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Animation Factory PowerPoint Article Series

Filling Shapes with Photos
by Rick Altman

The Altman household enjoyed a monumental event over a recent weekend, when 12-year-old Jamie's softball team completed an undefeated season with four consecutive one-run victories to earn a hard-fought championship. We were doubly fortunate that two of the dads were accomplished amateur photographers who snapped hundreds of photos across the season. When it came time to create the post-season video, I was like the kid in the candy store.

This gave me an opportunity to expand upon a technique that I wrote about in basic form a few months ago: filling a shape with a photo. When you turn a shape into a mask, the photo that is behind it peeks through. This is easily done in any graphics or image-editing program, but can also be done in PowerPoint, where it can be integrated with animation. I chose as my shape the team's final record of 20-0, and that provided a small wrinkle, because regular text cannot be used as a mask and cannot be filled with a photo. There are three different ways to create the image in the first illustration, and each offers different creative options.

The False Background.
This uses the unheralded, almost underground, technique of assigning the photo to the background of the slide (Format > Background > Fill Effects > Picture) and then dropping a solid rectangle atop it. With the background obscured by a solid rectangle, create your shape (or in my case, Word Art). Fill the shape with the Background (Format > Colors and Lines > Color > Background). With the background visible (only) through the shape, the shape acts like a movable portal: nudge the shape around and different parts of the photo become visible. You can apply animation to the shape on top, however PowerPoint will rasterize and freeze the image at that point so it will not act like a movable portal during any animated motion.

Pour the Photo Into the Shape.
Using the Picture Fill command of the Format dialog, a photo can be filled into any shape at all, including text (as long as it is Word Art, not standard text). Once the shape is filled, it can be sized and placed anywhere on the slide. Options for positioning the photo within the shape are few (maintain aspect ratio or allow for distortion) and there is no cropping provision. However, this is the most straightforward technique for shape filling. The shape can be animated as any other shape would be.

Use a Transparent Shape.
While requiring a trip to your graphics software, this is potentially the most useful technique of all. Combine the shape or text with a large rectangle and export the combined shape as a transparent PNG file. While each program will do this differently, they are all capable of creating a bitmap in which the shape that is "knocked out" of the rectangle is transparent. Import the photo to PowerPoint and then import the transparent PNG atop it.

From here, there is a myriad of possibilities for creative animation, and the type of action you choose will influence the shape you use to create the transparent PNG. I like applying a Grow animation and a simultaneous motion path, the idea being to make the shape become so big that the entire photo behind it becomes visible. You can also create a giant pan, where the words meander across the slide, exposing different parts of the photo. This requires that you create a wide rectangle with a lot of empty space.

Download filling_shapes.ppt to see this in action and to see examples of all three of these techniques.

Rick Altman is the host of the PowerPoint Live User Conference. It covers the whole of the presentation community—message, slide design, software technique, and delivery—and limits enrollment to 250. Complete details are available at
Other PowerPoint Articles
Focus Through Blurry Photos
In Search of Non-Rectangular
The Perils of Postage Stamps
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