My process for creating animated motion graphics is unconventional but it has distinct advantages over the industry standard method of using Adobe AfterEffects or CC Animate. Instead, I design a slide deck in Apple Keynote using slide transitions and object builds, export the timed presentation as a video file, and then edit it to time, narration, and music in a conventional video editing suite like Adobe Premiere, Camtasia, Final Cut, etc.
This method saves time overall and allows me to turn around projects on a much faster timeline with an equivalent (better?) level of visual quality. I ascribe some of this success to a sense of good taste – I have done the work to understand the design principles that make my presentations look sleek and professional. But I also find that designing in Keynote rather than Photoshop/Illustrator allows me to focus on the content rather than getting lost in the tools and techniques. Keynote has a lot of nice default tools for adding a subtle professional sheen to everything that would require meticulous tweaking in AfterEffects to achieve comparable results.
An added bonus is that most of my source material comes in the form of a PowerPoint deck sent to me by a subject matter expert. Rather than rebuilding the content from scratch in Adobe tools I can just open the PPTX in Keynote and start to beautify and animate the already-existing content using Keynote’s visual tools.
I arrived at this process organically, mostly because I didn’t have access to Adobe tools early in my career. I started as a charter school teacher, and making Keynotes was my daily stock & trade. I had time to try all the features of Keynote and push on it to make beautiful, appealing presentations. It’s genuinely one of my favorite pieces of software of all time – its simplicity belies a huge set of media creation tools. Like a high-quality musical instrument, it gives you back more than you put into it rather than fighting you to do just the basics (my experience of PowerPoint). So I’ve gotten away with using it as my first stop to get my ideas out and get content ready to animate, even in professional, mission-critical situations. Here’s how I do it:
The Process – Big Picture
- Step 1: Arrange content on slides
- Step 2: Program your builds
- Step 3: Export to Video
- Step 4: Edit as video
- Step 5: Fame and Fortune
The Stages in Depth
Step 1: Arrange content on slides
Keynote has great tools for combining simple elements together into surprisingly effective layouts. Somehow, even text looks better than in PowerPoint, even before you add its unique selection of shadows, gradients, strokes, and fills for added effect. It also has a large selection of premade shapes and icons you can customize to your needs – or even design and save your own with a very nice bezier pen tool!
I’ve always liked to use Keynote slides as a simple “craft table” for stacking photos and shapes in pretty designs. It automatically gives you guide lines to make sure objects are aligned, same sized. Most of this, you can do without handling any math, but you can also edit each object’s parameters numerically for precise adjustments.
One feature experienced designers will miss here is a “Layers” window. Every object you drop on your slide has a Z-value – that is, a number indicating how near or far it is from the “front” or “top” of the image. It can get a bit fidgety to manage all the different objects on your slides if you have a lot of overlap.
It’s worth mentioning that you can also customize the slide size. I think the “wide” theme defaults to a 16:9 resolution which can be exported as standard 1080p resolution video. Again, you can enter specific pixel resolutions to better match the exact size and shape of your desired finished product.
I challenge you to get familiar with the basic tools for text, shapes, colors, and images, and the only way to do that is to PLAY! Even better, choose a professionally designed graphic (I like movie posters) and see if you can match the style using only these basic tools.
For you overachievers, you may want to read up on Duarte’s wonderful Diagrammer tool. It’s a free downloadable set of diagrams in PowerPoint format that help you show relationships between ideas visually. You can always make these yourself, but Duarte’s are a great place to start for novice designers. More than anything, they should inspire you to start to think of what ideas look like so you can use your visuals to boost comprehension.
Step 2: Program your builds
One of the first things everybody plays with in PowerPoint is all the fun ways you can make words and objects build in and out. Often these transitions can be distracting, drawing attention to themselves and away from your message! Used skillfully and tastefully though, these can add meaningful motion and a professional look to your slides. Keynote has a wide variety of eye-catching slide transitions and object builds that range from the subtle to the outrageous. Your job as a designer is to familiarize yourself with all the options, and figure out how to use them to add meaning, clarity, and emphasis to your message rather than distracting from it.
Never underestimate the humble dissolve transition. This is a time-tested mainstay in movies and TV, so common in the media we all consume that many of us don’t notice it. Short duration dissolves of 0.3-0.5 seconds can add a subtle professional touch to your slides, while a longer fade of one second or more can gently send the message that we’re transitioning from one idea to another. I strongly recommend you consider the dissolve to be your default transition – the “little black dress” of builds – and experiment with all the ways it can be used tastefully to improve your motion designs. Try also to notice it in movie trailers, TV shows, and other media you consume – it’s everywhere, for good reason.
Similarly, the dip to color transition is best used when you want a little stronger transition from one idea to the next. Dipping to black is more subtle than dipping to white, and dipping to a bold bright color can be effective especially when you’re working with branded color palettes. As always, note when it’s too distracting and trust yourself to walk away when necessary.
My favorite slide transition in Keynote, Magic Move, is astoundingly useful and worth the price of admission alone. Magic Move tips Keynote from being just a nice PowerPoint clone into being a simple-but-powerful animation platform. If you design a slide, duplicate it, and then change the size, color, position, or order of any object on the second slide, the Magic Move transition will animate that change smoothly, automatically. Simply changing the relative size, position, or color of an object can be a powerful visual signal of a change in the relationship between those objects (and the ideas they represent). This adds a visceral, immediate quality to your presentation that transcends language, boosts comprehension, and dazzles the eye. Even simple shapes and text can come alive with a little animation in the right places.
The example animation above was just made by rearranging the circle objects on 5 different slides, changing the colors, and letting Magic Move handle the rest. It took me less than 5 minutes.
When in doubt, it’s also OK to leave these slide transitions out entirely – especially when they don’t add meaning to your message. Don’t forget that this presentation will be output as video and used as a “raw material” later on in the video editing suite. Your video editing program has its own transitions and effects that can be employed later in the process. You can always add transitions then, and you might want your raw footage to be free of builds that you can’t change later.
So far we’ve been mostly talking about transitioning between slides, but Keynote also has a wide variety of builds and actions to animate objects within slides as they come onscreen, move around, and build off.
Transitioning objects, just like transitioning between slides, the trusty dissolve build is your best friend. You can use it for everything from text, shapes, images, and more. When animating bullet points, you even have some interesting options in the Inspector. I sometimes like the “build by highlighted group” which will highlight the newest bullet by dimming/fading the others before it. This really helps in guiding the viewer’s attention and works great when timed nicely with accompanying narration. (I developed the Attention Method of Presentations years ago, and the “build by highlighted group” feature is a great example of clearly showing visually where you want learners to direct their attention. It’s good when they need to keep multiple things in mind while also focusing on the current topic of discussion.
There is a long list of more elaborate builds in the list. You should spend some time playing with each, asking yourself “how can this be used to add meaning to my content?” Some of my most used are “Trace”, “Fade and Scale”, “Line Draw”, “Move In”, “Appear”, “Keyboard”, and “Iris”. These are all on the subtle side but can be very helpful in showing the relationships between one object and another. For example, a “Move In”, where the object moves in from the right/left/bottom/top of the screen, can help visualize ideas of rising, falling, progressing, or retrograde movement.
Even the wilder builds like “Flame” or “Lens Flare” can be effective when they add meaning to your content. Note that these builds have long default build times of 2.5 seconds or more – a long time on screen – and you can often speed these up to create a nice effect that doesn’t draw too much attention to itself. See Effect Timing below.
The Build Order menu
Once you set up a few object builds, you can go into the Build Order menu to tweak the order and duration of builds. I spend a fair bit of time here when I’m building motion graphics. Each build has a few basic settings that can be used to great effect:
On Click is the default, allowing you to trigger each build individually. At export time you can set a default timing for each click meaning Keynote will automatically wait (let’s say) 3 seconds before clicking to the next scene. This results in lots of extra video footage on each side of the builds, giving you more material to work with in the editing room later.
After Previous Build lets you trigger a build to start after a previous build completes. Good for creating a “chain of events” that build in a specific order. This is great when you want to make bullet-like lists build on in the traditional way PowerPoint bullets do, but you can achieve this effect by building different text objects instead. It’s all about options, amirite?
With Previous Build lets you trigger a build to happen at the same time as a previous build. Great for having several things happen at the same time. Note – this option also gives you the option to set a delay time after the triggering build. So even though the build is officially “triggered”, it does not appear until the delay counts down. This is a very useful tool for precise control of builds in situations where you don’t want to wait until the previous build is complete. Instead, you can have multiple builds happen at once, though subtly staggered in time for a more natural look.
Each individual build has a default time duration that it takes the whole build to complete. You as the designer have to make sure that these builds don’t take away attention from your content, so I often shorten these as much as I can. The trusty dissolve defaults to 1.0 second, but you can scooch this as low as
0.25 seconds and get a nice soft fade that the eye registers but that the learner doesn’t have to wait for. You can select multiple builds in the Build Order menu to change all their durations at once in the Inspector.
Step 3: Export to Video
This part is simple. Follow these settings and you’ll produce one large 1080p quality video with all your builds timed out nicely.
Note that you do have another option, but I’d advise you not to take it. You can use Keynote’s “Record” feature to record the build timing within Keynote and then export the recorded timing as video. I started doing it this way and had several issues with it. At worst there were bugs where certain builds wouldn’t trigger properly, but at this stage it’s better to give yourself more source footage to work with so you can focus on getting the timing “just right” in the editing suite. That’s why I use
Step 4: Edit as video
In your favorite video editing suite (I’m currently feelin’ Adobe Premiere but you can do this in Camtasia, iMovie, FinalCut, whatever you’ve got) drop in the exported video as a source clip. Depending on the workflow of your particular editor you’ll either copy chunks from the source into the main timeline (as in Premiere), or you’ll drop the whole source onto the main timeline and cut away the parts you don’t need (Camatasia works this way).
If you have audio tracks for narration and music, you can add those in at this time. In my video editor training I was told to ALWAYS cut to music, even if you’re not going to use it in the final mix. The simple act of timing your cuts to a steady beat will result in a visual rhythm that persists even when the music is taken away. Of course if you are planning to use music throughout, you can time the narration and images to play off that music for added effect.
One danger of this technique is that you may find out in the editing stage that your narration takes longer that the source video you have. This means you may need to elongate shots so you have enough footage to cover the audio. This is why I advised you above to use the “Self-playing” export options and give yourself some extra time between builds. You will want long static shots to sit onscreen between your builds while your narrator is talking.
If you come up short, you can fill in gaps in your footage in a few ways…
- Exporting your Keynote slides as TIFF images and dropping that static image on your video timeline. You can stretch these to fill any long gap nicely.
- Copy/pasting a short piece of video multiple times to create a longer clip with no visible motion. Easier, but take care that you don’t repeat any motion accidentally.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Step 5: Fame and Fortune
OK the check’s probably in the mail, but this process enables me to be a more effective team member and employee by turning out professional-looking motion graphics with little budget or time spent. That has directly translated into job security and a reputation for visual excellence.
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