Thursday, April 19, 2012

Animated Vs Static Caps

Not a question or a cap, just a conversation!

If you haven't kept up, I recently made a cap for it12707 over at the Haven called "Dream a little Dream".  I did this because it12707 had gotten a lot of attention lately.  He is making animated gif caps, and unlike a lot of previous animated gif caps, his stories are well told.  But something wonderful came out of the post here... a conversation.

When I post (especially a cap), I generally will get between 0 and 3 comments.  And most of these are comments on the cap itself.  I love receiving comments about a cap, but I've often been jealous of other blogs that really get a conversation going.   I've had a few posts like that, but they are generally from a Question post.   This time it12702 wrote a 754 word reply (compare that to my 694 word post!).  We went back and forth in what it12707 referred to as a 'circle jerk' of complimenting each other (which brought to mind feeling a woman's breasts pressing into my back while her delicate hand reaches around stroking my manhood.  At the same time I'm pressing my breasts (I have breasts!?) into another gurls back as my own dainty hand strokes here.... o.k... getting to hot thinking about that).

One part of the conversation was talking about the design limitation of animated gif caps.  It was brought up that his caps include the animation and black text over a white background.  It's still a good cap, but design wise it's rather dull.

Before I get to far into the discussion, I want to talk a bit about gif vs jpg.  If you know about the inherent differences, you can skip below to the big pink text 'YOU CAN CATCH UP HERE'.  Now most caps you see are jpgs.  That's because jpgs can display quite litterally millions of colors.  When you want to compress a jpg the 'loss factor' is a bluring of the fine lines, and a jpg artifact.   Here are several jpgs, some at very high quality, some at very low quality  (All the examples I'm using are done in Photoshop using the 'Save for Web' option.  Other programs will vary in quality, but the differences will remain about the same):

1000x500 - jpg 100% quality - 185 KB

1000x500 - jpg 10% quality - 26.1 KB

1000x500 - jpg 100% quality - 37.2 KB

1000x500 - jpg 10% quality - 4.54 KB

600x901 - jpg 100% quality -  259 KB

600x901 - jpg 10% quality - 31.1 KB

Without even zooming in on the images, you should quickly see how drastic the file size differences are.  But that file savings comes at the price of image quality.  In the first set of images you can see the difference the best above the 'Captions by' and under the 'Masks', but you'll also notice a difference in the woman's mask. The low quality jpg just looks a little 'fuzzy'.  The second set of images shows the difference a little more, as it can't handle the smooth gradation.  And the last set... well its harder to see the difference as jpg quality shows itself the most on solid colors, but its still fuzzy in some areas. 

Gifs on the other hand are quite different.  gifs can only go up to 256 colors.  The 'quality' difference comes from how many colors you use.  Here are the same images in gif form:

 1000x500 - gif 256 colors - 168 KB

 1000x500 - gif 8 colors - 43.3 KB

 1000x500 - gif 256 colors - 179 KB

1000x500 - gif 8 colors  46.6 KB

 600x901 - gif 256 colors - 293 KB

600x901 - gif 8 colors - 66.9 KB

As you can see, the 'high quality' gifs are more similar to the low quality jpgs in how they look, without the file size savings.  The low quality versions... well...  they just don't work.  The two 'photographic' versions are more or less broke, while the gradation has really lost its effect.   

So why would you ever use gifs?  Well for photos, there isn't a good reason to.  But for 'line art', there is a huge reason why:

 457x828 - jpg 100% quality - 78.2 KB

 457x828 - jpg 10% quality - 12.3 KB

 457x828 - gif 256 colors - 24.6 KB

457x828 - gif 8 colors - 10.4 KB

You can see that the high quality jpg looks good, but the low quality one is a little fuzzy on the edges.  Whereas the gif versions are practically identical.  You would have to zoom in very far to see the pixel to pixel differences between the two.  So at a smaller file size, a gif can looks better than a jpg.  This has always been the primary uses of these file types.   jpgs were used for photo style images with many colors, while gifs were for line art using very few colors.   When they are used in their catergories, they provide a higher quality image at a lower file size.  

And just so you can understand how I use this in my caps, I save most of my images at 100% quality.   But I (for the most part) follow the Haven's guidelines for images.  And their guidelines have a cap at 1000 KB.  So if my image is over that file size, I reduce the quality of the jpg down (generally between 85% and 95%, depending on how much file size savings I need).  I don't ever use gifs as my caps are all photo realistic in style.  

But gifs have a couple features, that jpgs don't have.  The first is transperency.  It allows one of the colors used to be transparent.  This doesn't mean just a lack of color (or white), it means that you can see through it to whatever color lies beneath it:

In the image above, I didn't color in the eyes or lips, I simply made those area's transparent, letting you see the background through it.  If my background was red, they would be red.  If it was blue, they would be blue.  All without making new images.  This is a feature that jpgs can't do.  To get a simlar effect, I would have to color in those areas and hope that it matched the background I was placing it over. 

The other feature that gifs have is the ability to be an animation.  gifs don't have to be a single frame, they can be as many as you want.  The title image of this post is an example of that.  Its not a flash or movie file (which requires extra software to run), its just a gif.   

One thing to consider though while making an animation is file size.  More or less, each frame is it's normal file size.  So where the 8 color gif above is about 10 KB, if I animated it into 4 frames, it would be come 40 KB.  There is actually quite a lot that goes into the file size, but suffice it to say that animations gain a lot in files size for each frame added.  And understand, I'm taking about frames, not length.  A single frame of animation can last as long as you want... so 4 frames can be one second, or one minute, and the file size wouldn't change.  


So with that information, you can see the inherent problems with animated caps.  Here are a few examples of a cap made by it12707 to show the difference:

584x617 - jpg 100% quality - 396 KB

584x617 - gif 256 colors - 2.01 MB

Yes, you see that right... its just over 2 MEGAbytes.  Not Kilobytes... MEGA.  As is, this more than doubles the file size restraints on the Haven (to be honest I'm not sure if they upped the file size limit, or it12707 got special permission to put this up).  The file is 106 frames long.  I'm sure you can see that 106 frames doesn't get you much video, and still gives you a relatively huge file size.  

To compare, my 'smaller' caps are around 800x800 and come in at about 500 KB.   That's about 20% larger by dimension, and 75% smaller by file size.  So to demonstrate what some of the extra design elements I use would do to this cap, I went ahead and made a version of it (And just in case you are thinking it, I did ask it12707 permission to show his images and post my version of it):

800x948 - gif 256 colors - 2.92 MB

To make this version I made the animation a little bigger, added a drop shadow behind it, added a title with a drop shadow, added a gradation background, and colored the text.  I also increased the dimensions so that I could use a different, and slightly larger font.  And I increased the file size by almost 50%.  

A quick word about the 'speed' of the animation.  I don't work with animated gifs all that often, so I don't have an eye for matching speed.  The program I use (Photoshop) is good as it will give me increments as low as 1/100th of a second.  But it also just chugs when I ask it to save an animation like this.  I have 32 GB of memory and I normally let Photoshop use about half of it (17 GB).  That way when I run it, it doesn't make my entire system run slow.  But with that memory usage, Photoshop crashed three times while trying to save this file.  I had to up the memory usage to 28 GB just to save it (and while I had Photoshop open and saving this file, iTunes and Goggle Chrome crashed).  Obviously Photoshop can do this, but it's not the program of choice.  

Another issue that I have with animated caps is that with the 256 color limit, most 'video' animations look grainy (whereas this drawn animation looks good).  Look at the image I used at the top of this cap.  It's grainy.  And there isn't anything I can do to make it look smooth (by the way, a big thank you to Jennifer for sending me that animation!)

Now Dee and I often complain about seeing caps with black text on a white background.  It is visually dull at best, and unappealing at worst.  I think Dee summed it up best in a comment:

"My real complaint about black text on white background is that its 2012, and MS Paint is so 1997. I can understand back in 2006-2008 that people didn't want to pay for a program, but at this point in time, there are some incredible free programs that work just as well as photoshop, and with less of a learning curve."

I firmly stand behind her in this statement, when it comes to static image caps.  Yes, it does take a bit longer to add some color and design elements, and it does come with an increased file size.  But the increase in file size is negligible.  You may move from 396 KB to 596 KB, but that is still far below the file size goal of 1000 KB.  The positive side is that your cap is more visually appealing, and grabs the attention of your viewer.  You can match the colors to fit the mood of the cap and enhance it.  A dark story of submission and humiliation can be full of dark blacks and reds that mimic the blush on the cheek of the new slave.  A light hearted fun story of two new girls tickling each others bodies can be full of pastel yellows and pinks, mimicking the giggles coming from each other.  

But that is all true under 1000 KB.  As this animated cap shows, you are already starting out at a large file size, and anything you can do to limit the file size will help you add in more frames.  I could have made my version of the cap closer to the 2MB file size of it12707's version by using less frames.  But the animation would either be shorter (if I just cut off the beginning or end of the animation) or choppy (if I took out every other frame).  

And the time consideration isn't something to scoff at, considering how much time is already poured into making the animation right.  To make a title graphic for a post like this, I'll generally find an image that matches what I'm talking about (but in a sexy blow job kind of way), crop it down to size, take all the color out, and add in some pink tones, then pull over the text and text box from a previous title image.  Change the text to match the new image and save.  It takes me about 10 minutes (depending on how long it takes me to find the right image) and they come in around 300-500 KB.  But making this title image took me about 45 minutes. And is just under 2MB.

I didn't have to search for the image, as I already had this image on my drive.  I pulled it into Photoshop and cropped it down to size (my title images all start at 900x750).  I took the color out... of the first frame.  I then had to repeat that action on all 34 frames.  Doing so 'broke' the animation so I had to remake it by selecting the layer that I wanted to show for each frame.  I started to color the girl's lips pink, but realized that it would take about 5 minutes to do so.  And then I'd have to repeat that 33 times.  I love coloring in a girls lips for my title images, but I wasn't going to spend almost 3 hours doing it.  It's not something that can be copied form frame to frame, it has to be done individually to each frame.  So I moved on and pulled over the text and text box from a previous title image.  I had to move it around to get it lined up... and then had to repeat it on all the frames.  I changed the text, and thankfully that change affected all the frames equally.  So I go to save... and in a 256 color gif, it was going to be about 11 MB.  Ouch.  I knew it would be bigger, but I just couldn't see people waiting around (and even with a high speed connection you WOULD wait for 11 MB!) for it to load.  So I reduced the image size to what actually shows up here on the blog.  400x333, and it saved at just under 2 MB.  

So by adding an animation to something I do often and easily increased my time investment by almost 5 times.  And while the result is cool (I really do keep scrolling up to look at it!), it isn't the quality that I want.  

Now you might wonder why I don't just make all of my title images at 400x333.  They would save bandwidth, and time.  But at 300 KB, I really don't care.  I started with the title images at 900x750 for some reason, and just never changed.  But 11 MB to 2 MB is an easy decision.  

So for my 2 cents, I can stand behind it12707s choice for limiting the color and design issues.  We both have 'wow' factors when it comes to our writing, but when we present our caps, my visual 'wow' factor comes from the design features, while it12707's visual 'wow' factor comes from the animation. 

For those that didn't understand how animated caps work, or why they were so different than static cap file sizes, I hope you have a better understanding now.  And for those that did understand the differences, but still wondered why animated caps were generally just an animation with black text on a white background, I hope you can better appreciate the effort that goes into making the cap.  


  1. Its a hell of a lot of work, and I praise it12707 for making as many of these as he has. Hard to believe that formatting can increase something like that so much. I almost think back to an old Dilbert comic where they convince the boss to go with san-serif fonts because it saves disk space! It was a joke there, but it can make a difference.

    Glad you'll stand by my comment, since I did mean "non animated GIF" when refering to the old black text on white background. I hope that it12707 does make some non-moving captions, since I can sense that he has many stories to tell, and not all of them will likely have an animation that coincides with it. That and he'd have more time to make them!

    I feel like a bit of a jerk, cuz in reading that whole long piece, my main thought was, "bastard has 32 GIGS of RAM!" I can't wait to build a new computer, though I'll probably start at 16 gig and then buy more when I can afford it. I have a system I built in 2008 which works fine enough (core 2 duo e8400 overclocked on air to 3.8 ghz) but I want to build something with a SSD boot drive and a i7 2600k processor (which can be OC'ed to 4.8 on air apparently!)

    1. I agree.. I now have more respect for people that use animations like that. it12707 earned my respect by the story writing, but I'll be less apt to think badly of anyone that puts the effort in just to work with an animation!

      About the computer. You can think anything you want. I build a new system in early 2010. A couple months later I was getting a lot of errors out of it, and as I spent all the money I could on it, I couldn't just replace everything. So piece by piece I slowly worked around and by mid 2011 I had another 'new' system. Every time I replaced a part, I was sure it was the bad one. It turns out that the video card, one stick of RAM AND the power supply all had issues. It just took me that long to replace all three (along with the processor, motherboard, wiring, DVD drive, hard drive and case). Since all the RAM wasn't bad, I kept what I could. Along with the new RAM it brought me up to 32 GB. I would have been happy with 16 (I was coming from 8), but I'm not going to turn my nose up to the extra!

    2. Eek! I would venture that the power supply was the original culprit and it took out the other pieces.

      Its why I'll tell people that if they buy a "store bought" computer tower, the first thing they should upgrade is their power supply. I've seen eMachine computers that had a 250 power supply, and most Dell, HP, etc ... max out at 350-400 watts.

      The ironic thing is that the things you SHOULD skimp on, and always upgrade later, are things like hard drives, processors, and RAM .. yet those are things that most people target when purchasing a new computer. The power supply, mobo, and video card in that order (in my opinion) should not be skimped, and you should get the best at a decent price range. Cooling is another thing to make sure you have something good, but there are many cheap, top-flight options available.

      The reason I never upgraded my RAM was its all DDR2, so I only bumped it up from 4 to 8 when I upgraded to win 64 ultimate.

    3. I had an awesome PS, so I admit that I doubted that. And while I don't remember every single tech step I took, I took a lot. But yes, I believe that I had a 'flaky' PS. It tested fine at one point, but later tested bad. It could have easily caused all the problems. Since it was one of the first pieces that tested good, it was one of the last to be tested again.

  2. Thank you so much Caitlyn. I never really understood the difference between GIF and jpg before aside from a vague sense that jpg was better. I always love reading about how you create and design your captions. I wish I had something to contribute to the conversation, but I have just enough skill with GIMP to make a caption and practically no talent for design.

    As a side note, even though its grainy Im having a hard time keeping my eyes off the title animation

  3. I've seen the attention the animated gifs have gotten at the haven and while I haven't read them, I've been meaning to. A big part of the reason I haven't is the very thing you point out: The giant wall of text makes me turn elsewhere. I just feel there is a point when a caption is no longer a caption and it should simply be posted to places like Fictionmania or the Haven Library as a Story with images.

    This doesn't mean I don't appreciate what's being done. I think it12707 has done something creative and few can do.

    I want to get back to the circle jerk comment. I've had that feeling for a while now. While I don't dislike positive comments, I wouldn't mind seeing more constructive criticism as well as a desire to learn and be better and making captions. As a creator, sometimes I do just want someone to say "good job!" while there are many times I want someone to really tell me why they like or don't like something. I usually turn to my fellow creators when I want that kind of feedback.

  4. There is another alternative, though a lot less compatible. The PNG format has the option to be animated, and it can be done so that only the moving parts between each frame are encoded in the file. I did a couple samples of it as an experiment on my blog a good while back.

    The major downside of animated PNG is that the resulting files only move in the Firefox and Opera browsers. IE, Chrome, and others only show the first frame.

    1. Ah yes... PNG. To be honest, I've never really known a lot about PNG. I know some people will swear by it, but much like a new computer part that I don't know how it works, I'll tend to avoid it and stay with what I know. Like here... I didn't know that PNG files could be animated.

  5. Go SSD once you do try it you will never go black. I've been on SSD for a year now and a 12 second boot up is priceless because my time is oh so precious! ;-) I mean, I could be clicking away to one more cap!

    As for black text on white backgrounds, I think sure it is old and somewhat crappy but that while some people are willing to spend time to perfect something, others are in to make something easy and be done with it. There are a lot of people making caps and some are good others not so good. It is just the way the world is. If you want to make something good you will take the time to do it like Caitlyn who is a crazy about her work and it shows but.... if you are happy with simple text that is ok too. It is just a caption.

    1. SSD is great, and eventually I will have one. But in my last round of computer problems, I didn't want to drop a lot of money on a small drive. The Hard drive I was buying needed to be able to be my ONLY drive. So SSD just wasn't in the cards.