In my three-hour mini session on Optimizing PowerPoint for eLearning and Design, I discuss how to create your own eLearning characters using PowerPoint. Generally I get a few excited students who seem up to the challenge, but most students decide that it's a neat trick that they're going to go ahead and skip. I was happy to see that Tom Kuhlmann recently posted a couple of how-to videos over on the Articulate blog about how to create your own eLearning characters in PowerPoint. I was not alone in creating my own PowerPoint eLearning characters! The how-to videos are good, so I'd encourage you to go check them out. Additionally, I'd like to add some of my own tips about how I create my characters.
Start with a photo. This isn't a terribly difficult task, but you will need to ensure you won't get into any hot water with regard to copyright. Do you remember the Shepard Fairey Obama poster incident? You probably are not creating eLearning characters that will be as high profile as Fairey's Obama, but with so many ways to avoid getting into the copyright soup, why risk it? Here are some options:
- Use your own photo. In this case, you'll be using the photo to create an illustration so it doesn't even need to be particularly high quality photo. You could even use your cellphone!
- Search Google for images labeled for Commercial Use and Modification.
- Search PhotoPin for images (but be sure to specify the correct license).
- Check out the LACMA collection... or the British Library collection.
In the steps below, I'll create an eLearning character based on this image:
- Insert the photo on a PowerPoint slide as large as you can. This will help with creating details.
- Look at the photo as if it is comprised of layers. Start drawing whatever layer is furthest back. In this photo, for example, if I am leaving out the background wall, the face would be furthest back. The shirt, tie, suit, hair, and facial features would all be layered on top of that
- Don't waste time trying to guess skin tones...use a color picker instead to speed up your workflow. Yes, nearly all skin colors will vary from pixel to pixel, but pick your color from a mid-range color of the face. Remember, this is a simplified illustration, not a photo-realistic reproduction. I use Color Cop, but a simple Google search will pull up lots of suitable free options.
- Use the Curve tool to draw your shapes by tracing over the object in the photo. The Scribble tool will work as well, but will likely lead to more work, as shapes will typically be bumpier and will require more point editing.
- Don't worry about perfection--you can always go in and edit points (right-click the shape and choose Edit Points).
- Every time you draw a shape, make sure to name it on the Selection Pane. (To view the Selection Pane, select Home > Arrange > Selection Pane. To rename items on the selection pane, click to select and then click again. Naming items will help you keep them straight.)
- Remember, you are working backward starting with the shape that is furthest from you. This means that every time you draw a shape it will be covering the next shape you want to draw. This is where the Selection Pane becomes very useful. Click the eyeball next to your named item on the selection pane to hide the shape. You'll be able to see the photo again, trace your next shape, and then view the shape that was in your way again to check your progress.
- Group small details as you go. Eyes, for example, have many small details that could easily get "lost." After you have drawn all of the eye's elements, group them together to fix this.
- Speaking of small details, zoom in when working with these tiny details to give you more control and make your life easier.
- Use textured fills, gradients, transparencies, and effects where appropriate. For my example I added a textured fill (with an altered color) for the tie, a gradient effect to the nose, shapes of varying transparency to add subtle face contours, and small shadows to the shirt collar and suit lapels.
- When you're finished, select all of the shapes, group them ([Ctrl] [G]), and save the group as a picture (right-click > Save As Picture).
Here is my finished product:
It's your turn! Create your own character in PowerPoint and send it to me. It could be a self-portrait or that of a friend, colleague, or loved one. Even better--send me the original photo as well for a fun before and after. We'll feature your creations here next week.
If you love AJ's articles, you'll love her Optimizing PowerPoint Design for eLearning & Presentations mini course.