How to Make an Academic GIF from Video

Last time I wrote about how to make a GIF using still images, and related some reasons why you might want to learn how to make GIFs as an academic. Today I’ll teach you how to make a GIF using video, using my favorite GIF-making application, GIF Brewery.

My Rocky IV GIF showing Drago and Rocky's different punching training regimens.

My Rocky IV GIF showing Drago and Rocky’s different punching training regimens. Don’t worry, you’ll get to see it again at the end of this post!

Why Make a GIF with Video?

If you’re making a GIF with only a few images, and they’re from different sources or different camera angles, then you should probably go ahead and make it using still images, rather than video. But, if you’re trying to produce an animated effect with your GIF and you have access to a video that you want to GIF-ify, then you should use software that makes a GIF from video.

Video-based GIFs can include dozens or hundreds of frames, and using software collects images more evenly than if you try to do screen captures yourself. Trust me, the first GIF I tried to make that way turned out looking like bad stop-motion animation. Plus, if you use an application to do this, it takes a lot less effort on your part to create your GIF.

And, you can always go into your final GIF and manually edit the frames yourself, if you want to make changes. Good deal!

Where Do I Get the Video for My GIF?

Good question! The most important thing that you need is a video clip. It doesn’t have to be the exact clip that you want your GIF based on, since GIF Brewery lets you select the start and end point for your GIF. You can grab a clip from a number of places, but remember that in the end it will have to be a digital video file (most likely candidates are Quicktime Movies (.mov), MPEG-4 (.mp4 or .m4v), MPEG-2, MPEG-1, and AVI). I usually end up working with .mp4s. Here are some possible video sources:

  • Your own digital video camera, like your smartphone’s camera, or a digital camcorder, or a webcam.
  • A digital file grabbed from a DVD or Blu-Ray. (Remember though that Blu-Rays are more complicated to use with computers, since they are not considered compatible. But, it can be done!) To get this, you’ll need an application that can create a clip from a DVD or Blu-Ray. I use Handbrake with my Macbook.
  • A YouTube clip (or Vimeo or other streaming video). You can often download streaming video to your hard drive by using a web app that does this. I’ve used KeepVid and others found by Google — all you need is a URL for your video. This doesn’t work with every streaming video, however, and does not produce the most high-quality video, but usually it’s good enough for GIF work.
  • A screen-captured clip. To use this, you’ll need a screen capture application, like Jing or Screencast-O-Matic. GIF Brewery’s new version has a built-in video screen capture capability, so that will make creating GIFs from screen-captured video that much easier. The new version is coming out soon-ish, and it will be free for the first week that it’s up on the App Store.
  • Any other digital video file you might have lying around on your hard drive, as long as it’s a common file type, like an .mp4, .mov, or .avi.

In terms of using any of the above sources for video clips, the good thing about GIFs is that you don’t need a long clip. In fact, most GIFs work the best when they are taken from 10 seconds or less of video. So this means just taking a tiny snippet of a video, which won’t take up too much hard drive space, nor will it take too much processing power to work with.

Other Than a Source Video, What Else Do I Need?

You’ll also need the software for creating a GIF from video. As I outlined in my previous post about making GIFs, if you’re lucky enough to have access to Adobe Photoshop (which you should, if you’re a W&M person — just stop in the Swem Media Center), you can use it to make a GIF from video or still images.

Photoshop is unwieldy and can be a little hard to get the hang of, and all you need from it is one tiny chunk of what it’s able to do with image manipulation. So, I recommend getting a stand-alone application designed specifically for making GIFs. As I’ve said before, I use GIF Brewery and have liked how user-friendly it is.

Let’s Make a GIF!

Using GIF Brewery is quite straightforward and easy to use. I’ve chosen a clip from Rocky IV (1985) to make a GIF from. This is the Rocky movie where Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) fights Soviet boxer Captain Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and the movie is not too subtly about the cold war. The clip I’m using is the training montage scene towards the end, where Rocky is in the Soviet Union to train for his fight with Drago, and the entire montage scene has many cuts between Rocky and Drago’s training regimens, set to some uplifting training music.

Depending on where you get your source video from, you might open a clip to have it be a ginormous window. Using the “Resize” option with GIF Brewery will help you get around that, plus it will make your GIF take up much less hard drive space in the end. I usually aim for GIFs to be less than 2 MB, and so for the size, I choose a size between 400 and 500 pixels wide. If the clip that you want to make a GIF from is particularly long, you may want to change the size to be on the smaller side, since a longer clip means more total frames, and therefore a bigger file.

My GIF Brewery window, with my clip pulled up. I've already resized it to 400 pixels wide, by using the "Resize" button in the upper left of the window.

My GIF Brewery window, with my clip pulled up. I’ve already resized it to 400 pixels wide, by using the “Resize” button in the upper left of the window.

I’ve pulled up the clip in GIF Brewery, and it’s about three and a half minutes long, which is way too long to make an entire GIF from. So, I’ll have to choose where I want my GIF to start and end.

Once you find your starting place, you can click on the “-” or “+” to incrementally move through your clip, so you can select exactly the right moment that you want. I’ve chosen to make a GIF of a juxtaposition between Drago using a high tech arm machine and Rocky using an old-fashioned speed bag. This portion is very short, so I’ve made sure to make my start point right when the cut happens to Drago on the arm machine:

I've found my start point, and then clicked "Set Start," which moves the little yellow arrow to where location on the clip is.

I’ve found my start point, and then clicked “Set Start,” which moves the little yellow arrow to where location on the clip is. Look at the quite unsubtle red light on the Drago shot. Do you think that maybe it’s red because he’s a communist?

Now, I’ll need to do the same for my end point. I’ve decided to keep the clip a little bit long, just too see what that looks like, because there are several cuts between Drago and Rocky before the next portion of the montage, which involves Rocky sawing a giant log with a giant saw:

Nice saw, Rocky, but I think we'll save it for another GIF.

Nice saw, Rocky, but I think we’ll save it for another GIF.

I don’t want the part with the saw, though, since I just want the bit with the arm machine and speed bag, so I’ve moved my clip to right before the cut to the saw:

I've decided to end my clip here, which is right before a cut to Rocky sawing a giant log. I've found the spot on the clip, and then clicked "Set End," which moves the red arrow to the end point.

I’ve decided to end my clip here, which is right before a cut to Rocky sawing a giant log. I’ve found the spot on the clip, and then clicked “Set End,” which moves the red arrow to the end point.

Now I’m all ready to start making the actual GIF! You can see in the bottom right corner of the GIF Brewery window a number for “Clip Duration,” which tells you how long your selection of the entire video file is. This one is 5.17 seconds, which will make for a nice GIF, I think.

Clicking on the “GIF Properties” button opens up a smaller window with all of my GIF settings:

My GIF Properties -- these are the options for my GIF that will determine how fast it is, what the quality of the individual images is like, and how many frames per second.

My GIF Properties — these are the options for my GIF that will determine how fast it is, what the quality of the individual images is like, and how many frames per second.

The first two options, Frame Count and Frame Delay are for the entire GIF. The Frame Count is how many images (or frames) you would like your GIF to be, and the Frame Delay is the number of milliseconds you want each image to stay before being replaced with the next.

Now, remember that this clip is originally 5.17 seconds long, which means that if we use the default options of 24 frames with a 100 ms delay, we’ll have a clip that is 2400 ms or 2.4 seconds long. This will speed up our clip to about twice its original speed. I don’t want that — for this GIF, I want to keep the same relative speed of the original clip. That’s where the next option comes in, “Automatically Calculate Count & Delay.” If you check this box, all you have to do is choose the number of frames per second you would like your GIF to be, and GIF Brewery will make your GIF the same number of seconds as your original clip, but with your chosen number of frames per second. This means that the GIF will be the same speed as the original clip.

So, I’ll check that box, because I want my GIF to be the same speed. The default number of frames is set to ten, and for a 5.17 second clip, that will mean 51 images in my GIF. That’s okay, but I know that there are a lot of fast cuts in the 5.17 second clip I’ve chosen, so I’m going to change it to twelve frames per second, just to make sure to catch enough of each cut. I’ll see how that looks, and I may choose to add even more frames per second.

Next, is the Looping Mode — you can choose your GIF to “play” in normal mode, reverse, or palindrome. I’m going to leave mine on normal because I want the GIF to play in the same way as the original clip. “Reverse” will play your GIF in reverse, and palindrome will have it play forward then backward. Selecting palindrome will also double the number of images in your GIF, so keep that in mind.

You can also choose a custom delay for the final frame, if you want your GIF to pause on the last frame. I sometimes do this, but I won’t use it for this one, since the final frame isn’t very interesting. The last option in the GIF Properties window has to do with processing the images from the video clip in a way that will make the GIF take up less hard drive space. I usually choose to do this, and pick Adaptive Palette, as it makes the GIF look pretty good even though I’m changing it to have fewer colors. You can also have less or more colors than 48, so you can experiment with that if you like!

So, we’re ready to take a crack at this GIF! Click “Create GIF” and watch the magic happen! A progress window will appear, then, if all goes right, in a few seconds a new window will open with a preview of your GIF:

The preview for my GIF! Aw, it looks nice!

The preview for my GIF! Aw, it looks so nice!

You can choose to discard or save it. This makes it easy to try out different properties till you figure out what you want — you can just discard a GIF, make changes, then create the GIF again. The number in the upper left corner of the window tells you how big your GIF is — this one is 1.38 MB, which is okay with me.

I like how this GIF turned out, so I think I’ll keep it. I’ve saved it, and now I have my very own GIF, ready to share with students! Here it is:

My Rocky IV GIF showing Drago and Rocky's different punching training regimens.

My Rocky IV GIF showing Drago and Rocky’s different punching training regimens.

So, now you should be all ready to go and make your own GIFs. You can also add captions and do other kinds of overlays, but for now, let’s keep it simple like Rocky’s training!

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