died.  And what if not “any” girl, but this girl.’  I think it is a far more effective approach to raise awareness of the consequences of malaria.

At any rate, after explaining all this, I show the workshop attendees how to reproduce the effect; except we use a picture covered by 4 squares, rather than 30, so as to save time.  The impact is the same, however.  Here is how it is done.

1.  Prepare your slide

Since this exercise depends on masking an existing picture with objects the same color as the background on the slide, to make it appear as if there is nothing on the slide when the audience first sees it, I use a slide with a solid fill background, black in this case, but it could be any solid color.  Alternatively, if you have a gradient background or a background with a pattern or some artwork, you could cut out your masks using a screen capture program like SnagIt.

To create the slide you will need, go to the Home tab, click the drop-down beneath the New Slide command, and choose the blank slide layout, provided it exists with the design theme you are using. In the sample slides I am using for this article I am using the “Horizon” design theme, but you can achieve this with any of the standard Microsoft design themes, or you can create your own.

blank slide layout
Blank Slide Layout in Horizon Theme

In this theme, however, the blank slide is not really blank.  It still has a piece of background art on it (the horizon like sunrise bar at the bottom) and a black to grey gradient background color.  To get rid of the background artwork, go to the Design tab and check the “Hide Background Graphics” check-box.

Hide Background Graphic on the Design tab

To apply a solid black background to the slide, select the Background Styles drop-down and choose the solid black one.  Each design theme comes with 12 background styles, and usually there will be a solid base color to choose.  If not, click the “Format Background” command on this drop-down, or right-click the slide, choose “Format background…” and choose a solid fill in the color you desire.  Be sure to apply it only to the current slide, and not all slides.

Choose Solid Background
Choose (or format) a solid fill for slide background

2.  Insert, size and align your picture

Now insert the picture you are going to reveal as you speak.  PowerPoint always centers inserted objects, so you don’t have to worry about aligning it, but you might have to re-size it.  To keep it centered, use the sizing boxes on the Picture Tools Format tab.  (This tab will appear when a picture is selected).  In this case, my picture was originally taller than the slide.  PowerPoint, of course, formats objects to fit the slide, and proportionally adjusts the width (or height, depending on it’s aspect) to maintain aspect ratio and not distort the picture.  Since I wanted to reduce the size a little, to leave some black border around my picture, I re-sized the height dimension to 6 inches.  The width was reduced correspondingly so that the original aspect ratio was maintained.

Adjust Size with Picture Tools

Then I align the picture, using the Picture Tools > Format tab > Align commands, to align it center and middle with respect to the slide.  Don’t forget, you cannot see these tools until the picture is selected.

Align To Slide
Center re-sized picture on slide

Finally, I turn on the drawing guides on the View tab to help me construct the masks I will use to cover the picture.  In my example, I am only going to construct four masks, but if I needed more (as I did in the 30-mask example I mentioned above) I turned on Gridlines to help me).

Drawing Guides
Drawing Guides

By the way, the image of the young girl is an image I  licensed (for pay), obtained from Dreamstime, and is ©seeingimages.

3.  Draw and format the masks

Now it is time to construct our masks.  Begin by drawing a solid rectangle that covers the upper left quadrant of the picture, overlapping it so that the entire upper left quadrant is obscured.  If you are new to PowerPoint drawing shapes, note that the shapes have a default line color and fill color.  You will have to format these to match the solid background color of the slide.  First, I’ll draw the rectangle by going to the Insert tab and clicking the drop-down under Shapes, and choosing the rectangle tool.

rectangle tool
Select the Shape drawing rectangle tool

Now draw, making sure the rectangle snaps to the drawing guides.  The rectangle will be whatever the defined color is for drawing objects in the design theme you choose.  If you use Horizon, as I am using, it will be a slate grey color.

Unformatted Mask 1
Draw the first mask

Now format the rectangle by right-clicking it and choosing “Format object.”  Give it a solid line and fill color to match the slide’s background color.

Select Fill And Line Attributes
format the rectangle with solid fill and line colors

Now when the rectangle is deselected, the upper left quadrant of the girl’s picture has disappeared (i.e., been covered by a mask that makes it appear to be gone).  Now all you need to do is duplicate the rectangle 3 times and arrange each duplicate over each quadrant.  To duplicate an object, select it and press Ctrl-D (Command-D on the Mac).  This gets a little tricky because since the objects are essentially invisible once in place, it is hard to fine tune them, which is why snap to guides is so useful in avoiding any gaps.  Now turn off the guides you should have what appears to be a blank, black slide (or whatever background color you are using).

4.  Animate the masks

Now for the fun part, the animation.  Select the upper left mask.  (Hint:  If this is all new to you, you might want to wait to color in the masking rectangles until after you get them arranged and animated, just so you can see where they are more clearly).  Go to the Animations tab and select “Fade” from the Exit effects.

Fade Exit Effect
Apply Fade Exit Effect

PowerPoint will respond by giving you a little preview of the effect, fading out the mask and revealing the upper left quadrant of the girl’s face.  In the instance, you need to do this three more times on each of the other masks, but if you had 30 masks, as I did in my original example, I didn’t want to go through all that manual work, so I used the Animation Painter to make things go more quickly.  Since we are all lazy, and it is good to learn how to use the labor saving devices built-in to PowerPoint, here’s how.

Click the first mask, the one you have already animated.  Double click the Animation Painter.  This turns on the painter.  It will leave it on until you deliberately turn it off by clicking the Animation Painter command again.  Now click each of the other three masks.  (If the animation painter is turned on your cursor will have a little paint brush icon next to it).  You have “painted” the animation effect from mask 1 to each of the other three.

Animated Masks
Using the Animation Painter

Don’t forget to turn the Animation Painter off.  If you don’t every object you click on will become animated.

To verify that you have four animations on this slide, turn on the Animation Pane.  The Animation Pane is even more useful in controlling animation effects than the Animation Painter.

Animation Pane
Animation Pane

Note that the pane that opens on the right next to our slide shows that we have four animations (corresponding to the little numbers on the slide itself), and that they are all set to be triggered On Click.  That’s what the little mouse icon means next to the animation number.

When we click the Play button in the animation pane it shows us a preview.  To see it as our audience will see it, and verify the necessary four mouse clicks, we need to see our slide in Slide Show view.  Just click the shortcut on the status bar, or press the Shift-F5 key combination to see it.

5.  Set your animation timings

What we really want is to click only 1 time, and to have all the animations occur automatically, though.  Here’s how.

In the Animation Pane click on animation 2 (the one named “Rectangle 5 in our example), hold down the Shift key, and click on animation 4, so that the lower three animations are selected (i.e., have a blue outline around them), but not the first animation.  Now click the little drop-down arrow located on the bottom animation and select “Start After Previous”.

After Previous
After Previous Animation Trigger

Now if you observe the Animation Pane, the animations will appear in a staggered timeline, rather than vertically, stacked one on the other.  To modify the timing of the animations, with those three still selected, click the drop-down again and this time click “Timing…”.

Timing dialog box

The reason the animations are staggered is that the timing of the effect itself, the value in the “Duration” field is 0.5 seconds, and animations 2-4 are all set to occur after previous.  Therefore, animation one occurs on click, and takes .5 seconds to complete, then animations 2-4 occur in sequence, each taking .5 seconds, for a total animation time of 2 seconds.

Since this is faster than we want it to be, there are two things we might do about it.  1) we can modify the time it takes for the Duration of the animation.  To do so, click the drop-down next to Duration and select a slower one.  Let me suggest 1 second, though you can pick one as slow as 5 seconds.  If you have young people in your audience, anything slower than a second will be much too slow for their attention span.  (You probably think I’m kidding).

The other thing you can do to slow things down is to introduce a Delay between animations.  Just type the number of seconds you wish for a delay (you can use decimal values, like .75, if you wish) in the Delay field in this dialog box.  Again. let me suggest 1 second.  Now each effect will take 1 second and there will be a 1 second delay between animations.  Here is what the dialog box should look like.

Set Delays
Timing Dialog box

Now, come back and set the Duration of animation 1 to 1 second, and we are ready to go.  (Remember, it did not change when the other three changed because it was not selected in the animation pane.  To test our effect, press Shift F5, click once, and watch it occur.

Of course, the real point of this animation is to produce a dramatic effect while you are speaking, so make sure to tailor the animation to the length of your comments (or silences, as in this case).

I know this has seemed a long and technical post, but that’s real life with real animations that can make a difference.  There are a lot of details, but once you get the idea, build yourself an effective quick access toolbar, and lean the labor saving tools built-in to PowerPoint, you will be creating them with the best of them.

A Final Word

This is the kind of animation in PowerPoint that is NOT pointless motion, of which there is all-too-much in a typical presentation.  Other academic uses of the disappear effect are for reveals.  Let’s say you are teaching another language and you want to review vocabulary with the class.  You create a slide with the correct answer on it, and then mask it over with the word in English.  You ask the class how to say it in whatever the language is, and then you reveal the correct answer by having the English word disappear and the word in the other language appear.  You can repeat this action as many times as you want when in slideshow mode by simply using the forward arrow to perform the animation, and the back arrow to undo it, making your slide a sort of flash card for the entire class.  The same concept could be applied to vocabulary words or any definition of terms group activity.

The most effective use of disappear effects, however, are with charts, especially line charts.  My invariable experience is that when you display a chart to an audience they immediately start reading it, trying to figure out what is all about.  This is fine, except you are speaking at the same time they are doing this.  They stop paying attention to you while they read the slide.  Then when you make your final point about it they say “What?”  because the media you have used to present the idea has actually prevented your audience from getting the point.

To remedy this situation, create several masks that can be disappeared on click, so that you can talk about a small part of the chart first, reveal the next part that you want the audience to consider, pause while they are considering it, and so on, until the entire chart has been revealed and you are reading to draw your conclusions together with your audience.

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