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Motion Paths

Understand PowerPoint’s motion paths effects and combine them with other effects.

Julie Terberg has more than 15 years of presentation-design and computer-graphic experience.

She specializes in custom-designed presentations, including animation and multi-media applications.

This article appeared originally in Presentations magazine.

Adding animation to an object in Microsoft PowerPoint is simple: select an object, choose Add Effect (from the Custom Animation Task Pane), select one of the program's many preset effects and you're done. But what if you're looking to put a little spin on things, literally? To make visuals really move you need to understand PowerPoint's motion paths effects and how to combine them with other effects for dynamic results.

Anatomy of a motion path

A motion path moves an object on a slide, from one position to another, following one of PowerPoint's 64 pre-defined paths. You can also draw a custom path. Each path is fully editable, making it easy to start with a preset path and edit the existing points to the desired motion.

On a slide, a motion path is represented with a dotted line indicating the path that the object will follow when animated. A green arrow signifies the start position and a red arrow shows the path's end. White dots form a box around each path, and these dots are sizing handles. You can click on any dot and stretch, shrink, rotate or reposition the path. A green handle indicates the ability to rotate a path, while a four-point arrow gives you the option to move the entire path (see Example 1).

Example 1: A dotted line indicates the motion path, and the path the object take across the slide when animated. The larger white dots can be used for sizing and rotating paths.

Preset paths always "snap" the starting point to an object or group's center. This means that the path will begin at the object's current position on the slide. If you want the object to follow a path onto the slide, you can simply move the object off screen and the path will follow.

More effects

Example 2: PowerPoint 2003's Custom Animation task Pane provides many options for Motion Paths.

Once you have created a path, the Custom Animation task pane provides plenty of options for customizing the animation (see Example 2). You can control when the animation will start, its speed and the path itself. The path option allows you to change the path from the default Unlocked position to Locked. What does this mean? Essentially, an unlocked path is not locked in place on the slide and will move along with the object if you edit the object's position. A locked path will remain in its original position if you move the object. You may want to experiment with both options to grasp this concept and decide if it is useful for your animations.

In addition, the small black arrow to the right of every listed motion path opens a drop-down menu with the following options: Start Options, Effect Options, Timing, Show (or Hide) Advanced Timeline, and Remove (see Example 2).

The Effect Options choice in this menu opens the Custom Path dialog box which has more settings, some of them repeated in other menus. The Effect tab includes Smooth start and Smooth end, checked by default. These commands make the object travel a bit slower at the beginning and ending of the Motion Path.

The Timing tab offers adjustments to the animation's speed. Here, you can edit the start time, enter a delay, and type in a new speed to within a hundredth of a second.

A Path with Emphasis

One way to pack more punch into a motion paths is to take advantage of the fact that PowerPoint can add more than one effect to any object or group. There are so many combinations and possibilities: Fades, Spins, Zooms, Grow/Shrink, Collapse, etc.

To demonstrate this, say you want an animation that flips a company logo on to the slides.

  1. Start by inserting and positioning a logo on the slide it will land on.
  2. Apply an Arc Up Motion Path to the logo. On the Custom Animation task pane, choose the Add Effect | Motion Paths | More Motion Paths | Arc Up option.
  3. With the logo still selected, on the task pane change the speed to Slow, and Start to With Previous.
  4. On the slide, right-click on the Motion Path and select Reverse Path Direction.
  5. Tip

  6. This step is unnecessary, if you want the motion path to animate from left to right.
  7. Click the middle white dot (sizing handle) on the left boundary of the motion path and drag it all the way to the left, completely off of the slide.
  8. Tip

  9. If you cannot see the entire slide, change its screen view (View | Zoom) to 75 percent or less.
  10. Click and drag the top center sizing handle to make the arc of the motion path larger (see Example 3). If you wish, you may edit individual points for a more graceful arc.

  11. Example 3
  12. At this point, if you preview the motion path animation (click the Play button at the bottom of the custom animation task pane), you'll notice a mistake right away. The logo appears on the slide and then disappears before the animation. There are two ways to fix this. One option is to change the Path to a Locked position and drag the logo off the slide's background.

  13. Another method is to add an Appear Entrance Effect to the logo (Add Effect | Entrance | More Effects | Appear). You will need to move this effect above the Arc Up motion path and custom animation list. The Appear effect should begin exactly at the same time as the path animation. The advantage of using this method is that your logo will be in position on the slide when you print handouts.
  14. Once you have the appearance issue resolved, select the logo again and add a Grow/Shrink Emphasis Effect (Add Effect | Emphasis | Grow/Shrink). The task pane settings should be Start: With Previous and Speed: Fast. To make the logo appear to flip over, you'll need to edit the percentage and axis for the Emphasis effect. Select the emphasis animation and bring up its Effect options dialog box (see Commands Box).
  15. Commands Box

  16. To bring up the Custom Animation Task Pane: from the top menu pull down, Slide Show | Custom Animation. The Task Pane will appear on the right-side of slide.
  17. To bring up the Effect Options dialog box: Within the Custom Animation Task Pane, select the particular motion path from the animation list and click on the small black arrow to the right of its title (or just right-click on the animation). From the pull-down menu, select Effect Options.
  18. Click the Size option, choose Custom and replace "150 %" with "5%." Hit Enter to accept the change. Click on the Size option again and choose Horizontal (instead of Both). Return to the Effect Options menu again and select Effects tab, check off the option for Auto-reverse (see Example 4).

  19. Example 4
  20. Still within the Grow/Shrink dialog box, click on the Timing tab. Under Delay type in "0.5," so that the animation begins 0.5 seconds after the Motion Path. This makes the logo appear to flip during the middle of the path's duration. Click Play to view final animation.

Path and faded zoom

The next animation uses motion paths to create a faded zoom effect that make text seem to disappear into a box. In this slide, the Think Tank box represent the repository for problems, ideas, and goals (see Example 5). Here's how it's done.

  1. Begin by drawing or importing a box graphic. Scale the graphic so it uses less than half of the slide width leaving room for text. Create the first text box in this case, Problems, and position it on the left side of the slide.
  2. With the text box still selected, on the Custom Animation task pane, click the Add Effect | Motion Paths | Draw Custom Path | Curve option. Place the cursor in the center of the text box and click to create the first point. Click again to set the second point on the path (above and to the right of the text box) and double-click to add the last point right inside the box graphic. If you are not satisfied with the path you can edit any point.
  3. Select the path in the Task Pane and change the Start settings to After Previous and the Speed to Medium.
  4. Select the text box again. Then, from the Task Pane, choose Add Effect | Exit | More Effects | Faded Zoom. Change the Start setting to With Previous and the Speed to Fast.
  5. Pull up the Effect Options dialog box for the Zoom animation. Click the Timing tab and in the Delay box, type in "1.0" and click OK.
  6. Next, make a copy of the first text box and its animation effect: Select the text box (not its text) and hold down the Ctrl and Shift keys while you click and drag downward. Let go, and the copy appears. In this new text box, change the text to your second word or phrase. Right-click on the motion path for this second text box and select Edit Points. Click the last point and reposition it inside the box graphic. Repeat these steps for any additional words or phrases you want to animate (see Example 5).

  7. Example 5

These are just a couple of examples of how to get more out of your animations by combining Motion Paths with other effects. Experiment on your own to create custom animations with push the limits of what you might expect from PowerPoint.

Julie Terberg (Glossary Page)