How do I make high quality .gif images?
February 15, 2011 9:53 PM   Subscribe

What programs do I need to design high quality .gif images?

I'm sure many of you are familiar with image tumblrs. Well, I want to hop on the cool kid bandwagon and make high quality .gif images, too, but I don't know where to begin. Ideally, I'd like to make images similar to this quality:

(possibly NSFW)

Any help or input is appreciated.
posted by apip to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The function that's being used is called "quantization", which means reducing the total number of colors to a specific limit. For a GIF file it's 256 colors. There are a number of different ways this can be done, and you have to get used to terms like "Optimized median cut" (which is good) and "Ordered dither" (which reeks).

Pretty much any major image processing program can do this. For instance, when I want to do things like this, I use Paint Shop Pro.

But good programs won't substitute for operator skill, and coming up with results as good as the ones you pointed to requires talent and experience -- and carefully chosen source material.

In a couple of those cases, the guy took segments of his pictures and collapsed them down to grayscale, and then colorized the grayscale. For instance.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:02 PM on February 15, 2011

Another useful approach is to not create the palette from the input image. Instead you create a special image which may include small pieces of the primary image, plus some gradients in specific colors, and you quantize that to create the palette.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:03 PM on February 15, 2011

Also, if anybody has any tutorials for specific programs, that would be fantastic.
posted by apip at 10:05 PM on February 15, 2011

here is one from psd tuts for photoshoop, but yeah, stuff with video screenshots takes a lot of time. Heard of some video to gif converter programs, but I've never messed with that, would be a hell of a lot quicker if those sort of things work right.

youtube screenshots can work surprisingly well, youre going to be compressing it by reducing colors anyway, but dvd/hd is better for sure (not always an option of course). I think I remember VLC exporting frames but I might be thinking of another video player, basic screencaps will work still. You also have to think about size for sure, not sure what tumblrs hosting policy is, but some of those video type gifs are ridiculously huge, so they don't stay on things like photobucket very long and take a while to load. (the fewer colors, the smaller the file will be).
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 10:40 PM on February 15, 2011

I use Jasc Animation Shop to make these types of gifs. It used to come with old versions of Paint Shop Pro, but since Corel took over the product, you can only buy it stand alone. Plus it says it doesn't run on Vista with no updates expected, which I assume means it won't run on Windows 7 either. Although I have heard that people can run it successfully in compatibility mode, but I don't know because I've never tried. I use it on my old XP laptop. The Adobe counterpart would be ImageReady. In animation shop I can import direct from video, but I think with ImageReady/Photoshop you might have to work with screencaps, which I think is a huge hassle. You might try looking around for other programs that will import video to avoid that.

Anyways, for animation shop I first look at a clip I want to gif. Keep in mind that because video gifs are large, and especially for tumblr there are size restrictions (more on that in a sec), you want to look for clips that are at most about 5 seconds long. You can't really gif a 2 minute long scene and keep the file size reasonable. I clip the scene I want from my video usually using Any Video Converter Free. Then I import it into Animation shop. To keep the file size down I trim as many frames as possible and resize/crop the animation so that it's no wider than 400 pixels. Then I export and choose one below the highest quality setting. This usually results in the optimal quality vs. filesize ratio. It'll be different depending on your program.

For tumblr, you run into the additional problem of filesize limits. Tumblr will only display gifs if they are less than 500 pixels wide with a 512 kb filesize limit. If you upload a gif larger than that, Tumblr will "unanimate" it, turning it into a still image. The filesize limit is the real problem since that's a very limited filesize for an animated gif (this gif for instance is about 2.5 mb). However there's a workaround for larger gifs (filesize, they still need to be less than 500 pixels wide). Instead of uploading your gif to Tumblr by making a photo post, instead host your gif somewhere else (photobucket, imageshack, etc.) and make a Text post. Click the edit html source button and then paste in the image code for your externally hosted gif.
posted by katyggls at 11:48 PM on February 15, 2011

If you're already quite familiar with Photoshop, it's pretty easy to capture video and export it as an image sequence with something like VirtualDub, then work with the animation palette. I make an embarrassingly large amount of Cool Kid GIFs for tumblr (on preview: hey, I just got reblogged by the tumblelog you linked! sweet!), and I think I've got it down to a pretty good system.

1. Drag the video file into VirtualDub (the only caveat is that your video must be .avi -- if I absolutely must have a gif and I can't find it in the right format I'll use SUPER to convert it first)
2. Cut it down to the clip I want. If it's more than ~20 frames I'll go into Video Options>Frame Rate to "decimate by X" (which gives you a slightly less smooth animation, but gives you more wiggle room for later)
3. Export as an image sequence (I actually have a folder on my desktop specifically for these so that vdub doesn't barf images all over the place)

Now it's Photoshop time!

4. Go to File>Open, click on one of the screenshots for your clip, tick the "open as image sequence" box and open.
5. Do your thing in Photoshop -- cropping, resizing, add text, adjust levels, contrast, etc etc.
6. When you're done, File>Save for Web and Devices. On the bottom left, you will see a projected file size for your gif -- most often, it will be more than 500kb. You can fiddle with the different optimization options, collapse everything to grayscale, shrink your image... what looks best depends on your own taste, as well as experience.
7. Save your shiny new gif, and post it on tumblr! Yay! (be sure to include a click-through link back to your blog!)

Now that I've typed it all out it seems kind of long and tedious, but once you get the hang of it you can make something that looks very nice indeed in ~5 minutes, if everything works out well. And then, if you're me, you will never be able to watch anything at all on your computer without half-keeping an eye out for gif-able moments, ever.

(also, if you're actually out to get lots of reblogs and send your gifs viral: BIG PICTURES. Aim to fill as much of the 500px width you get on your dashboard, even if you have to sacrifice a few frames. And grayscale/grainy gifs can be "cool" in that artsy, hipster way while cutting down your filesizes.)
posted by btfreek at 1:13 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Wow, I just wanted to say thanks to btfreek for that great explanation.

By the way, the gifs at your example link apip are pretty terrible! This is a much better example.
posted by dozo at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2011

« Older How can my friend find a job in programming?   |   Brittany or Aussie? Woof! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.