Tovi Grossman, Fanny Chevalier & Rubaiat Habib. (2015).
Your Paper is Dead! Bringing Life to Research Articles with Animated Figures
2015 Conference Proceedings:
ACM Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
While PDFs support the broad use of videos and interactive Flash objects, special care must be taken in the integration of such formats within a scholarly research article. In particular, there should be minimal disruption to the typical reading experience. This means a reader should not be burdened with complex UI controls. Equally important, readers should not be distracted by the animation when reading text. As such we propose the use of animated figures:
Definition (Animated Figure):
A short autonomous and continuously looping video that enhances what would otherwise be a static figure or set of figures.
In some cases, playback for animated figures can be automatic, meaning the animation will play by default when the PDF is opened. This is appropriate for animations that have subtle motion. For animations with more noticeable motion, playback should be manual, allowing the reader to start and stop the playback on-demand, to avoid distraction when reading close-by text. The following steps outline the process used to create a PDF with an animated figure.
The video can be created in any format. Appropriate steps should be taken to make the loop from the end to the start of the video as seamless as possible – in a best case scenario the first and last frame are identical. Otherwise, the video can be edited so that there is a short (0.5s) cross fade between the first and last frame. In our example, we offset the crossfade to the 15s mark of the video, so that the first and last frames of the video are identical, and the cross-fade doesn’t occur until near the end of the video. When previewing the video, set your media player to loop to get a sense of what the looping video will look like when embedded in the pdf.
Example File: draco.mp4
The video needs to be converted to a looping swf file. The below video shows the steps we used that takes an .flv video as input, and converts it to a looping swf in Adobe Flash CC:
Example File: draco.flv
Example File: draco.swf
In your document editor (Word, LaTeX, etc), create a static version of your PDF. In the position which your animated figure will be placed, you should have a static image that best represents the animated figure. In our case, we used a still frame of the video with callouts to the animation effects (Figure 2). In some cases, it may be better to omit the callouts - that will depend on what your figure is communicating to the reader.
Example File: draco_static.pdf
If manual playback will be used to start the animation, then an icon can be used on the static image, to indicate to the reader that the image can be played as an animation. Figure 3 shows an example used in our alt.chi paper.
Example File: play_icon.png
This is a trick we discovered to properly and efficiently handle the case when the video isn’t displayed. We create a blank transparent image, so if the video doesn’t load or it is disabled by the reader, the user will see right through it and see the underlying static image you’ve created. You can use our example file, or create your own blank, transparent image in your favorite image editor.
Example File: blank_transparent.png
Now comes the fun part. The video gets embedded into the PDF file by editing the PDF file using Acrobat Pro. The below video demonstrates the steps used.
Example File: draco_animated.pdf
This paper was published at alt.chi at the CHI 2015 conference, as a means to initiate discussion among the research community with respect to the future of publication formats. An archive of the alt.chi reviews and discussion is available here. We'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas regarding animated figures and the broader topics of multimedia materials within research papers.