I'm going to teach you how to modify an existing picture and make it an animated GIF. I'm using Paint Shop Pro and Animation Shop to do this so if you are not using these then you will have to find the equivalent tools with the software you have.
For the sake of familiarity we'll used Staypuff's avatar as the original picture.
To me the monkeys in the picture look like they are laughing so I'm going to animate that laughter. To be more specific I'm going to have he monkey's eyes close then the two heads will bob up and down in simulated laughter then open their eyes at they end before repeating that same sequence continuously.OUTLINE OF PROCEDURE
1) Isolate the individual pieces that are going to be animated.
2) Extend any part of the picture that will be revealed as pieces move.
3) Add the missing parts of the moving pieces that are not present but need to be there once animated.
4) Create additional layers in the main picture to receive the moving parts.
5) Create individual frames by moving the pieces small steps in the planned animation and saving those steps as separate files.
6) Import those steps into Animation Shop and arrange and animate the pictures.
Here are the locations for some of the tools we will be using.#1 Isolation
Using the "Freehand Selection" tool trace around the left head. Once traced press "CTRL-C" to copy the head and then press "CTRL-V" to paste it as a new image. In the new image you may have to use the "Eraser" tool to eliminate any non-head features.
Repeat this step for the right head and each of the four eyes.#2 Extending
Since the heads are going to be bobbing up and down the yellow and white background needs to be extended so that when the heads are in the down position there will be a seamless background behind. In the original picture use the "Clone" tool and Right-Click on an area of the yellow background to set where it's going to be cloning. Now Left-Click over top of the heads as shown. It will take some experimenting to get the desired result. The head pieces will be covering the parts that remain so this is enough for this situation.#3 Adding
The right head will need the rest of it's head when in the down position. To do this go to the copied head picture you created earlier. Currently we don't have room to do what we want so we need to increase the canvas size. Go to the "Image" menu and select canvas size. A dialog box will appear that shows the original image size. You can then enter a larger canvas size in the middle section of this dialog. We don't need that much so we'll make the new canvas size 60x60 pixels.
Now that we have room to add the missing information use a combination of the "Push" and "Clone" tools to complete the top of the head. An alternative could be to copy the top of the left head and paste it on the right head but that too would require extra work to make it look natural. You'll need to use some artistic skills to make the added parts look matched. If you need help on this I'll elaborate further in this post.
Also to have both of the monkey's eyes closed while bobbing copy and paste the closed set of eyes over top of the closed set of eyes of the right head picture you created.#4 Create Layers
In the original picture go to the "Layers" menu and select "New Raster Layer". You can name the layer if you want to keep things organized. I named it "Left Head". The default settings are what we want so just click okay. Now that we have a new layer in the "Layers View" make sure that new layer is selected (highlighted). Now go to the picture of the left head that you created and copy it "CTRL-C" and paste it into the new layer using "CTRL-E". Move the head so that it covers the same spot as the original postion of that head. (Note: "CTRL-V" pastes as a new image while "CTRL-E" pastes into the current image)
New Layer Dialog and the Layers View Panel.
Now create a layer for the Right Head and copy the right head into that layer and postition it where it originally was.
For the eyes we are going to do something different. Create a new layer for the open eyes and name it "Open Eyes" and copy and paste the open set of eyes over top of both the left and right heads so that it looks like their eyes are open.#5 Create Frames
The plan was to have the eyes close first then have the heads bob up and down then have the eyes open. The nice thing about this process is if two or more frames of animation are the same you only have to create it
once. We just have to make copies of that frame once we are using Animation Shop. So even though the whole animation will be 23 frames we only need to create 7 of those frames for this particular animation.
Here are what the 7 frames will look like.
For the next step of saving frames the way I do it is to have a separate directory for nothing but the frames. Also I name the frames with numbers so I don't have to guess what order the frames are in afterward. An example would be "Staypuff001.bmp" or simply "001.bmp". I use leading zeros due to the fact that if you have more than 9 frames "10.bmp" will come before "2.bmp" when sorted. So by adding the leading zeros "010.bmp" will properly come after "002.bmp" when sorted.Frame 1
If you haven't already guessed it frame #1 is finished! All that is need is to save that frame. Go to the "File" menu and select "Save Copy As" and save it as "001.bmp" in a separate directory. Since the current picture we are using is a Paint Shop Pro file it will tell you that saving as a bitmap will lose information upon saving. This is okay since we won't need the layers information when we are done so just click okay.Frame 2
For this frame we are going to have the eyes half closed. To do this select the "Open Eyes" layer. To create the illusion of a half closed eye decrease the opacity of this layer to 50%. Right Click the "Open Eyes" layer and then select "Properties". The same dialog box that you used to create the layer pops up. Enter 50 into the "Opacity" field and click OK.
Save this frame as "002.bmp"Frame 3
For this frame adjust the opacity to zero and save as "003.bmp"Frame 4
Now that the eyes are closed we will animate the head movements. Select the "Left Head" layer. Now select the "Pick" tool. A box with nodes will appear around the head. Move the cursor over the middle node. The cursor should change into a four way arrow. Now move the head down one step. For this example it's only about 2 or 3 pixels.
Now select the "Right Head" layer and repeat the last step for this head.
Save this frame as "004.bmp"Frames 5, 6 and 7
Same as the last frame but one more step down for each of the remain 3 frames. Save as "005.bmp", "006.bmp" and "007.bmp"
One last step is to find out the width and height of the frames for later use. Click on the "Image" menu and select "Image Information" to find out the dimensions.
We are now done with Paint Shop Pro. To be on the safe side save all the individual pieces just in case you want to make changes later on.#6 Importing Frames
All the heavy work is done. Now all we have to do is arrange the frames in the desired order, adjust the timing and save as an animated GIF!
Open Animation Shop.
Go to "File" and select "New". A dialog box will come up that has options for the frame dimensions and the background colour. Use the width and height of the frames that we just created and click OK.
We now have an animation with one blank frame. To add frames Right-Click any part of the animation window and select "Insert frames" > "From File". Navigate to where you stored your frames and select all 7 of the frames. For some reason the last frame will always be listed first after selection. Luckily they have the Move UP and Move Down buttons so that you can rearrange the order of the frames before importing. Do so now and then click OK.
Now delete the blank frame (8th). Left-Click on that frame to highlight it and then Right-Click it and select "Cut" to remove the blank frame.
Now we have seven frames of animation imported. To finish off the rest of the animation all we need to do is copy and paste some repeating frames and adjust the timing of the animation.
To recap what we want the animation to do is to close the monkey's eyes then bob their heads up and down three times and then repeat the process.
So far we have the eyes closing and the head moving down. To get the head to move back up we are going to copy frames 6 and 5 in that order and paste it to the end. To do this Right-Click frame 6 and select "Copy" now Right-Click frame 7 and select "Paste" > "After Current Frame".
Repeat this for frame 5.
Now to get the head to go down and up again we can simply copy a range of frames since we have a down and up section already setup. Click on frame 5 and hold down the Shift key now click on frame 10 to highlight that range of frames. Right-Click those frames and copy and paste like we did in the previous step.
Paste the same range of frames to the end one more time so that our animation has three down/up motions.
Now we need to open the eyes. Simply copy frame 2 to the end of the animation.
We now have all the frames in the order we want. All that's left is to adjust the timing of the frames so that they mimic the way we would expect a laugh would be. For this animation that requires a medium paced eye closing and openning and a faster tempo head bob.
To change the timing of frames Right-Click a frame and select "Frame Properties". A dialog box will pop up and will have a "Display Time" setting in 1/100ths of a second.
For the first frame where the eyes are fully open set the time to 20. This will give the animation a slight pause between cycles.
For frames 2, 3 and 23 by default it should be set to 10 but if not you can set it now.
For the remaining frames set the Display Time to 2.
We are now finished the animation process all we have to do now is save our work. Go to "File" and select "Save". There will be quality settings you can adjust if you want but for now just click all the "Next"s.
Here is the final animation.
There are several more techniques that I use for different animation effects that I didn't cover here. An example would be my avatar where all I used was the Warp tool to get Joe Satriani to play the guitar.
If you have any ideas for an animated gif but can't figure out how to animate it just let me know and I'll add more to this post.