Creativity shows itself when one works within imposed limits. If you give people the same tools and canvas then you’ll get different results. In making GIFs, the upper limit is usually the file size you’ll be uploading. And the quality of the platform you’re presenting them on. As a game dev, they’re quite the effective marketing tool over on Twitter, Reddit, and Discord. From my experience in graphic art, the small canvas is what really drove me to pick apart how to optimize them for maximum impact.
‘Every frame a painting’ is very applicable here. As long as the source permits it, GIFs are crisp and precise – none of that artifacting and compression. You’ll be curating pixels and motion. There’s quite a lot of knobs that can be turned to fine tune each clip.
In the following examples, know that aspects have been isolated and put into extremes to show their differences. Knowledge of these concepts should be used together until you find the right mix for the piece you’re working on.
The first basic concept is Color. Specifically how MANY colors are chosen for the GIF. More colors = more data = bigger file size. It doesn’t get much more complicated than that. In the lower ranges, this can make your GIF have a bit of a lo-fi feel. It’s acceptable to have the background colors blended together as long as the main subject has enough contrast and definition. At the 128~256 range the differences are usually not very noticeable. Just a bit of a bump in vibrancy in some cases. An important not is that you can manually remove colors from the palette to reduce your background noise and file size even further.
On a related note to color palettes, there are algorithms that control WHAT colors go into them. In the example, we see which 256 colors are being taken in depending on the setting. This is quite application-specific but it’s helpful to know. What is good for the source footage is a case by case basis. You’ll have to check which color ranges are being emphasized and subdued.
Dithering in the simplest terms refers to how your limited color palette is MIXED. It takes advantage of the effect where two colors can produce an intermediate color from spreading their pixels into each other. There are different styles of dithering depending on the complexity of the app you’re using. Diffusion blends the specks of color randomly in a way that feels natural. Pattern aligns the spread of pixels into sort of a grid. Noise introduces a lot of grain to the color blending.
Instant GIF apps and websites usually have no fine control over Dithering. You’ll notice these familiar color bands where they are not mixing the pixels.
Keeping the flow of the GIF in check is often understated. As long as it’s a moving picture then it’s a GIF, right? The flow of motion should be focused, short and sweet. I learned a lot from this r/gamedev thread about it. Cut In and Cut Out. Keep it moving. It makes your piece more appealing and engaging. Especially if the platform you’ll be using has the first frame as the thumbnail. Avoid slow starts and awkward lingering at the end of the moment. A perfect GIF would have a seamless loop, but in the absence of that a good moving cut from the end back to the start of it will have it covered.
The number of unique frames on a GIF will directly correspond to its file size. Frame Rate is counted in how many Frames are displayed Per Second. More frames means smoother looking motion. At the cost of a lot of data. Game footage usually have sources that fill up 60 FPS which look really slick.
If you want to have longer GIFs while keeping the size down, you can have a compromise by actually lowering the frame rate. For example, getting every 2 frames from a 60 FPS source. If it originally gave 1 second of footage per 60 frames, then at 30 FPS the same cost of 60 frames of data will now net you 2 seconds of footage. It’s still good for showcasing a long sequence. Having 60 FPS is really a just a bit of gratuity if you can afford it.
And that’s what I can share about making my GIFs. I hope it helps. Even when the Big Websites try to keep them down by MP4 conversion, quality shouldn’t be forgotten. Clean and crisp GIFS will always look better. This form of digital art should be preserved. Be sure to check out Part 1 if you missed it.
The game featured in the GIFS is Music Racer from Steam – which is not a sponsor. I just like it. You can play your own tracks with different visualizations from the algorithm of each race.