If you've been working with Microsoft PowerPoint for a while, you are probably familiar with different ways to fill shapes: solid color, gradients, textured or patterned fills, even picture fills. Perhaps you've even experimented with transparent fills to add dimension and layering to your graphics. There is one more way to fill — and animate — a shape you may have overlooked. A background fill is a lesser-known technique that allows you to assemble complex-looking animations with relative ease.
Last fall, I had the privilege of learning from some of the Microsoft PowerPoint MVPs at the PowerPoint Live conference. Glen Millar, an animation wizard from Australia, delighted the audience with some of his creative animation examples (Glen Millar Communications, www.powerpoint workbench.com). He introduced me to the background-fill technique and has agreed to allow me to share it here.
Background-fill animations begin with a great photograph. Using an image-editing program, resize the picture to match your screen's display size (the most common is 1,024 x 768) and save it as a JPEG. Open PowerPoint (version 2002 or higher) and start with a blank slide or insert a new slide in an existing presentation. Select format>>background, and in the resulting window, click the drop-down arrow in the center and choose Fill Effects. Under the Picture tab, use Select Picture to navigate to the folder with your resized picture. Click on the file name to select it, then click the Insert button, then OK, and finally, the Apply button.
Next, select a simple autoshape from the Drawing toolbar and draw a shape to cover an interesting part of your background image. Double-click on the shape to bring up the Format AutoShape dialogue box, then click the drop-down arrow next to Color. At the bottom of this menu you'll find options for More Colors, Fill Effects and Background (see Example 1). Choose Background and click OK to accept the change. Note: You won't find the Background option by selecting the Fill Color icon from the Drawing toolbar. It is accessible only in the Format AutoShape dialogue box.
If your shape doesn't have an outline, add one to help you position and resize the new autoshape. (You'll delete outlines later.)
Duplicate the first shape, and reposition and resize as needed to adjust to another face or focus on an interesting portion of the image. Continue duplicating and resizing shapes as desired to frame the most interesting parts of your photo. You can use different shapes, they can be various sizes and proportions, and they can even overlap. (The example slide uses circles to frame the faces in the group photo.) Remove the outlines from the shapes when you're finished arranging them.
The next step is to draw a rectangle that covers the entire slide area. This rectangle can be a solid color or a gradient fill, or you can insert a full-frame picture, such as your template background. Select this rectangle (or picture), choose draw>>order>>send to back. At this point, you should only see your background-filled shapes sitting on top of the full-frame rectangle (see Example 2).
The fun begins when you animate the shapes. Select all of the shapes and choose a simple Entrance effect from the Custom Animation task pane (click the task pane's Add Effect button, then select Entrance to view the available effects). The example slide uses Curve Up for all of the shapes, and each is set to Start: With Previous and Speed: Fast. I've also staggered the shapes to start 0.5 seconds apart (see Example 3).
To blend the filled shapes into the full picture, select the full-frame rectangle and apply the Exit effect called Fade. In the example, the Exit effect is set to begin After Previous, and animates at Medium speed. To complete this slide, I've added the text Congratulations Team at the bottom, introducing the words with a Fade Entrance effect.
Experiment with other pictures, assorted autoshapes and various Entrance Effects until you achieve a combination that suits your assembled image. For better results, choose shapes that complement the picture and animation effects and that are simple and consistent.
Animating one step further
Now that you understand the basics of a background-fill animation, take it to the next level — add more animation effects and move the filled shapes around the slide.
The example animation features eight background-filled circles, all the same size, with each circle framing a face in the group photo. After positioning and resizing shapes on the slide, select all shapes and eliminate the outlines. The next step is to animate the faces around the slide so that they end up forming a circle around a text box.
If you've been following along and have saved the previous animation, create a duplicate page (insert>>duplicate slide). Delete any text boxes to simplify the slide area while animating (you can add text later). In the Custom Animation task pane, delete all of the effects on the list (click to select the top effect, hold the SHIFT key and click the last effect, click the Remove button). Next, select all (CTRL + A) and add a Fade Entrance effect (Start: With Previous and Speed: Medium).
To reposition the shapes accurately around the slide, create a large, outlined circle to use as a guide. It also helps to display the drawing guides, duplicating vertical and horizontal guidelines as needed (see Example 4).
Click and drag a box around all of the shapes to select them. On the Custom Animation task pane, click the Add Effect button, select Motion Paths, and choose Down. Use Start: With Previous and Speed: Medium. Click to select the first motion path in the list and change reset it to Start: After Previous. Now you will edit each motion-path end point so that the shapes will end up evenly spaced around the circle. Select one path at a time, click and drag the endpoint for each path (red arrow/line) to a new position on the circle guide (see Example 5). Preview the animation and adjust endpoints as needed.
Note: Experienced users may be wondering, "Why not use custom paths instead?" This method saves a little time — you won't have to go through all of the menus to create a custom path for each shape.
Put it all together
The last element in the example is the centered text box YOU put it all together, which is introduced with a Fade Entrance effect after the path animations (see Example 6). Don't forget to delete the circle guide when you're finished animating.
Background-fill animations can be a great way to focus in on complex images or rearrange parts of a larger image. Try adding multiple animation effects to the shapes for more dramatic results. This is one technique you have to experiment with yourself to fully appreciate. (And thanks, Glen!).
Software and system used: Microsoft PowerPoint 2003; Microsoft Windows XP.
Julie Terberg has more than 16 years of presentation-design and computer-graphic experience. She specializes in custom-designed presentations, including animation and multimedia applications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.terbergdesign.com.