The GIF 89a format enables you to include multiple images, or frames, in a single GIF image to create a GIF animation. You can't create or view a GIF animation, however, in an image editor. To create and preview a GIF animation, you need a GIF animation editor. You can also, of course, view the result in your browser. A GIF animation is inserted in your page just like a regular inline image: <img src="myanim.gif" width="150" height="250" alt="Animated doohickey">, for instance.
You don't have to create your own GIF animations just to be able to add them to your site. Here are some places on the Web where you can find GIF animations that you can download and use:
Animation Library at www.animationlibrary.com/.
Animation Factory at www.eclipsed.com/.
Animated Gif Artists Guild at www.agag.com/. Includes a gallery of animations created by AGAG members.
Mike Shaikun's Animated Gif Collection at www.gifs.net/animate/animate.htm.
There are lots and lots of GIF animations available on the Web. Be aware, however, that many supposedly free GIF animations may actually be copyrighted. If you're putting up a personal site, the worst that would happen is that the owner of the copyright might ask (or demand) that you remove their animation from your site. If you run a business, however, your legal exposure could be much greater (you could get sued, in other words). If you run a business, stick to using only GIF animations that you or your employee created. For information on creating your own GIF animations, see the following section.
To create your GIF animations, you need a GIF animation editor. GIF animation editors are available either as standalone programs or bundled with some image editors. Here are some GIF animation editors that are available:
Jasc Animation Shop 3 at www.jasc.com/ (Windows). Animations Shop is bundled free with Paint Shop Pro 8 ($99) or can be purchased as a standalone program ($35).
GIF Construction Set Professional 2.0 by Alchemy Mindworks at www.mindworkshop.com/alchemy/gifcon.html (Windows). A shareware application that includes an easy to use animation wizard ($20 to register).
CoffeeCup GIF Animator at www.coffeecup.com/gif-animator/ (Windows). Evaluation version available for download ($30 to register).
VSE Animation Maker at www.vse-online.com/animation-maker/ (Macintosh). A shareware GIF animator for the Mac ($19.95 to register).
WebPainter at www.totallyhip.com/lo/products/wp/ (Windows and Macintosh). This is a full-feature image editor that can also create animated GIFs ($89.95).
Creating your own GIF animations isn't difficult, so you shouldn't necessarily shy away from doing this, especially if you want to add unique dynamic content to your pages that can't be found anywhere else. The more adept you are at creating your own graphics, of course, the more professional your results will look, because the frames included in GIF animations are just regular images. Besides letting you include multiple image frames in a GIF image, GIF animation editors can also let you add transition effects, manipulate color palettes, and more.
Many GIF animation editors include animation wizards that walk you through creating an animation. For instance, to use Jasc Animation Shop's animation wizard, run the program, and select File, Animation Wizard. You will be prompted for the frame rate of your animation, the images you want to use for the animation frames, and other settings for your animation. Once you've created your animation, you can preview it in Animation Shop by selecting View, Animation (see Figure D.2).