In this series, I’ll be taking you behind the scenes to see some of the parts of what goes into making a custom .gif. Today, we’re going to look at the header I did for Protonstorm’s Noragami Aragoto Review (check out the finished header in the review).

While I’m covering a fairly wide range of techniques, please realize that not all of them will apply to each and every piece since each has different demands. 99% of my work is done in Photoshop, so I’ve done my best to narrow each section down to the relevant parts of the screen.

If there’s enough interest, I’ll also be doing a beginner’s guide to .gifs to understand some of the basics in more detail.


Importing & Cleaning Up Frames

There’s a number of methods for capturing footage and importing them into Photoshop, and while I won’t go into that in this article, a .gif is essentially a bunch of still image frames stacked on top of each other. While that may sound silly and potentially obvious (because isn’t that what a video is?), this is an important concept to grasp when working with them. In this example, Proton actually provided me with the capture himself, so I didn’t have to worry about getting it.

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After you import your work into Photoshop, you’ll get a timeline-view of each and every frame. It looks like this:

Depending on the method you import with, however, this may leave you with duplicates of what appears to be the same exact frame. More frames equates to a bigger file .gif, which is a no-no when you want to include a lot of movement.

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See those numbers below the frames? Those are the duration that each frame displays. The easiest (albeit most tedious) way to reduce the file size of your .gif is to cut out as many frames as possible. Let’s look at this example:

Here you’ll see frame #1 and frame #2 are just different enough to warrant keeping both for the subtle movement. If I was in a real jam for space, I may even delete one of them. But frame #2 and #3 are the exact same frame— there’s no reason to keep both. To make up for the loss of time for deleting frame #3, what we can do is double the duration of frame #2. This will give it the exact same effect without increasing the file’s size. Cool!

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Spot Healing and Scrubbing

In the bottom-right of the previous example, you’ll see the Funimation logo. While it doesn’t tend to bug me when I’m watching the actual show, I’d rather not have my header looking like a cheap 90's-tape-recording of a network show. So how can we remove it?

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When it comes to the logo sitting on consistent color (shown below), this can easily be accomplished with the Spot Healing Brush. This is a tool that analyzes the area surrounding what’s painted with it and attempts to mimic it.

Here we can see the Funimation logo is easily scrubbed over the dark surface. Another alternative, if your subject isn’t moving and you don’t want to go in frame-by-frame, is to make a new layer on top of the logo, paint over it, and then have it show for only the frames where the color surrounding the logo is consistent.

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But what about when the background is inconsistent?

This is where things can get tricky. The spot healing brush is very good at scrubbing out a variety of things, but it’s not always consistent. You can see in the example above when I switch from frame #11 to #12 that the smudges are different. While this might not seem like a big deal, people will notice it when a majority of the frame isn’t otherwise moving.

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In this particular case, I chose the frame with the ‘best’ smudging, copied that part of the layer, and then had it display for the frames surrounding it— that way nothing appears to be moving.


Cleaning Up

As I previously mentioned, the spot healing brush is very good at correcting a lot of problems, but it’s not a one-swipe-wonder. Sometimes you may have to keep at it to get the effect you want when the background isn’t a solid color.

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In the above example, you can see how the half of the word still sticks out like a sore thumb. By using tinier strokes that pull in the color palette you want from the surrounding area, you can create a consistently-scrubbed area that doesn’t look like you blatantly painted over it.

That said, when all else fails...

Blur

If the colors don’t quite match and you still see some fragments of an area that doesn’t quite look right, the blur tool will be your best friend.

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Here you can see me fixing the fragments of the remains of a spot healing that didn’t turn out quite right. With some added blur, you’d never notice they were there!

Coloring

If you’ve seen any of my work, you’ll see a lot of effects and animations that aren’t in the clips already. Most of them are making the TAY or AniTAY logo appear in a way that incorporates it into the show. I wish I could tell you there was a fast and easy way to go about this, but most of the time it’s just a matter of...

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Coloring it all in, frame-by-frame, by hand. Here you can see me coloring in the beam of light with the AniTAY red. Yup, all 100+ frames. It can be tedious sometimes, but I love doing it and how they turn out.

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A small tip: while you can certainly achieve the same effect by coloring in an area with a small brush, using a larger brush where you can makes it so there will be less ‘holes’ in the colored area, and makes it look better overall.

I generally like to start with the outline, and then connect between the areas with a larger brush.


Fine Details

Shading

Covering over things with a color is cool, but adding some variety to your work makes it so things really pop and stand out. In this case, I used a darker red to show some of the details/shadows on the sword of our protagonist, Yato.

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A minor detail, but I think it turned out pretty well.

Outer Glow

In this example, adding an Outer Glow to the layer was probably overkill— since the white glow still looks just fine— but I wanted to add a bit of extra effort to have it make sense. It also makes my horribly-shaped blobs less noticeable. This can be adjusted in the blending effects for each specific layer. I won’t go into this too much because it’s not something out-of-the-ordinary, but it’s a neat, small detail.

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Lances Adjustments & Masks

Finally, when it comes to saving a .gif, the less colors you use, the more file space you can save. While Proton ended up using the prettiest copy, here’s an example of how I tried to reduce some of the colors:

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The background was using up too many shades of purple and gray, so I increased the focus on where your eye will be drawn— the intense oranges of the character’s eyes and the glowing symbol. Here’s how that sample turned out:

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You can see how much of a difference in color there is from the original. I also realized later that the red glow might be too much (and also eating up too many colors), so I turned it off for when it shot up in the air. I always try and deliver a number of alternatives— some that are prettier, or some that have a more convenient (smaller) file size— and will often play with the settings alone for hours trying to balance it out. I leave it to the author to decide which one they’d like given the pros and cons of each.


Random Bits

Tools Used: Photoshop, Keyboard & Mouse (my overall time spent would be reduced significantly if I used my tablet)

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Time Breakdown:

Frame Reduction: 10-15 minutes

Logo Scrubbing / Frame Correction: 1~2 hours

AniTAY Logo Custom Animation: 3~4 hours

General Color Balancing / Sharpening: ~1 hour

Finishing Touches / Compression / Save Variants: 30 min ~ 1 hour

Total Estimated Time: ~6-8 hours


Thanks for reading! I’m somewhat old-school in my methods and often go about things the hard way, but I appreciate the craft of taking the time to make a .gif “by hand.” But I hope you learned something, and if you have any questions or would like me to clarify anything, please let me know in the comments. Additionally, if there’s a specific topic you’d like me to cover, be sure to tell me!

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To see more examples of my work, please take a look at some of my favorite GIFs from 2015, or if you’d like to request a GIF (they’re free!), take a look at my information page here.