In building animation with GIF Construction Set’s Animation Wizard, you’ll need to create source art as still image files. It’s not immediately obvious which of the formats imported by Animation Wizard will result in the most attractive final animations, and the two most obvious ones – GIF and JPEG – turn out to be the two worst choices.
Sometimes it feels like the universe is laughing behind your back and applying a cover charge to your bill in the process.
The JPEG format is somewhat peculiar. When an image is compressed, to squeeze it into the smallest possible file, the resulting file size will be proportional to the amount of detail in the image in question. The most complex the image is, the less effectively it will compress, and the larger the final file to store it will be.
Photorealistic images – that is, graphics from digital cameras and image scanners – are typically the most complex images any of us is likely to encounter, and as such, they’re usually real file-size pigs.
The JPEG format cheats around this problem. A JPEG file writer removes some of the details in the image being compressed to make it more compressible. In effect, it dumbs down your pictures to make them easier to squeeze into a smaller space. You can tell it how much it’s allowed to degrade the images being compressed by setting its quality factor.
For this reason – because every time you read an image from a JPEG file and the save it back to a JPEG file, the image will be further degraded – JPEG is a singularly poor choice of formats for intermediate image files if you’re building an animation. In this application, image quality is important – file size is not.
The GIF format is a poor choice for an intermediate file format for different reasons. Unlike all the other supported still image file formats, GIF is limited to a maximum of 256 unique colors, down somewhat from the 16,777,216 unique colors supported by the other options. It’s limited to 256 colors because GIF is an ancient, drooling ruin of a file format that dates back to the late 1980s. Yes, they did have computers back then, sort of…
In order to squeeze photorealistic images into a GIF file, some truly impressive cheating is required. While the results of applying it can be reasonably convincing – if you don’t look at the results too closely – subsequently running such a GIF file through the machinations of Animation Wizard will make all that cheating embarrassingly apparent, and your final animations will be a lot rougher looking than they have to be.
If you’re creating source art for an animation, you should use a non-lossy, 24-bit image file format for your source images. Ideal choices include PNG and BMP – both will result in identical image quality. PNG will result in smaller temporary files, while BMP is a bit quicker to work with.
If you’ll be building animations from digital camera images – which typically start their lives as JPEG files – convert them to PNG and keep them as PNG files thereafter. At the very least, megapixel camera images will need to be resized to get them down to the sorts of dimensions that are suitable for web page animations. Our Graphic Workshop Professional software is ideal for conversion and resizing.
If you’ll be creating graphics from scratch in a drawing or painting application, save them directly to PNG or BMP files for the best possible image quality.