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So you want to make Animated Gestures eh?
Well itís simple. Iíll tell you how I do it.
Just read on.

There are several free gesture makers available now. If youíre just starting out, Iíd recommend using VPABuilder by Ubique Vers. 1.0 (135 KB) . Once you have become more familiar with the routine then Gesture Genie (1.02 MB) offers more flexibility.
Both of these packages are FREE.

For those of you that have already made a few animated gestures in you time, you may still find some tips in the ADVANCED SECTION towards the bottom of the page. But everyone has to start somewhere, and for the Novices I'd recommend you start HERE.



GETTING STARTED

To get you started, Iíd recommend using VPABuilder, which is a very simple package and your hard drive will hardly notice it's there. VPABuilder does present you with some limitations, but sometimes this is a help when you are just starting out. It is very easy to use and capable of creating some stunning work. Iíll have you creating gestures in no time.
Just follow the steps.


Get Organised

Make Life easy for yourself to begin with.

Create a Gestures Making folder in which to save your animation images (GIF) files and audio (WAV) files.

Download VPABuilder by Ubique Vers. 1.0 and install it into your newly created Gesture Making folder. (This will make hunting for files later on much easier.)

OK Ė Now all you need are some files to make gestures.
Before you can start to compile a Gesture you will need...

1 Audio Clip (WAV File Ė No larger than 30KB and no longer than 6.5 seconds)
1 Piece of Animation (GIF File)
1 Gesture Button (GIF File of 20 x 20 pixels Ė used to identify the gesture)

Once you have created these 3 files you can combine them with the VPABuilder to make a Gesture, and thoroughly impress (or annoy) your mates in VP.
Donít worry if you donít have these files now, because Iíll give you some files to get you going below.


Audio Clip

The 2 Golden Rules to Remember:Ė

1. VPA Builder will not let you use WAV files larger than 30 KB
2. The longest length of clip playable in VP is 6.5 seconds.

(To change your VP to Long Play:- While in VP, go to Tools, then Preferences, in the General Tab click the Duration of Balloon Text to LONG.)

If you have some WAV files already, then great.
If you donít, well here are a couple to get you going.

Download these into your Gesture Making folder.

AudioWait12k.wav
This is the right size to start with, so you can use it straight away.

AudioPrimative55k.wav
This is too big, so you will need to compress it.


Audio Length

Open up the WAV file and see how long it is. If it is more than 6.5 seconds then you will have to clip it down a bit.
This can be done with your Sound Recorder (which is supplied with Windows, and is commonly found in:- Start > Accessories > Multimedia > Sound Recorder).


File Size

Once you have the length of the clip below 6.5 seconds, you have to find out what the WAV file's size is.
It has to be below 30KB or we canít use it.

For the purpose of gestures, the quality of the WAV file doesnít have to be fantastic. Mono at 11,025 Hz will normally be adequate.
Most WAV files are of PCM format and even if the file is below 30KB I would still normally compress it so that the overall size of the Gesture File is smaller once completed.

WAV Files can be compressed in your Sound Recorder. If you've downloaded the Audio-Primative-55k.wav above, then try and compress it now.

With Sound Recorder (for Win 95), open the file you want to compress.
Go to File, then Properties.
There you can find the file size, its recorded properties and the its format type.
Now click on the Convert Now Button.
First, in the Format Window select GSM 6.10.
Then in the Attributes Window select 11,025 Hz, Mono (2KB/s).
Then click OK.
After the compression you'll be taken back to the Properties window. Look at the size the file has been reduced to and click OK.
Once youíve played it back again and you are happy with the quality, save the file.

If youíve done that with my file above, you should find that the 55KB file has been compressed down to 12KB. So it can now be used in making a gesture.

"OK, I have my WAV file. What's next?"


Animation

Let me start by saying that you donít actually need to animate to make a gesture. You can use any picture, reduce it to a reasonable size (eg. 100 x 150 pixels), and create yet another dull and unimaginative "still" image gesture. There are literally thousands of them already in VP and you can download them from countless sites.

My advice is, take the time to use animation in your gestures. That way, you may actually impress someone, (or at least not get bored with playing your own creations the following day).

Animation can be really simple, and it is well worth the extra time. I'll start here with the simple aspects of animation. If you want help with the more complex stuff, go to the ADVANCED SECTION towards the bottom of the page.

All you need to make animation is an Art or Graphics Package (My own preference is Paint Shop Pro v5, which also comes with an animation compiler).
You donít need an animation compiler to make the animation for gestures. Any Art package capable of working with GIF files will do.

The simplest type of animation is just 2 frames, so letís start with that.

If you already have a have a picture, then great.
If not, you can use mine.

Save this GIF file into your Gesture Making folder. (Right Click on image, then "Save Picture As")


AnimBearFrame1.gif

Open the Anim-Bear-Frame1.gif with you Art Program.
Alter the image in some way. Then save the altered image in your Gesture Making folder. Make sure you save the altered image as another file name (otherwise youíll just overwrite the original).

Here are some easy examples of ways you can alter the original image.

You Can Flip the image, which once animated will give you this result.

Or you can alter the colours, which once animated will give you this type of result.

Or you can deform part of the image, which once animated will give you this type of result.

(Note to deform images they generally have to have a colour depth 16 million colour. So you will have to increase the imageís Colour Depth before deforming it. Then change it back to 256 Colours, which is the maximum that a GIF file can support.)


"OK, so I now have 2 images which differ in some way. What's the next stage?"

Use your Art package to cut and paste the 2 images next to one another, so that they look like this.


"How do I do that?"

The easiest way is to create a new image of the correct dimensions to fit all of the frames you intend to use.
For Example:- The single frame of the Original Bear image is 150 x 150 pixels. As there are two frames in the animation (the original and the altered images), the new image should be 300 pixels WIDE x 150 high.

Then you copy and paste each individual frame into the new image, so that each frame is adjacent (without any gaps between them and without overlapping).

Once you have completed this, save the new image into your Gesture Making folder as a GIF file, and with a name that makes it obvious that it is completed and ready for use.

"OK, I have my image to use as the animation in the gesture. Whatís next?"


Gesture Button

A Gesture Button is a small image (GIF file of 20 x 20 pixels), which is used in VP to select the gesture.

If you have just started out in VP the chances are that so far you wonít have many gestures in your collection. So when you click the Gesture Palette Button to view the Buttons for the Gestures in your collection, you wonít find it too difficult to remember which Button is for which Gesture.
However, before long your collection will grow and your memory will start to collapse when you are confronted with a Gesture Palette with 100ís of Buttons.

My advice is, make a Gesture Button that identifies the gesture easily so that you can find the Button quickly while in VP.

One common method is to copy a small section (20 x 20 pixel) of one of the frames from the animation.

Like this for example.

Save your image into your Gesture Making folder as a GIF file and with a name that makes it obvious that it is the Button for your Gesture

However, if you have 100ís of gestures, identifying the gesture from small images can also be confusing. So I would advise going a stage further and taking the time to "stamp" the Button in some way.
The most common method is to put a few letters on the Button which will help identify the Gesture.

Like this for example.

"OK, I Have my Gesture Button. What's Next?"


Build That Gesture

So you now have the 3 essential elements to make an animated gesture. (Please Nod Now.)

1 Audio Clip (WAV File Ė No larger than 30KB and no longer than 6.5 seconds)
1 Piece of Animation (GIF File)
1 Gesture Button (GIF File of 20 x 20 pixels)

Now letís put them together and see what youíve got.

Start up your VPABuilder (Which by now, you should have downloaded and installed into your Gesture Making folder).

You should be confronted by some thing looking like thisÖ

This Gesture Builder has a Help Document which talks you through itís use.
However, by now youíve already done most of the work, so just follow the steps below to complete your Gesture.

Step 1.

Use the Browse button in the Animation section to find the GIF file you intend to use for the animation.
(Remember, it is the image which has the all the frames pasted next to one another.)

Step 2.

Use the Browse button in the Audio section to find the WAV file you intend to use for the Audio Clip.

Step 3.

Use the Browse button in the Palette Button section to find the GIF file you intend to use to identify the gesture.

Step 4.

Type in the text you wish to appear in VP when you play your Gesture.

Now this is where you meet one of the restrictions of this VPABuilder program, as it wonít let you include very long text.
You can squeeze more in by typing in lower case (Using capitals takes up more room).

You can also use this text area to announce in VP that you have made this gesture by including your Nick Name in brackets at the end of the text line.

At this point it helps to have been in VP a few times and watched to see how other Gesture Makers "stamp" their Gestures.
You donít want to start using the same ID in your Gesture text as an established Gesture Maker (as it will most likely upset them Ė and rightly so).
My own ID is simply "...........(L)".
If I've made the Gesture in co-operation with someone else, I will include their "ID" in the text also.

Try and think of something original for you own gestures and make sure that each gesture uses the same ID at the end of the text line.

For example:-

"Look Everyone Ė Iíve Made a GestureÖÖ(Nick)"

Step 5.

Input the "Image Frame Width" (in Pixels).
People sometimes get stuck with this, but it is straightforward.
To continue with our example of the animated Bear above.
Earlier we made an Animation Image of 300 pixels width, which comprised of 2 pasted frames.
So each frame is 150 Pixels wide. So, "Image Frame Width" = 150

Step 6.

Click "Transparent Colour" to OFF

Step 7.

Click "Image Loop" to ON and make "Back to Frame" = 0 (0 is the first frame in you animation for VPABuilder.)

Step 8.

Click "Reverse Image at End" to OFF

Step 9.

Make "Start Audio On Frame" = 0

Step 10.

Click "Start Audio Only Once" to ON

Step 11.

Click the Test Button to test your gesture.
Make sure your audio clip is playing as you want it and that the animation works correctly.
"Help! - My Animation appears out of sync or with more than one image during testing."
The chances are that you have not got the correct Pixel Width in the Image Frame Width box. Change it and try testing again.

"Help! Ė My Animation appears jerky or with a gap down the side.
Oops. There is probably a mistake the GIF file you are using for the animation.
Each frame you paste for your animation image MUST be the same size as the last.
The most common mistake made (even with a simply 2 frame animation) is in pasting the images next to one another.
Each pasted image must be exactly adjacent to the one another (with no gaps, nor any overlapping).

Step 12.

Save Your Gesture.
This stage needs a bit of thought (Iíll explain why in a moment).

The Program will save the Gesture automatically as a .vpa file (which is the file association for gesture files).

I would recommend that you save your new gesture into your Gesture Making folder (and NOT straight into the Gesture folder of your VP Directory).

As for advice on how to name your VPA files...
Start the file name with a couple of letters which are the same for all of your gestures.

For example:

All of my Meek & Mild Gestures start with file name "RU.....vpa".
By doing this , all of my Gesture Buttons appear in the same area on my Button Palette in VP (making it much easier to find them).

For the rest of the file name, try and pick a couple of words which describe the Gesture.

If you are creating a set of gestures that are designed to be played one after another, make sure you add a number at the end of the file name.

So for example:

If you had a set of three gestures containing clips of music, you could name them...
Nick_Music_Clip_1.vpa
Nick_Music_Clip_2.vpa
Nick_Music_Clip_3.vpa

So they would appear in your gesture palette in the correct order and amongst all your other home grown creations.

OK. You've now created an animated gesture. Well Done.
But I'm afraid the story isnít over quite yet.

I asked you to save the new VPA file to your Gesture Making Folder for good reason.
It is much easier to find it there (rather than in the Gesture Folder of your VP Directory, which is most likely home to 100ís of VPA files already).

Now you need to go and find the new VPA file and look at its size.

"WHY?" (I hear you scream).

Because, the maximum size of file that can be swapped freely whilst you are in VP is a mere 60KB. (and that isnít a lot).
So if you want to swap your gestures with friends in VP, you have to make sure that your VPA file is below 60KB.

"But are there not VP-Patches which I can download to enable me to swap larger file in VP?" (I hear you plead).
Yes there are. But before you run off and get one think on...

I always endeavour to make my Gestures files smaller than 60KB for good reasons.
Firstly, the proportion of VP users that have these Patches is very small. Besides, the whole point of gestures is in their easy distribution.
Secondly, if you start making lots of gestures with file sizes of 100 or 120KB you will soon fill your hard drive with nothing but gestures (or worse, someone elseís hard drive).

It is possible to get some really impressive gestures and keep below the 60KB limit. It just takes a little more thought sometimes.
If you want further help on compression look at the ADVANCED SECTION below.

However for the simple (2 frame) animated gesture that you have made with me now, you should find that the file size is approximately 17KB, and so is well within the limits of VPís capabilities.

Step 13. (Unlucky for some.)

So you are happy with your gesture. It seems to play correctly in Testing and the file size is acceptable.

The only thing left, is to move your new VPA file to itís proper place in this world.
The Gesture Folder in you VP Directory.
(Normally found by following the path. C:\Program Files\Vplaces\EXTS\GESTURES\Ö)

Once that's done, go into VP and play that Gesture.
(Note: If you already had VP open when you moved your gesture, then you will have to click the Gesture Palette Button to display your Gesture Palette, then press the F5 key to refresh. After a moment you should see your newly added Button in the Palette.


CONGRATULATIONS
You've Made a Gesture

(I Hope)



ADVANCED SECTION

Ok. So you have got to grips with the basics and you want to know more eh?
Just read on.


Advanced animations

The animations described earlier were just basic 2 frame images.
Most of my own animations are the type that give the appearance of something moving.
The Image in each frame moves slightly each time to provide the movement.

The most common sources of frame sets are from...

frames that you have made yourself,
or, a selection of stills you have grabbed from a video clip
or, frames taken from animated GIFís already available on the Net.

The number of frames you need to create the appearance of fluid movement will vary depending upon the type of movement performed before your sequence can be repeated.

For Example...

To get a heart to beat you may only need 3 frames.

Like this...

But to get person to walk you may need 8 frames.

Like this...


It is possible to get up to about 31 frames played before the Duration of the Bubble ends in VP and there are quite a few Gestures that I have made with that number.

However, by increasing the number of frames you use, you are also increasing the size of the GIF file.
This will in turn, increase the size of your VPA file in the finished Gesture.

As I have explained above, I always get the size of my VPA files below the 60KB limit allowed for easy distribution within VP.

But once you start to use animation with 4 or more frames, you run the risk of your VPA file being larger than the 60KB limit.

So here are a few tricks that will allow you to increase the content of your Gestures, whilst at the same time keeping the file size down.


WAV File Compression

Although your audio clip is below 30KB, compress it anyway using Sound Recorder (as explained above).

Most Audio clips (even music) will still be of good enough quality for VP when compressed under the GSM 6.10 format at recording rates of 11,025 Hz, Mono (2KB/s).

For some WAV files you may even be able to compress down to 8,000 Hz, Mono (2KB/s) using the GSM 6.10 format.
However, this tends to be only for simple clips of speech.

Donít compress the quality so much that it becomes unbearable to listen to though.
There are plenty of tricks you can perform on the animation to reduce the size of the VPA file.


Palette Buttons

Now admittedly you are not gonna save much space here, as the size of a Button GIF file is very small to begin with.
However, the chances are that your Buttons has a colour depth of 256.
Gesture Buttons do not require this depth (it is a tiny image after all).

So reduce the colour depth of the GIF file to 16 colours.
If you have some text on the Button you may have to jiggle with the colours a little to make sure that the letters remain obvious (in the "Edit Colour Palette" section of your Art program).
Once you are happy, re-save the file as a GIF and you will find that you may have gained 1 or 2 KB (which can then be used where it matters).


Animation File Size

Hereís where you really want to squander your allocated memory.
So what can we do to get more frames?


Frame size.

The normal Frame Widths I tend to use range from 80 pixels wide (for a portrait image) to 150 pixels wide (for a landscape image).

If the frame size is too Big...

Although the maximum Frame Width is 255 pixels, it is not a good idea to make them so big.
Not only will your VPA file size be huge, but youíll also annoy a lot of people in the chat room (as they would be able to read the bubbles that are being obscured by your HUGE Balloon).
So reducing the Frames to an appropriate size is the first easy way to reduce the file size.

However, if the frame size is too Small...

You will be squinting at your screen to see whatís going on in the animation, and you will find it difficult to maintain any clarity in the image. I rarely go as so as 60 pixels on the width.
After all, you want people to see your stunning work.


Colour Depth.

GIF files have a default Colour Depth of 256 when they are first saved.
However, for most pieces of animated you can reduce the colour depth to 16 without reducing the quality of the animation too severely.

When reducing the colour depth of an image there are a few options available.

For example you can pick from Palettes such as...

Optimized Medium Cut,
Optimized Octree, or
Windows.
For each of these Palettes you can reduce the colour depth to the...
Nearest Colour, or
Use Error Diffusion.

For Cartoon images quite often reducing to the Nearest Colour gives best results.
Whereas, for Photo images reducing with Error Diffusion seems to work best.

Experiment to see which combination gives you the best results for that image.


"Ohhh No. Iíve done all I can and the VPA is still above 60KB.!!!"

If once you have used all of these tricks, you find that your VPA file is still too large, it is time to consider reducing your WAV Size or Frame Dimensions further, or reducing the Number of Frames used in the animation.


Grabbing Animated GIFís from the Net

You donít have to work your knuckles to the bone to make your own animation.
Most Websites you visit will have an animated image somewhere amongst the pages, and the chances are that it will be a GIF file.

There are also plenty of sites that offer countless Animated GIFís. Just use your search engines to hunt them out.

OK thereís a slight catch at this point.
The animated GIFís that are available as downloads can not be used directly with the VPABuilder.
The individual frames are stacked (best way I can explain it - Sorry).
What this amounts to is that... After youíve downloaded them and then opened them in your average Art package, they will appear as a single still image (You will not be able to see the individual frames which made up the movement that you saw on the website).

To view the other frames within the animation you will need a program capable of creating Animated GIFís.
The one I use is Paint Shop Proís Animation Shop, (supplied with version 5 onwards).

Once you open the Animated GIF within such a package, you will be able to view the other frames.
Then you simply select the frames you want and save them into your Gesture Making folder.

All thatís left then is for you to copy and paste the frames side by side as a single image (as explained in the Beginners Section above). Once you have saved this single layer image as a GIF again it can be used in the VPABuilder.

Alternatively.....


Try Another Gesture Making Program

Gesture Genie (1.02 MB) is a program which allows you to use Animated GIFís as they were originally downloaded into your computer.

I havenít used this is a program much (Iím just stubborn and I like the old VPABuilder).
However it is worth a try.

Some of the main advantages with Gesture Genie are...

You can use GIFís directly as they were downloaded and you can delete individual frames to reduce the size of the VPA.

It has a nifty feature which allows you to see in an instant what the size of the VPAfile will be, as well as the size of the audio and animation components.

It will allow you to use WAV files in excess of 30KB (Good if you want good quality audio).

There seems to be little restriction on the length of the Text line. So you can babble on endlessly (which might annoy a few in VP).

However, there are some drawbacks in relying on this program alone.
The biggest is that, although you can remove frames to reduce the VPA file size, you canít reduce the dimensions of the frames.
Nor can you decrease the colour depth of the GIF.

In other words to restrict the VPA file size, you will be relying purely on audio compression and decreasing the number of frames in the animation.
In some gestures this would lead to unbearably poor sound quality, and/or jerky movements in the animation.


I hope you have found something usefull in the drivel above.
If you are still stuck please send your questions to...