Skill: Capture PowerPoint Animations with Screencasting

Guide entry section: 

Guide Entry Text: 

Now that we've created a simple animation in PowerPoint, we need to capture that animation and turn it into an animated GIF. There are a number of ways to do this, but they all have a few things in common:

  • We'll use Powerpoint to "play" the animation on the screen
  • When the animation plays, we'll record what is on the computer screen using screencasting tools.
  • Once recorded, the animation can be edited and manipulated
  • When editing is finished, we'll create an animated GIF, or ExplainerGIF

Please note: It is possible to use PowerPoint or Keynote to save a presentation as a video file. This may be an option if you don't have screencasting tools. A couple of considerations:

  • While PowerPoint can technically create a video from a presentation (File --> Save As Movie) I don't recommend it. The quality is poor and in my experience, it doesn't work well with animations.
  • Keynote creates videos with ease and good quality. However, there is limited control. Use (File --> Export to --> Quicktime) to create the video.

If this is your best option, create a video and go to the next section to convert your video to an animated GIF.

An Introduction to Screencasting

Screencasting is a fundamental part of creating ExplainerGIFs. If you are new to screencasting, the short Common Craft video below will give you important context on what screencasting is and how it is used.  


Guide Entry Text: 

You can see why this is kind of tool is so central to creating Explainer GIFs: screencasting allows us to quickly make a video from anything that happens on our screen. 

An Introduction to Screencasting Tools

There is a large variety of screencasting tools, both free and paid. In the sections below, you'll see that I recommend a few options based on my research. Before going to the tools, there are a few things you may consider:

Free vs. Paid Screencasting

There are a number of free screencasting tools available on the Internet and many computers come with screencasting tools built in (more on that below). As with any software, you often get what you pay for. The free tools can almost always accomplish the core feature of capturing the screencast video. However, many free tools have serious limitations. These may include:

  • Limited ability to edit the video
  • Limited ability to export the video in desired formats
  • Limited recording options
  • Limited customer support options
  • Branding watermarks present in the video
  • Poor design and usability 

FREE Examples include:

LICEcap (Free, MAC and PC)

LICEcap is a free screencasting tool that deserves a bit of special attention. Unlike the tools listed above, LICEcap doesn't record video. Instead, it creates an animated GIF from what it records via the transparent window that appears on your screen.

This can make the ExplainerGIF process very quick. The problem is lack of control. It makes an animated GIF from everything it records and doesn't provide a way to edit the clip after it is captured. You may end up with a GIF that includes unwanted content.

Paid Screencasting Tools

The paid tools, on the other hand, come with many more features and options.  The best-in-class options are screencasting tools AND full video editors. These tools allow for things like:

  • Timeline editing. Trim, copy-and-paste, replace clips.
  • Speed up or slow down clips. 
  • Add highlights and annotations after recording is finished.
  • Export video files in a variety of format and sizes. 
  • Export directly to services like YouTube

PAID examples include:  (I am not affiliated with any products listed here.)

The products listed above offer a free trial and I encourage you to experiment. I've used Camtasia and Screenflow and consider them almost interchangeable. I will be using Camtasia for Mac to record my screen in rest of this guide. 

Bottom Line: To make ExplainerGIFs, you need some way to capture an animation on your screen and potentially edit the footage to make it look great.

Let's Record a Video

No matter what tool you choose, the process is similar. It usually involves these steps:

  • Open PowerPoint with your animation visible
  • Open your screencasting tool
  • Click "Record" on your screencasting tool
  • Play your animation in PowerPoint
  • Stop the recording in your screencasting tool (this will bring up the tool's timeline)
  • Edit the video to remove unwanted sections
  • Save the video
  • Export as an MP4 video file

This process is easy to follow in the video below. The tools I use in this video are PowerPoint for Mac 2011 and Camtasia for screencasting.  But these specific tools aren't required. Any tools that can play an animation on your screen and capture it as a video may work.

So that's the big idea. Here, we used a very simple example of a Venn Diagram, but the process is the same for any kind of animation.

Consider This

We've now created a video file of an animation. You could upload it to YouTube or Facebook or save it to your phone or tablet. The problem is, videos are not universal. They need special players and settings to work correctly. Further, a simple Venn Diagram doesn't require a whole video.

That's why animated GIFs are powerful. They are universal. They play everywhere. They are perfect for short, visual ideas, like diagrams and processes. 

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Practice Time

Prepare PowerPoint Animations

  • Open the PowerPoint file you used previously, or create a similar slide with a few shapes and animations
  • Play the animations and make any needed edits 
  • Work on timing and flow

Recording On-screen Animations

  • Open your screencasting tool and click "record"
  • With the screencasting tool recording, play your animations in PowerPoint. 
  • When the animations finish, tell the screencasting tool to stop recording. If you are using a fully-featured tool, this will bring up the editing tool.

Edit Video Footage

  • If it doesn't appear automatically, drag the video file to the timeline where you can watch and edit the footage. 
  • Watch the video and consider what parts you'd like to keep.
  • Use the editing tools to remove the sections you don't want.
  • If possible, speed up a clip to animate faster.
  • If possible, show down a clip.
  • If possible, use the tool to add text to the video.

Save and Export the File

  • When you're finished, save the file. This is saving the edits.
  • To create a video file, Export the video and save the exported video to your computer.

You have now recorded, edited and created a new video! Yay!

Next, we'll look at converting that video into an animated GIF that will play anywhere.