Use PowerPoint's advanced animation to imply growth or movement

You can make your PowerPoint presentations far more engaging with a little animation sleight of hand. Susan Harkins walks through the process and shares a sample presentation to demonstrate the results.

An easy way to bring a presentation to life is to imply growth or movement. Insert a few AutoShapes, perform a bit of animation magic, and a simple graphic takes on a life of its own. Your message will stick with the audience long after you shut down the system and turn off the lights -- and that's what you're after. Once you're familiar with the process, you'll find unlimited possibilities for adding a bit of life to your presentations.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download, along with the sample  presentation used to demonstrate this technique.

An overview

The process for simulating growth or movement is simple. You string together a number of frames, similar to the process that creates cartoons. The graphic in each frame changes just enough to suggest growth or movement. Animation properties string the frames together, allowing the graphic to morph from one frame to the next. The simplest animation can require as few as three or four frames. As a general rule, the slower the process, the more frames you need.

Suggesting movement

There are a number of ways to suggest change by using movement to make a point. You could help a flock of birds soar into the sky or send a rocket into space. We'll work with a much simpler example -- we'll make a frowning face smile!

This example requires three frames: A frowning face, a neutral face, and a smiling face. You could add more to make the change smoother, but three is enough for our purposes and it keeps the example simple and easy to follow. To begin, use AutoShapes to create the frowning face. Specifically, use three circles from Basic Shapes and an arc from Lines. That's the first frame.

The second and third frames are even simpler. Off to the side (in the same slide) create a straight line and a second arc to fill the neutral frame and the upturned smile frame, respectively. Keep in mind that the size of all three smiles must be relatively the same. The easiest way to create the upturned smile is to copy the frowning smile and rotate it. That way, the smile is the same size as the frown. When creating the neutral frame, you'll just have to eyeball it.

Once you have created all three frames, as shown in Figure A, you're ready to animate them. Notice that the second and third frames contain only the parts that move. That won't always be the case. Sometimes, each frame contains a complete picture, but work with as few pieces as possible when you can.

Figure A


Use three frames to simulate turning a frown into a smile.

The animation settings determine how PowerPoint displays each frame. In this case, PowerPoint displays the frowning face as a whole picture. As the frown fades, PowerPoint fades to the neutral frame. As the neutral frame fades, PowerPoint displays the upturned smile frame. Complete this animation as follows:

  1. Select the first frame, which in this case, is the frowning smile. (You can group the pieces that make up the face, but the only piece you'll animate is the frown.)
  2. Choose Custom Animation from the Slide Show menu.
  3. Click Add Effect, choose Exit, and then select Fade. There's no entrance property because we want PowerPoint to display the first frame and begin the animation as soon as it displays the slide.
  4. Choose After Previous from the Start drop-down list.
  5. Choose Very Fast from the Speed drop-down list.
  6. Select the second frame (the straight line).
  7. Click Add Effect, choose Entrance, and select Fade.
  8. Set the Start property to With Previous.
  9. Set the Speed property to Very Fast.
  10. Click Add Effect, choose Exit, and select Fade.
  11. Set the Start property to After Previous.Set the Speed property to Very Fast.
  12. Select the third frame, the upturned smile.
  13. Click Add Effect, choose Entrance, and select Fade.
  14. Set the Start property to With Previous.
  15. Set the Speed property to Very Fast.

Once you've animated each frame, stack them as shown in Figure B. That way, the three smiles fill the same space as the frames fade in and out. Now, save the presentation.

Figure B

stack the frames

Stack the frames so they seem to occupy the same space.

To preview the animated slide, press [F5]. The effect isn't visible online so be sure to download the demo presentation for a complete picture.

The first frame (the frown) doesn't have an Entrance effect, and the last frame (the smile) doesn't have an Exit effect. That means the frown is present from the beginning -- it doesn't fade in. Similarly, the smile doesn't fade. You can change both, if it suits your purposes.The fading entrance and exit properties and the speed between those fades simulate movement between the three faces. That movement creates mood. Make sure the mood fulfills or supports your message. You can alter the entrance and exit effects and speeds to customize the general mood of the animation.

The smiling face example uses a combination of With Previous and After Previous settings. There are three possible settings:

  • On Click: You must click the slide to start the animation.
  • With Previous: Animation begins as the previous item ends.
  • With After: Animation begins immediately after the previous item is finished.

Remember, these properties determine how PowerPoint displays and subsequently hides each frame. The frown fades after its animation is complete. The neutral frame fades in as the frown fades out. Each frame repeats this structure. You can change those effects, slow them down, speed them up, and even combine them. You could also move several pieces in each frame. For instance, you could change the shape of the eyes or even let the face wink.

The one problem with this particular example is that PowerPoint can't replicate a natural smile. That natural process is too smooth. You can add more arcs to make the process smoother, but you can't truly blend one frame into the next. You can only give the illusion of doing so. Don't try to imitate life, just allude to it You're after the sentiment, not a realistic rendition.

Suggesting growth

The technique for implying growth is the same as for movement. Only the essence of the message and the result differ. This time, the example graphic, a red heart, grows a bit, making it seem to pulse.

First, you need the frames. The three hearts shown in Figure C increase in size. Use the instructions from the last example to apply the same animation scheme, except for the speed. Use Medium speed instead of Fast.

Figure C

animated hearts

Animating three different-size hearts suggests a growing and pulsing heart.
After applying the animation settings, stack the hearts in the center of the slide, as shown in Figure D. You can't tell it, but the two smaller hearts are under the largest heart. To view the animation, press [F5]. The timing is a bit slower this time, but the frames fade into one another as the previous example did. The slower fades seem to give the heart a pulse.

Figure D

stacked hearts

Stack the three frames and watch the heart grow.

To life!

Liven up a presentation with a little movement or growth. At first, the process requires some experimentation, but the more you work with animation settings, the more intuitive they will become. Remember, anytime you engage the audience in a fun and meaningful way, you influence those viewers in a positive way.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

Fiat Lux
Fiat Lux

Thank you for the articles. I have done animation using Fireworks and Flash. I am familiar with frames. What I am not familiar with is frames in PowerPoint - where are they? How do I insert/access/activate frames in PwrPnt? Also, are you using PwrPnt 2007 or 2003? Thanks again, John


this is so horrible. If only one could pan/ zoom in/out like in photostory for windows in a powerpoint presentation...can it be done?


its very much interesting & supportive


Thanks for sharing this tip with readers Susan. It will help people use animation in a meaningful way instead of trying all "bells & whistles" offered in the software. I would add that PPT 2007 users can save a few steps with the smiley because not only is it available in the basic shapes, they can also adjust the grin/frown line! Users can also save time on animation settings if they select all elements that require the same setting and apply the animation scheme once. We only need to move elements in the desired sequence from the Custome Animation pane afterward(If the animation doesn't show as planned check the stacking order...)


There are no frames in PPT John so when people do animations in this software they need to animate their elements on each slide and play with slide transition when appropriate. To access the Custom Animation pane in PPT2007, click on the Animation tab and then on the Custom Animation button. In PPT2003, you can access it from the Task Pane drop-down menu. As soon as an element is selected you then have access to the Add Effect button. What gives extra control over animation sequences is the Advanced Timeline. In your Custom Animation pane, select one animation and click on the small arrow of the drop-down list, and select Advanced Timeline. You will then have access to orange rectangles that allow more precise actions. You can do fine adjustments to length and start time this way, although keep in mind these adjustments are possible only when your animations are planned as "with previous" or "after previous". :-)


There is a grow animation that does it but the animation reverts. There is a text increase fucntion which can be serially applied but this works with text only. You can also use the spiral in function and define your own path. But these are not exactly what you want and Microsoft should have a classic zoom function as well.


Wow... horrible? I think it's cool. I'm sorry you don't like it.


Yes it can be done but we have to realize that it might take a little more efforts than in a photomontage software. A well applied motion path will give you a pan effect. Zooming is an effect available both in the Entrance and Exit effects. Playing with speed, direction and timing will make it possible to achieve results similar to a photomontage software. Hope this helps a little.


Thanks for the smiley face tip -- I didn't know that - that's sure to save some folks some time!

Fiat Lux
Fiat Lux

I am familiar with PPT and animations - just never heard of the program containing frames and did not understand Ms. Harkins allusion to using frames in animating objects. Again, thank you. John


I meant the examples cited were not the best for animations...frowney-to-smiley and heart getting bigger. I expected more on animations. I sounded crassly dismissive and I regret it.


i need to work on what u find out, if for example, i can zoom in on, say a window, on a pic of a house on a slide. cd u help? thank you.


Thank you -- I understand. PowerPoint examples are difficult to create. They have to be simple so people can quickly catch the concept and implement it. The most important part of any article like this is to share the technique and give users a point of reference that they can start from. Complex, but truly effective in the presentation world type examples just leave people frustrated.


It's a pleasure to help. With the example you are talking about, even if it might sound strange, I would not use the Zoom effect but Enlarge/Reduce (hope the wording is right, my PPT interface is in French...). First, make sure you have a higher resolution picture so it won't become fuzzy when it gets enlarged. Then, click on the Add Effect drop-down arrow to access the Emphasis category, and choose Enlarge/Reduce. The extra feature you get to modify here is the size. In the drop-down you will find presets but you can use the custom box to enter the percentage that fits your needs. Keep the Horizontal & Vertical setting if you don't want picture distortion. :-)

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