Apr 022012
 
Tiny Coin Serf

Things you will need:

My last animation project, Pantera firing her bow, turned out okay. Just okay. I wanted to try something more ambitious. After logging in and out of various characters and trying various poses, I decided that I wanted to animate a spinning Coin Serf going through a selection of her spell list. Ambitious!

Step One: Scripting and Location

Actual casting would mean that I had to be in a private instance. I tried several different quests but they all had bad lighting – too bright or too dark – before I found one that seemed suitable. Redwillow’s Ruins.

Once inside I had to slay a few denizens before finding a suitable podium for “filming”. Coin needed to be standing up on something to help center her in the picture. I needed to get the zoom right also, close enough to show detail but far enough to avoid cutting off her feet.

Timing is important too. With Fraps running in the background, I “rehearsed”, moving the spells I wanted to Coin’s primary hot bar and then cycling through them to make sure I had the timing just right. Running Fraps didn’t seem to impact the frame rate on my laptop but your experience may vary.

Step Two: Primary filming

Once I was comfortable with the “script” (which was simply turning the camera around Coin while she cast spells 2-9 on her hot bar), I turned off the DDO UI by hitting <Alt><z> and turned on the Fraps recorder by hitting <Alt><F11>.

I let Coin spin a couple of times without casting anything, then on revolution three started working through the spells. Similarly, when all the spells were cast, I let Coin spin twice more before turing off the Fraps recorder. Including extra leading and trailing spins will make it easier to trim the movie into a seamless loop later.

I had to “film” three times, in spite of my practicing I still wasn’t as smooth with the casting as desired; I wanted perfection. Eventually I achieved it. Don’t leave your filming location and don’t exit DDO. Not yet.

Step Three: Viewing the Rushes

Locate the AVI file created by Fraps. Mine were in My DocumentsFrapsMovies. There were several files, partly because I ran through the filming sequence three times, but also because Fraps arbitrarily cut some of my filming into more than one file. Or I mis-clicked. Not sure.

Double-clicking one of the files will play it with your default Video player. Sometimes I needed to play the file twice in a row to see it correctly; occasionally I would get sound and video way out of synch the first time I tried a file.

I have no idea why Fraps cut some of the filming into multiple files; I’m really not very familiar with the tool. Fortunately I was still in DDO and still in the same pose. I was able to go repeat the Primary Filming sequence one more time, quickly and smoothly, and for whatever reason, this time Fraps kept it all together in one single file. A perfect AVI file containing everything I wanted and nothing else. It is really big though, 1.2 gig. We’ll have to do something about that later.

I deleted all of the failed films. Then, because I am a safety-first kinda guy, I made a copy of the good file. Just in case. It is now safe to close DDO.

Step Four: Editing

Right-clicking on the AVI file brings up a context menu that includes “Open With”. Hovering over the “Open With” command brings up a sub-menu that includes all of the programs that are registered to work with AVI files. If you are on Windows 7 as I am, one of the options will be Windows Live Movie Maker.*

* If you do not have this you may want another video editor. There are lots of free ones out there, but I can’t recommend anything here other than to remind you to update your antivirus software before even looking at free download software. Seriously, don’t even go to a free software website without a solid protection package.

Windows Live Movie Maker does all kinds of things but all we need it to do is to trim excess leading and trailing frames. To do this, find the one frame that is your beginning. Don’t trust the editor’s player, the video in the player does not update correctly when playing. Use the arrow keys to manually move from one frame to the next. Once you have the correct frame, Click “Edit” to open the Edit menu, and then click Set Start Point.

Repeat the process to set the correct frame as the End point. If you are going to make this into a smooth repeating loop, you want to end and start frames to be almost the same. When you are satisfied, save the movie. I chose to save it as High-Def which created a WMV file that ran 50MB. Too big. Maybe too long? It is a 20-second loop.

One more note. You can skip this entire step, open the AVI file from Step Three using GIMP, and delete leading and trailing frames in GIMP directly. But the interface for this is really horrible and will take longer to explain than I care to attempt. Also, the raw AVI output from Fraps is higher resolution and higher frames per second than the WMV output from Windows Live Movie Maker. In other words, the editor will degrade your product and save a lot – A LOT – of final image size.

Step Five: Post Production

Open the GIMP. Under Filters, choose “Split Video Into Frames”, and then “Extract Videorange”. You will get a rather ungainly window as shown here.

Extracting Video Range. Whatever that means.

Clicking the untitled Browse button will allow you to navigate to the WMV created in the previous step (or the AVI output from Fraps if you skipped Step Four). Other formats are supported too if you are not using Windows Live Movie Maker as your editor. Enter the value “99999” in the To Frame field and click OK. Time will pass as the GIMP creates an image file for each frame in your animation. Make sure you have plenty of disk space too.

After awhile (a long while if you have a long video) GIMP will create one XCF file for each frame of your video. Mine appeared in my c:usersgeoffpictures folder. All 1100 of them.

This is your chance to resize and edit your video. There are lots of options under the Video menu, most of which are completely unknown to me. But Crop and resize are useful, as is Scale. I cropped my video from the original 1900×900 to 400×500. GIMP will apply these changes to each image for you automatically although it takes some time for larger files.

Be careful, there is no undo on these operations. A mistake means you have to re-extract the video range all over again. You can also add manual changes. I wanted to make a nice 3D-effect frame, but froze in horror when I pictured the effort required to manually apply the effect 1100 times. I decided the video was pretty good looking as-is.

Back in GIMP, close all active images but leave GIMP open. Then under File, select “Open as Layers”. Navigate to the .XCF images created a moment ago, and then select all of them. Clicking OK will cause GIMP to reopen each image but as a new layer in one large image document. It can take awhile (longer for more frames) and GIMP will not respond to Windows while loading. Nothing for it but to wait, go get some coffee or something.

Step Six: Prints

Once you have all of the frames reloaded into Gimp, select File -> Save As. Type the file name you like and add the .GIF extension. After some time, Gimp will ask you how you want the stack of frames converted into a GIF. Select “Save as animation”, as shown.

Save As Animation

More time will pass. Eventually Gimp will pop up an additional window asking some specific questions about GIF creation. Select “Loop forever”.

Loop Forever

I experimented with the delay and disposal values on this dialog but none of them applied in ways that I could even detect, except the GIF Comment. It appears the wise course is to check Loop forever, fill in the comment, but leave everything else set to defaults.

Step Six(A): Utter Failure

After two days of trying to edit down the size of my massive animation, I eventually was forced into the conclusion that it was a lost cause. Too long, too many frames, too high-definition on each frame. I am stubborn though and really did spend two days trying to make the original idea work. I succeeded, sort of, in that I was able to get through all six steps. But it wasn’t really success, the resulting GIF was over 10MB and simply would not play all the way through.

Eventually the animation would just overload whatever player I tried to use and freeze.

Either the animation was just too long, or too high-definition, or both, or maybe Gimp is not really the GIF creator of choice. I don’t know, but I do know this: too ambitious.

Sigh.

I went back to Step Two and re-filmed, this time creating a much simpler spinning animation that only lasts a couple of seconds. Success! The shorter animation had the happy side-effect of speeding up the entire process: extracting the video range was fast, loading was fast, etc.

As it turns out, almost all of the long waits I mention in Steps Five and Six were caused by the size of my file. The same steps performed almost instantly against the new smaller movie.

Having learned lessons from the first attempt, this time I “filmed” using a much smaller DDO window, cropped like a madman, and also deleted every other frame. It didn’t seem to change the overall quality (that I could notice) but it dramatically reduced final size. Output is still 3.5MB, clearly I am missing something important in this process. But it works.

Step Seven: Distribution

Upload the resulting GIF to a host site. I performed this step twice, once with Photobucket and once to my personal website. As expected, Photobucket re-sized my GIF, now to a mere postage stamp, and degraded the visual quality even further. Useful as an avatar, and now reduced in size below 1MB, yet not what I had in mind. The version I uploaded to my own website was unchanged by the process.

Step Eight: Opening Night Premier


Tiny Coin Serf Coin Serf
The Photobucket version The unabridged version

Somehow the Photobucket version looks more 3D.

Step Nine: The Reviews

Overall I remain a bit unsettled. I’ve seen GIFs that are larger, last longer, are smoother, and yet are still smaller in bytes. I am certain I am doing something that is less than optimal.

I did not really achieve the original goal – creating something more ambitious than Archer Pantera, but I believe I created something that is better than Archer Pantera and that is worthwhile all by itself.

I have to admit that I love doing this stuff! I am so weird.

🙂 😀 🙂


TL:DR

  1. Use Fraps to capture a short DDO video
  2. (optional) Use Windows Live Movie Maker to cut the video to only those parts you want to animate, and to convert the Fraps AVI file to a WMV
  3. Use GIMP to extract the videorange to frames
  4. (optional) Use GIMP to crop, scale, and/or resize your video
  5. Use GIMP to reload the frames into one file, then Save As animated GIF
  6. Publish the result to a host
  7. Link to your new masterpiece

  5 Responses to “How To: Make an Animated Avatar From A DDO Character”

Comments (3) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Very cool- the problem is, I’ll prolly use this information for evil, rather than good….

  2. That actually looks quite awesome. I use Xfire rather than Fraps, Photoshop CS3 rather than Gimp, and WMM has decided it no longer wants to run on my computer. But I really want to find a way to try this out.

  3. MAGIX Movie Edit Pro MX Plus. exports movies to animated GIF, non-destructive edits, inserts of images on top of various clips, text inserts etc. personally used it, recommends it.

What do you think?

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