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InDesign Basics: Your First Animation

Back in InDesign CS5, Adobe added a very cool Animation panel to InDesign that allowed users to animate content on a page. Unfortunately the timing of this feature was not so great due to the fact that InDesign could only output these animations to Adobe Flash in the form of a .SWF file. So for several years and versions, the Animation panel sat within Adobe InDesign gathering dust. But when Adobe released InDesign CC 2014, they breathed new life into the Animation panel when they added the ability to output layouts to the Fixed-Layout EPUB format, and again in CC 2015 with the introduction of Publish Online. Yet surprisingly, many users have never ventured into the Animation panel, and therefore may be totally unaware that it exists. So let’s take a look at how to use this powerful panel that allows you to create compelling interactive projects with InDesign.

Setting up a document for Animation

You can add animations to any InDesign document, but I typically encourage users to use the Web or Mobile profile when creating a new document. This helps in a couple of ways. First, these profiles provide common web and mobile page sizes. Secondly, these profiles set the default unit of measurement to pixels and the default color mode to RGB (both of which are more helpful for web, mobile, and desktop applications).

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Design as Usual

Enjoy the freedom of being able to design as you always do. With animations, your output medium is very tolerant. Don’t bog yourself down with production requirements, but do stick to your brand guidelines if required. For my example, I started with a foundation for a holiday card that I like to send out to clients. I’ve drawn some basic shapes from scratch, but you could also take advantage of Adobe Stock to bring in some stock artwork.

Animating Content

You can animate virtually anything that you can create or place on an InDesign page. I’m going to begin by setting some text in InDesign that I’d like to animate onto the page. With the text frame selected, open the Animation panel by choosing Window > Interactive > Animation. Click on the Preset drop-down menu to see a list of available animation presets to apply to the selected object (in this case a text frame).

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I just want a subtle animation for this text frame, so I chose Fade In from the Preset drop-down menu. You’ll notice a short generic preview displayed at the top of the Animation panel showing you what the chosen animation will look like. You can move your cursor over that area to see the generic preview again.

Previewing the Animation

The preview that appears at the top of the Animation panel is only marginally helpful, since it doesn’t show you what your content looks like when it’s animated. There’s a much better way to visualize how your content will appear in its final form aside from exporting your file to the intended format. This is accomplished using the EPUB Interactivity Preview panel. Open this panel by choosing Window > Interactive > EPUB Interactivity Preview. Click the Play button in the lower-left corner of the panel to preview the animation in your document. You can resize this panel to a fairly large size to clearly see how content is animating in your document. I like to dock my panel for easy access, and easy closing of the panel when I’m finished previewing the document.

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Note that there are two buttons in the lower-right corner of the EPUB Interactivity Preview panel. The button on the left is Set Preview Spread Mode which is useful for previewing one page of at a time. If you need to preview the interaction between pages in a document (as with navigation buttons), enable the button on the right which is Set Preview Document Mode.

Adjusting the Animation

When you first choose a preset for your animation, that’s just the starting point. You’re not stuck with the properties defined by the preset. All of the values are displayed throughout the Animation panel and can be tweaked and adjusted as needed. For example, I feel like the default Fade In preset appears too quickly. To adjust this, change the value for the duration of the animation in the Animation panel.

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Don’t think that just because you used the “Fade In” preset, that that is all you can do to the selected object. All of the other values in the Animation panel—including rotate, scale, speed, and opacity—can also be adjusted and applied to the selected object. Explore and experiment with these values to achieve any number of interesting results.

Think Outside of the Box

Forgive me for using that cliché here, but you can achieve some really creative and powerful animation effects if you just think beyond the options that are available in the Preset drop-down menu. For example, to finish up this project, I added some snowflake artwork to the page and now say I want the snowflakes to move from top to bottom as if they were falling from the sky. Looking in the Preset drop-down menu, there is no Move Down option. There’s a Move Left and Move Right option though. So I chose Move Left, then using the Direct Selection tool, I grabbed the anchor point of the green motion path and dragged it to change the movement to go from the top to the bottom.

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Final Output

So how do you distribute this file? The Adobe Fixed-Layout EPUB format (FXL) supports all of the animation that you can add in InDesign. One challenge you may face is that double clicking on an FXL file may not launch the appropriate application to view the file. iBooks on the Mac OS platform works perfectly, but Windows computers don’t have a default EPUB reader that will render Fixed-Layout EPUB files. It’s easy enough to download one though. The Readium extension for Google Chrome works well, as does the Adobe Digital Editions application. For a fairly foolproof method, take advantage of the Publish Online feature in Adobe InDesign. Publish Online can be found by choosing File > Publish Online or by clicking on the Publish Online button in the Application Bar. This feature uploads your project to the web (and an Adobe-hosted site) where it can be accessed from any web browser using the automatically generated URL. If you’d like to see project that was built in this article, check it out here.

Chad Chelius

Chad Chelius

Chad is an Adobe Certified Instructor, Author, and Consultant in the Philly area and works with clients to improve their creative workflows using Adobe products. He's also the author of several courses on Lynda.com including his latest course "Creating an InDesign Booklet using XML." He specializes in PDF accessibility using Adobe InDesign and is a regular speaker at The InDesign Conference and PePcon.
Chad Chelius

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4 Comments on “InDesign Basics: Your First Animation

  1. I feel like an idiot. I didn’t even know you could animate in InDesign. I was considering making an animation a few weeks back and was looking at some of Adobe’s animation-focused tools to do a simple animation that InDesign, a program I am very familiar with (or so I thought) can obviously handle it easily.

    Thank you for this heads up from a designer who, perhaps, has been too glued to her routine :)

  2. Happy to enlighten you Tana! Just keep in mind that currently you can only output animations to Fixed-Layout EPUB and Publish Online. You can also have a look at In5 (ajarproductions.com) which can output animations to HTML5. There’s tons of options! Enjoy!

  3. I am a graphic artist an i’ve done more in layouting using indesign for offset printing. I don’t know about e-pub, please provide me a tutorial if it is okay for you for me to have knowledge in e-publication. Thank you! & More Power!

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