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Source files for generating There is a rough publishing schedule for future content. No guarantees, substitutions, exchanges, or refunds. Follow @mnfpublishing for notifications or subscribe to an Atom feed.

The GIFs are made using ffmpeg, following advide from the GIPHY engineering blog post "How to make GIFs with FFMPEG",

The output quality is improved with a global palette and dithering, using tips from "High quality GIF with FFmpeg".

Captions are added using transparent PNGs overlaid on the image, which are created on the fly by the caption script in this repository.

The file size is then reduced using gifsicle.

Specifying a GIF using TOML

Each GIF is described in TOML:

source   = 'file'
file     = 'lilo-and-stitch'
ext      = 'm4v'
start    = '1:24'
duration = '4.8'
crop     = '628:468'

add = [
list = 1
show = 1

brightness = '0.05'
colours    = '192'
denoise    = true
mode       = 'full'
max_size   = '2mb'  # or 'auto'
dither     = 'floyd_steinberg'
stabilise  = 'static'

start = '2'
end   = '3'

start = '6'
end   = '7'

text = 'What is that monstrosity?'
font = 'acherusgrotesque-black.otf'
from = '0'
to   = '2'

text = 'Monstrosity?!'
from = '3'
to   = '10'
size = '100'

[video] describes the source

  • source key has one of two values, file or youtube
  • file should be the filename without extension, as found in the videos/ directory
  • ext should be the video file's extension
  • start is the duration into the source video file where the GIF will begin
  • duration is how long the GIF should be
  • end is the duration into the source video file where the GIF should end
  • crop applies a cropping value to the video before it is converted, and crucially before any resize happens so that the output width of the GIF is not reduced

You can either end or duration, not both.

[[clip]] describes a clip taken from the source

Note the double square brackets to indicate clip is an entry in an array, supporting multiple clips in a GIF. You can combine disconnected parts of the source video into one GIF, eliminating the stuff in between. Each clip needs two keys:

  • start is the time in seconds from the start of the video
  • end is the time in seconds from the start of the video

Combining these with start in the [video] section (see above) means it is the time in seconds from that start point, not the very start of the video source.

[output] describes the GIF

  • brightness is a number between -1 (completely dark) and 1 (completely light) that will dial up or down the brightness from the source video; default is 0 (unchanged)

  • colours is the maximum number of colours to be used in the GIF, a lower number means a smaller GIF up to a point; default is 64, maximum is 256

  • denoise should be set to true to apply the hqdn3d filter (very useful for older, grainy footage, smoother video makes for smaller GIFs)

  • mode is used when creating the palette; default is diff:

    • full optimise colours for the full image
    • diff optimise colours for the differences between frames
    • single don't optimise The differences are illustrated in more detail in "High quality GIF with FFmpeg")
  • width is how wide to make the GIF in pixels; default is 480, original leaves it the same as the source

  • fps is how many frames per second to include in the GIF, a lower number means a smaller GIF but less smooth movement; default is 10 (animation-like), original leaves it the same as the source

  • loss is the amount of artifacts allowed when initially optimising the GIF's size; default is 0. Set to no to disable optimising.

  • max_size is the maximum size in bytes of the GIF, if the output is larger than this value gifsicle will be run with increasing levels of loss to shrink the file size at the expense of image quality (can be expressed in megabytes, eg 1.5mb, or as auto to calculate a maximum based on 0.45mb per second from the length of the GIF). If loss is set to no, max_size is ignored.

  • slowdown is a multiplier to make the output GIF animate slower than the source video (slo-mo). A multiplier lower than 1 will speed it up.

  • dither is how the palette colours are dithered to create the appearance of more colours:

    • bayer:bayer_scale=1 — the scale is an integer between 0 and 5
    • floyd_steinberg
    • sierra2
    • sierra2_4a
  • stabilise attempts to stabilise (deshake) the output GIF, the value is the number of frames before/after the current frame to consider for stabilisation, or the value static which tries to emulate a static camera (note that this will crop the video somewhat)

    The default is bayer:bayer_scale=4. Illustrative samples can be found in "High quality GIF with FFmpeg".

[palette] provides finer grained control over the colour palette chosen

  • add is an array of colours (in any format compatible with the Pillow ImageColor module) to add to the initial palette formed from the video source
  • list will list the RGB values for each colour used in the final palette
  • show will open the final palette PNG for inspection

[[caption]] describes the caption(s)

Note the double square brackets to indicate caption is an entry in an array, supporting multiple captions in a GIF.

  • text is the caption's text
  • font is the font to use for the caption, expected to be found in the fonts/ directory; the default is assistant-semibold.ttf
  • from the duration when the caption should start appearing in the GIF
  • to the duration when the caption should stop appearing
  • size the largest size in pixels of the text, however it will always be sized down until the text fits across the GIF (caption reports the size actually used); defaults to 40
  • margin the margin around the caption text, to stop it butting against the edge of the GIF; defaults to 10
  • colour the colour (in a format compatible with the Pillow ImageColor module) to use for the caption; default is white
  • stroke_colour the colour to use for the stroke around around the caption; default is black
  • stroke_width the width in pixels for the stroke, 0 to remove; default is 2
  • align is how to align the text (only makes sense for multi-line strings), left, center, or right; defaults to left
  • placement a string representing where the caption should appear; default is bl, acceptable values are:
    • 50,100 — 50 pixels across from the left, 100 pixels down from the top
    • -50,-100 — 50 pixels across from the right, 100 pixels up from the bottom
    • t — at the top, margin pixels down from the top
    • m — in the middle, centered vertically
    • b — at the bottom, margin pixels up from the bottom
    • l — at the left, margin pixels across from the left
    • c — in the center, centered horizontally
    • r — at the right, margin pixels across from the right
    • c,-60 — letters and numbers can be used in combination, and if only letters the comma can be omitted caption reports the x,y position actually used
  • anchor is the alignment of the text relative to the placement; default is la
  • type is the caption type set to use, described below

Caption type sets

Rather than multiple GIF configuration files all having identical settings for font, size, margin…, type sets can be used. Caption type sets are defined in the _site.toml:

align     = 'center'
font      = 'anteb-extrablack.otf'
margin    = '20'
placement = 'bc'
size      = '48'

Then a caption only needs to declare the type to have all of the type set values applied. Note, any values in the source TOML take precedence, acting as overrides to the type set.

type      = 'zim_shout'
placement = 'br'

Note on colours

If you specifically add colours in [palette], or use a caption, the output GIF will probably use more colours than specified in the [output] section. The colours of both the caption text and the outline stroke are interpolated, and up to six colours per caption added to the GIF.

As an example, creating a GIF from a video source contains no black or white elements and using a white caption with black outline, the palette used will be restricted by default to 64 colours, but black, white, and four shades of grey will be added, to a total of 70 colours. Using multiple captions of the same colour will not increase the palette, but multiple captions of different colours will.

If you have set the GIF colours to 256 and used captions, it is likely that some of the colours calculated for the palette will be overwritten with caption colours.

Making GIFs

To install pre-requisites:

# tools to make GIFs
% brew install entr ffmpeg gifsicle youtube-dl

# the python libraries to make captions
% pip install -r requirements.txt

# example Google Fonts from to use in captions;
# see the [Makefile](Makefile) for the command to get others
make google-fonts

Some GIFs use fonts such as Acherus Grotesque and Morl Rounded which are not freely available.

To run the tests (currently only fully works on macOS, with the right video and font file in place; see workflow for more information):

# honestly, don't bother unless you're changing the code
% make test

To make the GIFs:

# fetch youtube videos, issue reminders about other sources
% ./script/get_videos

# create GIFs
% make

# create GIFs with FFmpeg debugging output
% GIF_DEBUG=y make

To add a new GIF, use the new script:

% ./script/new airplane/surely-you-cant-be-serious

It will create a new configuration from either a context-specific template (in this example, it would look for source/airplane/new), or the default template (stored in source/new), and open it in Sublime Text.

Once it has been edited for rough timings, captions, etc. closing the file makes the GIF and opens it in Safari for previewing. The file is reopened in Sublime Text and a loop now commences; as changes are saved to the file the GIF will be automatically remade. During this loop, pressing:

  • G will run make gifwrapped — to send any new GIFs to the right location in Dropbox for GIFwrapped to pick them up for on-device previewing
  • I will show (in Sublime Text) a bunch of info about the built GIF
  • L will mark the output with a line — useful when comparing runs with different settings for output sizes, for example
  • P will open the GIF in Preview — to be able to step through it frame by frame, useful for getting caption/cut timings right
  • Return will output a blank line
  • ^L will clear the screen
  • ? will output a reminder of the keys available
  • Q will quit the loop and exit

To add the GIF to the site for right now, update the published date and push it to GitHub:

% ./script/now airplane/surely-you-cant-be-serious
% git add source/airplane/surely-you-cant-be-serious*
% git commit -m'Add GIF'
% git push origin main

Otherwise, schedule it for the future and commit at your leisure.

Scheduling GIFs

To schedule a post on a given day without the need for human interaction, set the published date to 7am UTC on a given future day.

The site configuration is set to ignore GIFs with a published date in the future. A GitHub workflow is set to rebuild the site daily, and runs after 7am (so there will be a short delay between 7am and the content appearing on the site, I'm not bothered).

Rescheduling GIFs

To reschedule some subset of GIFs for a new date (most typically to push publishing by days/weeks as something new is inserted into the schedule), use the push script:

# push anything in wargames/ by one week
./script/push wargames '1 week'

This will only affect the schedule for future GIFs, anything already published will be left alone.

Listing the scheduled GIFs

To list what is scheduled, there is a next script in the repo.

# find the next day with no morning GIF scheduled
# (afternoon GIFs are considered secondary content);
# also shows a count and breakdown of what is unscheduled

# list the next day with no morning GIF scheduled, the first day that
# would have no scheduled GIF if any as-yet unscheduled GIFs were used
# to fill in the gaps, and a count and breakdown of what is unscheduled
./script/next filling

# show what is scheduled in the next 60 days
./script/next 60

# show what is scheduled in the next 90 days, 
# visually highlighting the start of the week
./script/next 90 high

# show what is scheduled on Wednesdays in the next 30 days (30 is default)
./script/next wed

# coming on weekends in the next year
./script/next 365 sat sun

# show what is scheduled in the morning for the next 30 days
./script/next am

# show what is scheduled in the afternoon on weekends for the next 90 days
./script/next 90 sat sun pm

# show only days with no scheduled content in the next 90 days
./script/next 90 empty

# show only days with scheduled content in the next 90 days
./script/next 90 full