If you're like me, you've had enough snow to last a lifetime — but if not, you can always make more using PowerPoint. It's a simple technique that doesn't require specialized knowledge, and you can make it stop anytime you want! So, get your snow shovels... I mean, launch PowerPoint, and let's get started.
Make the snowflakes
In this section, I'll show you how to create and format snowflakes. To make the scene realistic, you'll want a dark background. You can even add a picture if you like. For now, we'll work with a solid background of dark blue, which you can create as follows:
- Right-click a blank slide and choose Format Background from the resulting submenu.
- Solid Fill is the default setting.
- From Fill Color drop-down menu, choose a color (Figure A).
- Click Close.
We'll use a shape to mimic our first snowflake. To create the first flake, do the following:
- Click the Insert tab. If you're still using PowerPoint 2003, you'll need the Drawing toolbar. To display it, choose Toolbars from the View menu, and check Drawing.
- From the Shapes drop-down menu in the Illustrations group, select the Oval.
- Hold down the [Shift] key while you draw a circle. Holding down the [Shift] key will produce a perfect circle instead of an oval.
Now, it's time to format the snowflake. We'll use the gradient effect to make the flake look more natural, as follows:
- Right-click the circle shape and choose Format Shape.
- Choose Gradient Fill. If you're using PowerPoint 2003, click the Colors and Lines tab and choose Fill Effects from the Color drop-down menu. Then, select Gradient.
- From the Type drop-down menu, choose From Center. You'll want to remember this step later, because you can use it to create different snowflake patterns if you want a more natural look.
- From the Direction drop-down menu, choose the Center option. Again, you can use this later to create other patterns for a more natural look.
- Use the Gradient Stops control to set the amount of change from one color to another.
- From the Color drop-down menu (below the Gradient Stops control), choose White.
- I've set the Brightness to 26% (Figure B). This is a preferential setting, but I chose this setting because it's a good representation of a nighttime snowfall.
- Click Line Style in the left pane, and choose No Line. In PowerPoint 2013, the Line options are just below the Fill options in the Format Shape pane.
- Click Glow And Soft Edges from the left pane, and choose 24 pt (or the setting you prefer). In PowerPoint 2003, these options are available via the Shape Effects drop-down menu in the Shape Styles group.
- If necessary, click Close to return to the slide.
Now, reduce the size of your flake to a reasonably small size and duplicate it numerous times — select the flake and press [Ctrl]+[C] and then [Ctrl]+[V] as many times as necessary. Be sure to hold down the [Shift] key when you resize the original flake to retain a perfect circle. PowerPoint will stack the new flakes one on top of the other, so move them about into a random pattern (Figure C). Have fun with it, but keep your message in mind. We're creating a gentle snowfall, but you can turn this into a raging blizzard!
Create a random pattern with multiple flakes.
A little realism
Next, we'll vary the flakes' size to make the scene more natural. To do so, randomly select two or three flakes at a time (while holding down the [Shift] key to create a multiple object selection) and slightly increase or decrease their size using the object handles. Be sure to hold down the [Shift] key so they flakes maintain their perfectly round shape. You can use Figure D as a guide, but there's no right or wrong to your choices.
Mix up the size of the snowflakes.
Once you have a good mix of snowflake sizes, you're ready to simulate a snowfall by adding animation and controlling each flake's timing. The first step is to apply a Fly Out animation to the entire group, as follows:
- Select all of the flakes by pressing [Ctrl]+[A]. If you're using PowerPoint 2003, skip to #3.
- With the group of flakes selected, click the Animations tab.
- From the Animation gallery, choose Fly Out, as shown in Figure E. You might have to click More Exit Effects to find it. PowerPoint 2003 users should choose Custom Animation from the Slide Show menu. In the resulting task pane, choose the appropriate options from the Add Effects drop-down menu and skip to #5.
- Click the Animation Pane option in the Advanced Animation group (if necessary) to display the Animation Pane (it's already open for PowerPoint 2003 users).
- With all of the flakes still selected, choose Timing from the group's drop-down menu, as shown in Figure F.
- In the resulting dialog, change the Duration setting to 2 seconds (Medium).
- Select Until End Of Slide from the Repeat drop-down menu, as shown in Figure G.
- Click OK.
Right now, the flakes are all falling at the same speed, so let's change the timing for some to make the snowfall more natural. Specifically, make the larger flakes — the ones that are in the foreground — fall a bit faster than the ones in the background. Of course, all of the flakes are in the same plane; we changed their sizes to make them appear close or far away.
Don't make all of the same-sized flakes fall at the same rate either. That would be unnatural as well. But, most of the flakes of similar size should fall at near the same rate. The larger flakes will fall faster than the medium-sized flakes, which will fall a bit faster than the smallest ones (because of their visual proximity to the viewer, not their size). So, here's how to get started:
- By holding down the [Shift] key and selecting circles, select most of the largest flakes.
- Right-click one of the selected animations (in the Animations pane) and choose Timing.
- In the resulting dialog, change the Duration setting to 1 second and click OK. Or, you can use the Duration option in the Timing group on the Animations tab.
Repeat this process by changing most of the smaller flakes to 4 or 5 seconds — mix them up a bit. Almost all of the largest flakes have timings from .75 to 1.75 seconds. For flakes of the same size and on the same horizontal plane, I alternated the timing as well to avoid a solid line of large or small flakes falling. I also moved several flakes to comprise most of the slide. I tweaked the flakes a number of times before I was satisfied. Figure H shows the final placement.
The flakes should appear random.
You might notice that the snow appears to hesitate when previewing, but don't worry. We'll take care of that next. (To preview the slide while working, click Preview on the Animation tab.)
Move the flakes off the slide
To avoid the jerky pause I just mentioned, move all the flakes off (above) the slide, as shown in Figure I. Here's how:
- Press [Ctrl]+[A] to select all the flakes.
- Drag the group off and above the slide. It's okay if one or two flakes remain at the very top of the slide.
Move the flakes off the slide.
To preview the snowfall, press [F5].
You could change the soft glow effect on some of the flakes that are in the foreground by reducing that setting so the edges are more distinct. Or you could change the transparency setting. The key is to keep things random so that it looks natural.
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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.