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Ulead GIF Animator  

Ulead GIF Animator™

Ulead GIF Animator is a powerful GIF animation tool for creating high impact animation for Web pages, presentations, and multimedia titles. From composition, editing, and applying special effects, you can do them all in GIF Animator. GIF Animator also gives you total control over optimization, allowing you to make animations compact and web-ready while retaining overall image quality. Moreover, when it is time to produce the final animation file, the program lets you output your animation in a variety of file formats. File formats supported include animated GIF, Windows AVI, QuickTime, Autodesk animation, image sequences, and even Flash animation.

GIF is an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format; an image file format created by CompuServe for conveniently storing and displaying image libraries online. Because of its near-photographic quality and relatively small file size, GIF has become one of the most widely used image file formats on the Internet today. GIF has undergone two major revisions since its inception in 1987, the most recent being the GIF89a specification. GIF uses the Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) compression method to store and reduce single or multiple images within the file by up to 40% of their original size. These images can contain up to 256 colors, and do not lose its original quality during compression. Although GIF is a “lossless” format, the conversion of imported images to GIF format may lose some of their quality in the transition from True Color to 256-color. This allows users to create clear backdrops for their images, letting a Web page’s background colors show through. GIF also supports image interlacing, allowing users to watch the image “fade-in” as it downloads.

If multiple images are stored within a GIF file, they can be viewed sequentially much like a slide show or a small animated movie. The way they appear is defined by control extensions built into the file. With the appropriate tools, such as Ulead GIF Animator, you can set these controls yourself.

Displaying a series of overlapping frames in rapid succession creates animation. Each frame’s image only differs slightly from the ones preceding and following it. When enough of these frames are grouped together, the differences between them create the illusion of motion when played. In traditional animation, frames (also known as 'cels') are drawn and painted by hand. In recent years, the animation industry has been moving away from traditional animation and towards computer-assisted animation. While the concepts used to create the animation are essentially the same, the methods used differ greatly.

The key defining element of all animation, and of movies in general, is the number of frames used to create the animation. The more frames a single animation contains, there is a smoother appearance in motion. Otherwise, the more herky-jerky their movements will appear. In traditional animation, the number of frames becomes the length of the animation in seconds. In computer animation, however, the number of frames contributes to the ultimate size of the animation file. When creating animation on the computer, a balance must be found between animation quality and file size, both of which are affected by the frame count of the animation. Defining the best trade-off point is never easy, but with careful planning and foresight, you can create captivating animations through careful planning and foresight to reduce the amounts of disk space requirement.

GIF animation takes advantage of the GIF format’s built-in capabilities to store and display more than one image file. Unlike conventional film its speed is defined by the speed of the film, each image has an associated set of controls that dictate how, when, and for how long the image is displayed on the screen. The animation produced by the GIF file is produced in exactly the same manner as the method used in film: motion is created by rapidly displaying a sequence of similar images. While the production methods in both filmmaking and GIF animation differ greatly in effects, the result is the same - still images are brought to life before your eyes.

When you first open Ulead GIF Animator, you’ll notice immediately that there are four major components to the program window: the Toolbars, the central workspace, the Frame Panel below it, and the Object Manager Panel on the right. Beneath the Standard Windows Toolbar is the Attribute Toolbar. The attributes available vary depending on the tool selected. Each frame in the animation is listed in the Frame Panel below the big work area that occupies the majority of the program window. When you select a frame, the objects visible in it are displayed in the workspace while its attributes and settings are displayed in the Object Manager Panel.

Any of these attributes can be redefined or reconfigured, giving you a lot of flexibility in how the object in that frame is displayed. When GIF Animator brings in images from outside the program, if the images don’t already contain settings for some of the attributes listed, then default attributes are assigned to them. You can change the default settings GIF Animator uses in the Preferences dialog box, which can be opened with the File: Preferences menu command. Tip: If you right-click any frame in the Frame Panel or object in the Object Manager Panel a pop-up menu will appear listing all the commands that can be used to manipulate or edit that frame or object.

The Workspace contains the edit window with the current frame, and it is divided by three mode tabs that let you easily switch from task to task.

Edit mode is the default operating mode for GIF Animator. In this mode, you can compose and edit your animation by manipulating and moving objects around the canvas. You can also create selection areas to apply an effect to a specific portion of the animation. Optimize mode is where you can work on compressing and compacting your animations, optimizing them for transmission on the Web. In this mode, you can use one of three ways to optimize your file:

use the Presets available on the Attribute toolbar, use the Optimization Wizard by clicking the Optimization Wizard button, or make your own custom settings by adjusting the settings on the Attribute Toolbar, Color Palette, and Optimize Panel.

Preview mode lets you preview your animation within GIF Animator as it will appear on the Web.

Every GIF image file contains within it an index table that defines the number of colors an image contains and the colors each index represents. Every color in the 256-color ‘spectrum’ has its own unique identification which is stored in the image’s color index (the color palette). In GIF files, every color in the index requires 3 or 4 bytes of data to define it (depending on how it was originally stored). An image with a 256-color palette, may have a color index up to 1024 bytes long.

There are two kinds of palettes for animated GIFs: a Global Palette, which defines the use of colors in every image of the animation; and a Local Palette, which is unique to each frame in the file. The Global Palette is useful in decreasing the overall file size when the colors used by each frame are all virtually the same. When the colors vary greatly from frame to frame the Local Palette can be used to retain the overall image quality. However, it does increase the file size.

Both the Global and the Local Palettes can be controlled by defining its settings; e.g., the number of colors to use in the index; how these colors should be selected; or whether or not colors should be blended in order to make different color shades. In GIF Animator, all of these settings are available in Optimize mode, and can often be controlled by selecting from a number of presets. By default, your color palettes will be built using a Global Palette that automatically adds the predominant colors from objects inserted in your animations up to a maximum of 128 colors. You can change the default preset in File: Preferences - Optimize tab.

Ulead GIF Animator is designed to build a Global Palette automatically, freeing you from making decisions as to how the palette should be created. This does not mean that you have no control over the way that the palette is built. On the contrary, there are tools for novice, intermediate, and expert GIF animation creators to use in order to design high-quality animations while maintaining a respectable file size. For those new to GIF animation, you will find all the tools you will need to define your palette on the Attribute Toolbar in Optimize mode. There are Presets from which you can choose the number of colors that you would like to include in the Global Palette. These Presets are broken into two types, Line Art and Photo which range from 16 - 256 colors. Line Art is particularly useful when your animations consist mainly of solid objects and colors, while the Photo settings are more suited towards images that contain a large number of varying shades. By default, the GIF Animator uses the Photo 256 preset, which can be changed from the Optimize tab in the Preferences dialog box [F6].

For those that feel comfortable working with animated GIFs, or if you find that the colors indexed in the Global Palette do not give you the quality you desire), then you'll probably want to use the Optimize Panel in conjunction with the Color Palette, which can be opened either by clicking the respective icons on the toolbar, or by selecting the appropriate commands from the View menu. The Optimize Panel gives you more control over the settings defined in the Attribute Toolbar, such as giving you the option of using an Optimized palette or a palette that you have previously saved. From the Optimize Panel: Local Palette tab you can select to use localized palettes for each of the frames in your animation, or just the frames that you select. Local Palettes can help you retain the quality that you want for your animation. The Color Palette can be used to make changes to the colors indexed in the Global Palette.

Finally, for those that have a lot of time to spare and want to create high-quality animations with the lowest possible size, you can use the Index Editor to tweak your palette. The Index Editor, only available by selecting Open in GIF Index Editor from the Save As GIF dialog box, gives you complete control over the palette used for each frame of your animation.

The Color Palette, only available while in Optimize mode, displays the colors used by the currently selected frame, whether the selected frame is using a Global or Local Palette. If the frame is using the Global Palette, then the palette may be edited, otherwise the palette is read-only.
To open the Color Palette:

1 Select the Optimize tab to switch to Optimize mode. 2 Select View: Color Palette.

To edit existing colors:

1 Select the colors you want to edit. 2 Click Edit Current Cell, then select one of the Color Pickers from the pop-up menu, from which you can select a replacement color.
Click Snap to Web Safe Color, to automatically replace the currently selected cell with the closest matching Web safe color.

To create a gradient between two colors:

1 Select three or more colors. The more colors you select, the more noticeable the gradient.

Note: Choosing two colors gives no result since they already represent the start and end colors of the fill.

2 Click the Create Gradient Palette button on the Color Palette to open the Gradient dialog box. 3 Confirm your start and end colors. If you want to change these, click the color cells displayed to open the Color Picker. 4 Click OK. The gradient colors will replace the previously selected colors.

To add new colors:

1 Click Add Color to Palette, then select one of the Color Pickers from the pop-up menu, from which you can select a color.

Note: When using a Palette consisting of 256 colors, using Add Color only replaces the palette color which is most closely matched by the added color. To remove colors:

1 Select the color cells that you want to remove. 2 Click the Delete Color button.

There are three ways you can significantly reduce the size of your animated GIF files: reducing the color palettes; reducing the number of frames; and optimizing the individual frames. There are pros and cons to using the first two methods and they should be implemented judiciously. Keep in mind that the goal of creating animated GIF files is NOT to make them as compact as possible - creating compelling animations for the Web is. However, until the time that data transmission speeds increase and everyone on the net has faster access, file size should still be a significant consideration when composing your animation.

The first method to reduce the file size of your animation is to delete any unnecessary frames. In some cases, this may not be desirable due to the adverse effects it may have on the quality of your animation. But if you can get away with cutting out a few frames here and there, such as the ones that don’t alter the animation quality significantly, then you should do it. Ulead GIF Animator allows you to greatly reduce the file sizes of the individual frames through the second method: Optimization. You can do this easily in Optimize mode. From here you can let the Optimization Wizard walk you through the optimization process, or you can make your own optimization settings by using the tools available on the Attribute Toolbar. In some cases, this method can reduce your overall file size by as much as 200%.

The third method is to use the Global Palette. Fortunately, this is done automatically in GIF Animator. The predominant colors from the objects inserted in your animation will be 'absorbed' into the Global Palette. This way you need not create a Local Palette for a frame that varies only slightly from the rest. If a frame has radically different colors from the others in the animation, your best bet is to give it a Local Palette and then reduce it by removing the colors it has in common with the Global Palette. Otherwise, the image may not display properly. Using the local palette is a more advanced setting and is only available from the Optimize Panel in Optimize mode.

Finally, you should consider the canvas size. If the motion of the animation occurs within a smaller field than the size of the canvas then you should consider cropping the canvas to fit the area occupied by the objects only.

One of the more powerful features in Ulead GIF Animator is its built-in ability to super-compress animation files using custom techniques that result in picture perfect images with the fastest possible download times. The main concern in creating images for the Web is the quality of the image without prejudice to its file size. People don’t want to spend the bulk of their time on the Web waiting for your cool pictures to download - patience on the Internet can be measured in milliseconds, so if your graphics aren’t optimized for speed then you’re going to lose out.

Ulead GIF Animator gives you the ultimate solution to fat file sizes: the Optimize mode. This gives you the ability to trim the fat away from your animated GIF files, letting you specify the technique used to perform this. It also gives you complete control over the Global Color Palette, allowing you to merge similar colors that, to the human eye, contain no discernible differences but actually contribute to bulky file sizes. In addition to putting these controls at your fingertips, GIF Animator lets you work with amazing speed. By creating and saving your own optimization presets, you can use them later with a click of the mouse. You can also choose to use the Optimization Wizard, which conveniently takes you through the process of optimization.

There are three steps in GIF optimization:

1 Creating the Color Palette. GIF file uses a color palette for the colors in a file. The first thing to do is to create a color palette based on the colors used in different frames. You can either create a Global Palette (recommended), the colors of which are shared by all of the frames, or create a Local Palette for each frame of the animation. Creating a Local Palette for each frame will result in more colors being stored (higher quality) but a larger file size. Deciding on whether to use a Global or Local Palette will depend on what your needs are.

2 Mapping the Palette. Once the palette is created, all the pixels in each frame will be mapped to the color palette created. The pixels will find the color nearest to its properties in the palette.

3 Removing image redundancy. Multiple frames may share the same static image elements or pixels. Because these elements or pixels don’t change from frame to frame, they are unnecessary for the animation. GIF Animator removes these static redundancies from each frame in the animation, and minimizes the file size.


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