For a bit of tech that's 25 years old, the animated GIF has survived well, resurrected itself of late. It works in any browser, without special software, and a well-crafted animated GIF has an almost hypnotic quality to it. A loop of five seconds or less: it can be amusing, dramatic, poignant, jaw-dropping or all of the above. There are sites devoted to GIFs for just about any theme: movie GIFs, funny GIs, cat GIFs, even adult GIFs (so I've heard, anyway).
But they've become particularly popular for sports sites, because a) they are a good way to capture moments, and b) for copyright purposes, if you are discussing the moment in question, a GIF is regarded as fair use. Woo-hoo. Though earlier in the season MLB were reportedly attempting to impose a 48 hour ban on their use, though quite how they'd police such things is hard to figure: they're a lot harder to track down than game footage video posted on Youtube, for example.
It's not an area we've explored very much here on the 'Pit, mostly because I'm aware that GIFs tend to be pretty large. They may be one file, but are, in effect, a series of frames, each containing the pixels that have changed from the previous frame. When you have a fast-moving sequence, that's just about all of them: depending on the size of the picture and length of the clip, that can add up to a lot of pixels, and a file up to 10 Mb in size is not uncommon. Browse that on your phone and let me know how it works out for you [Here seems a good place to state that the AZ SnakePit is not responsible for data overage charged incurred in the rest of the series].
SB Nation's own Jon Bois is a master curator of such things, and stages an annual tournament to find the greatest animated sports GIFs of the year - here's the 2011 Top 50. But I figured that it might be helpful to give a lesson on how you, too, can make your own animated GIFs, for fun and prof... Well, actually, it'll just be for fun. Note that all advice, software etc. is intended for PC and Windows users. Sorry Macaddicts. But I believe if you simply think about the image you need, your Mac will read your mind, download the necessary files, convert it to an animated GIF and post it on your site, along with some amusing commentary. So Steve Jobs assured me, anyway. Or just ask Siri.
Find your footage
The best place to start is MLB's Multimedia Search page: Let's say we want to make a GIF of the longest home-run hit by a Diamondback this year: the grand-slam Miguel Montero hit off Jarrod Parker at Chase Field on June 9. It might take a bit of time to find the right search phrases, but in the end "Miguel Montero home-run" got us to the right list, and on page three, we found a trio of clips referring to the bomb. You can then look at those, and find one that has the right footage you want - bear in mind, it's going to be just a couple of seconds. There may be different angles or clips; in the end, I went with this one, because I liked the little bat-toss Miggy did after crushing it.
Then you have to get the clip on to your computer. The easiest way through s browser plug-in, an add-on that gives you the ability to download streaming video clips, from sites like Youtube, Vimeo or, in this case, mlb.com. Which one you want to use depends as much on personal taste and your browser as anything: Personally, I use Firefox and have two installed - Download Helper and NetVideoHunter - which seems to allow me to capture from a wide range of sites. Once you have one of those installed, it's just a couple of clicks, choose a folder in which to save the clip, and step one is completed.
Edit your clip
What you have will be far too long - in this case, 47 seconds - to become a useful animated GIF. Five seconds is the maximum, both for aesthetic purposes and for another reason, which we'll get to in a bit. So you now need to edit your clip down to the right length, capturing the spirit and emotion you want. This is the tricky bit, because you'll need some kind of video editing software. Windows comes with Windows Movie Maker, which is fine, but won't handle the MP4 video format used by MLB.com. So, if you want to use that, you would need to convert your clip, using either an online resource or a conversion application, to the WMV format it can handle.
I'd rather not, and prefer a video editing program that can handle MP4 files. My one of choice is AVIDemux, which can do an awful lot more (for instance, you can crop your footage if you want to zoom in on a smaller section of the frame), but is good for clipping and resizing, which is what we want to do here. Below, is a screen-shot of the application, with the three major areas highlighted:
Here's what you need to do:
- File > Open, and select your clip. For MP4 files, it will prompt you for a different mode - accept it.
- Change the Video drop down (top highlight) from 'Copy' to 'MPEG-4 ASP'. Audio doesn't matter - GIFs are silent.
- Using the buttons and slider at the bottom, find the start point of your clip. You can use the "Frame" field and adjust the frame number up and down to get the exact spot. Then hit the A button (bottom highlight) to mark the start.
- Repeat 3 to find the end point, and mark it with the B button (also bottom highlight).
- You probably want to resize the clip. That really helps reduce the size of the file - if a file is reduced by 30% in each dimension, it'll turn out about half the size. Somewhere about 400 wide is fine. In AVIDemux, you press the 'Filters' button, then double-click on 'Resize', choose your sizes, hit 'OK' and then 'Close'.
- On the main screen, to export your file, go to File > Save > Save Video and choose your location. You should put ".mp4" on the end of the file name.
Convert to a .GIF
The good news is, the hard work is over. To complete the process, you just go to GifNinja.com, click on 'Select Files' and upload your movie file. Though remember I mentioned the five-second limit earlier? That's because this tool will only work on the first five second of your clip. It will then show your the animated GIF version, with a slider that allows you to adjust the speed - note that using slow-motion here won't make your file larger, because it actually just increases the delay between frames. You can choose from super-slo through to comically quick. Add a title, click 'Looks good, build it!' and in a short while, the next screen will give you an option to download the GIF.
From there, you can upload it to Tumblr, Facebook or the SnakePit as you desire. Here's the Montero one in question
This post is sponsored by Jack in the Box.