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Tweety Bird

Animated GIFs

A reader has asked why an animated graphic no longer moves after he's copied it to his computer. Well, since these animations are often used in email greeting cards, this might be a good time to learn how they work.

Animated Frosty the Snowman

An "animated GIF" is a series of pictures in which each successive image has something move slightly from its previous position, as has been done in the movies for decades. When a complete strip is viewed on your monitor, each successive image replaces the previous one, thus giving the illusion of, say, a snowman doffing his hat.

If you try to edit an animated GIF without the proper editing tools, you will most likely cause it to become a static image.

I won't try to explain here the complex steps involved in creating an animation, but I can tell you how to copy one into an email to ensure that its recipient sees the miniature motion picture.

First, it's important to understand that GIFs are not the same as more recent and more sophisticated animations, such as those created with "Flash." GIFs can be easily copied and pasted, while Flash movies cannot.

GIF files were designed to do their little dances on web pages or in HTML-based emails (which includes nearly all emails nowadays). If you see one you like, right-click it and choose Save Picture As (or Save Image As). The graphic's filename (such as Frosty.gif) will appear, along with a suggested location (usually your Pictures folder). When you click Save or OK, a copy of Frosty doffing his hat will be placed on your hard drive.

If you then want to put Frosty into an outgoing email, Windows Mail and Outlook Express will let you click Insert>Picture, whereupon you will browse to the file and double-click it. AOL mail has a similar option, or you can just drag the filename directly into the body of the email. Other email programs have similar "Insert" options — or you can "Attach" the graphics, using the "Paper Clip" button.

However, you may not see the graphic moving at that point. But it does move when the recipient opens the email. You can prove this by first sending the email to yourself.

Back to the reader's question — he pasted an animated GIF into Irfanview (the free image-editing program from and says that it wouldn't move. Well, some image-editors (such as Irfanview) will show GIFs in motion, while others (such as Windows Paint) will not. So what went wrong?

Well, rather than list the various wrong ways to put Frosty into Irfanview, here are some correct ways: Right-click Frosty.gif, choose Open With, and click on Irfanview from the list of image-editing programs which appear.

If you use Irfanview as your default program for opening images, as I do, then simply double-clicking Frosty.gif will do the job.

Alternatively, you can launch Irfanview, go to File>Open, and browse to the target image. Once you have a graphic displayed, you can drag a different picture's filename directly onto the existing image, whereupon the dragged image will replace it.

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