By now, you’ve probably heard of video abstracts. Like a movie trailer for your research, video abstracts are short videos that quickly summarise your findings and draw more attention to your important work.
A professional science animation is a powerful method of telling the story of your research in a clear and compelling way. But, we may not always have the funds available to outsource this kind of work to the experts.
And that’s ok because there are many ways to do-it-yourself. You need not invest time learning professional animation software, such as Adobe After Effects: using trusty PowerPoint, you can make clear and engaging animated videos with zero budget.
Whether it’s a video abstract, an explainer video for your lab’s work or an entry into the Visualise Your Thesis competition, we’ve got you covered with two distinct and stylish methods.
If you’d like to flex your drawing muscles, have a go at a whiteboard style animation. If drawing really isn’t your thing, the cut-out style is a great way to make use of pertinent images that you may already have on file.
Let’s get animating!
How to make a whiteboard animation in PowerPoint
Whiteboard animations are an excellent way to get started with animation, especially if you don’t consider yourself to be ‘arty’. Your illustrating skills don’t need to be amazing at all: a rough look is totally cool. After all, no one would ever do anything more than a rough sketch when explaining a concept using a real whiteboard. So your whiteboard animation will appear more authentic if it has that hand-drawn, rushed look.
Step 1 - Enter ‘Draw’ mode
Enter the ‘Draw’ tab, then toggle the ‘Draw’ button on the far left (you’ll need to hit this button again when you want to exit draw mode).
Step 2 - Draw your outlines
Select the Pen tool and choose your line thickness and colour. To best ‘sell’ the whiteboard effect, we recommend a simple drawing with a thick line.
Draw your outlines. This is the hardest part of the whole process, so take your time. A handy shortcut to undo your latest mistake is control + z (command + z, on a Mac). It’s totally normal to do this 1000 times, so don’t worry. Slow drawing will give you a thick line, while a fast stroke will produce a thinner line, so for consistent thickness, keep your speed steady.
If you need to erase anything, make use of the different options in the eraser tool, next to the ‘draw’ tool. You can set it to erase the whole line or just a section.
Try to draw the lines in the order in which you would like them to be animated. By default, PowerPoint will ‘draw’ them in this order, but you can change the order later if necessary.
Next, make any size adjustments you would like. To adjust the size of multiple lines, you’ll first need to group them. To do this, highlight your lines, right-click >‘group’. Make your adjustments and then do the same thing in reverse to ungroup them.
Step 3 - Animate your outlines
Highlight all of your lines, then select the ‘Replay’ animation in the ‘Animations’ tab. This will add an animation that ‘draws’ each of the lines you drew.
Within the‘animation pane’(the animation window on the right), highlight all of the animations and change their timing to start‘on click’. We’ll change this later, but for now, this numbers each of the animations, making it easier to check/change their order.
Press ‘play selected’ in the animation pane, to preview your outlines. Change the order of any lines which look out of place.
Step 4 - Fill-in your drawing
Grab the pen tool again and increase the thickness to the maximum setting. With your preferred colour selected, slowly colour-in your drawing. You can draw on top of the outlines, but try to stay within the outside of the outlines.
Select your fills and send them behind the outlines(right-click > send to back).
Repeat Step 3 with your colour fills to apply the drawing effect. When you’re done, highlight all of the animations in the animation pane and change their start to‘after previous’: this will make everything animate without you having to click anything.
And voila! You’ve made a whiteboard animation in PowerPoint 😎
You can ‘draw’ each element in your slide as separate drawings (e.g. draw & colour the blue coffee mug, then draw and colour the lightning bolt). You’ll just need to change the order of the animations in the animation pane.
To help ‘sell’ the whiteboard style look, you can use the ‘push’ transition (in the ‘transitions’ tab) to transition between scenes. It will make it look like a camera moving across a whiteboard.
As I said, I think a rough drawing is totally fine for the whiteboard style animation. But, let’s face it, a mouse or the trackpad on your laptop are not the best tools with which to draw your next masterpiece.
For a far more natural drawing experience, it’s best to use some kind of tablet, such as a graphic tablet or an iPad, for example.
For a budget option, you can buy a Wacom graphic tablet for as little as $80 USD. It takes a moment to get used to the idea of drawing on the tablet while looking elsewhere at your screen, but it certainly gets the job done.
If you already own a tablet and a stylus, such as an iPad + Apple Pencil, then you already have everything you need. You can either open the PowerPoint App on the iPad and draw within it, or you can utilise the Sidecar feature and use the iPad as an extended display from your Mac computer - super easy.
How to make a cutout animation in PowerPoint
Our inspiration for this tutorial comes from Livia Garcez de Oliveira Padilha, who put together a brilliant video abstract for her research as part of the Visualise Your Thesis competition.
Livia’s use of colour is excellent and her choice of images combine wonderfully to tell the story of her research. So well, in fact, that Livia picked-up the People’s Choice award for her efforts 🏆
Cutting-out an image
Let’s get started. My research background was focussed on the respiratory health of professional firefighters in South Australia. So for my cut-out animation demo, that’ll be the theme.
To start off, you need to find an image you want to use in your cut-out animation. This is the hardest part of the whole process. What you need is an image with a transparent background. This means it needs to be a .png file. You can find images like this by including ‘.png’ or ‘transparent’ in your Google Images search terms.
What’s that? Your perfect image does not have a transparent background? No problem, mine doesn’t either, here’s how you can isolate your image without even leaving the comfort of your own PowerPoint software.
My image has a white background. This is helpful because PowerPoint can more easily identify the background from the image I want to keep. With your image selected, click on the ‘Picture Format’ tab, then the ‘Remove Background’ tool.
Powerpoint will try to detect the background itself, highlighting it pink. Sometimes it does this well, but sometimes you need to manually adjust it using the ‘Mark Areas to Keep’ and ‘Mark Areas to Remove’ tools.
For my image, PowerPoint decided that my firefighter does not need feet, so I used the ‘Mark Areas to Keep’ to prevent a painful amputation.
*Note: PowerPoint often does a very poor job of removing your image’s background, especially if the background is not a solid colour. Stay tuned for a better tool in the upcoming steps.
Now it’s time to draw the ‘paper’. Select the Scribble option, inside the Shapes Tool, within the ‘Insert’ tab. Then, draw around the outside of your image. Do this slowly and make sure it’s not too neat: a rough, shaky look is perfect for our cutout effect.
When you’re done, you’ll have a blue shape like below. For my cutout effect, I want the ‘paper’ to be white, so I need to change the shape fill from blue to white, and change the‘outline’ setting to ‘No Outline’.
Now, send your paper behind your image by right-clicking it and selecting‘Send to Back’ or‘Send Backwards’.
Select both objects and group them together. This just keeps your document tidy and makes it easier to work with.
To finish the cutout process, select the grouped images and apply a shadow effect. In the ‘Picture format’ tab, select ‘Picture Effect’, ‘Shadow’ and choose the ‘Offset: Centre’ option.
Now, repeat the process for your other images.
Now here is the tip I promised. Because PowerPoint did a poor job of cutting out the sky from my image of the fire station (particularly around the tree), I needed a better tool for the job. Enter ‘removebg’. It’s a free online tool that works wonders.
Simply upload your image, and the software will detect the background and remove it. You can add or remove sections to get it just right, before downloading the background-free image.
With all of your images cut-out, it’s time to think about style and colour.
We’re going to follow Livia’s example and go for a nice colourful style. But before we do that, I want to introduce you to the ‘Artistic Effects’ tool - inside the ‘Picture Format’ tab. The results are not always amazing, but it’s definitely worth having a look. You can further tweak the effects by opening the ‘Format Pane’ on the right, inside the ‘Picture Format’ tab.
For example, here are my images using the ‘cut-out’ effect. The success of these various ‘Artistic Effects’ usually depends on the images you’re using. So they can be hit-or-miss.
Let’s get back on track. With your image selected, click the ‘Colour’ tool inside the ‘Picture Format’ tab. For once, the default colour options are actually pretty decent(good job, Microsoft!). But you can go freestyle by selecting‘More variations’ >‘More colours’. You can also tweak the colour and brightness settings in the ‘Picture Colour Options…’ menu.
In the end, I decided I liked the look of having all of my images in blue and using a yellow accent colour.
Animate Your Video
The simplest way to complete your video using animation is to make use of the ‘Appear’ effect inside the ‘Animations’ tab. I recommend modifying the timings so that each element appears ‘After Previous’ after a slight delay, such as 0.5-seconds. This gives it that stop-motion animation look.
Add your voiceover & music
You can add a voiceover recording to your animation in two ways.
Firstly, if you have recorded a voiceover in another program, you can import it into your ‘presentation’.
Add your voiceover file by dragging it into your first slide. Select the sound icon that will appear in your slide, and under the 'playback' tab, tick the 'play across slides' and 'hide during show' boxes. Set it to start 'automatically' and adjust the sound level.
Using this technique, you can also add some background music to your animation. I recommend adjusting the music track’s volume so that it is low enough that the voiceover is very clear above the music.
The second way to add a voiceover is to record it inside PowerPoint.
To do this, click 'record slide show' under the 'slide show' tab. Each time that you do this, PowerPoint will add an audio recording to your slides (visible in the animations pane). The recordings will be broken into pieces with each part placed on the relevant slide. So, this means if you don't like your take on a particular slide, you can go back and redo it. If you want to re-record over one scene only, make sure you hit 'escape' when you've finished that slide. If you proceed to the next slide, it will override your next slide's recording.
Export the finished video
When you’ve finished your animation and you’re ready to export it as a video file, go to ‘File’ > ‘Export’ and change the file format to ‘mp4’. This is a lightweight video format, perfect for online use. You can even export it as an animated GIF: perfect for short, audio-less animations on social media.
And there you have it: two super easy, yet highly effective, ways to make an animated science video in PowerPoint.
Did you find this blog helpful? Reach out to us on Twitter @Animate_Science to show us what you come up with, ask questions, or just to geek about science animations in general.