From the Archives: Digital Christmas Greetings

Update: Apple has updated the Keynote app with a new workspace. The functions discussed here still exist, they just might look a bit different.

I’m a big fan of Hallmark’s e-Cards. There’s a broad range of card types from simple to amazing. One of my favorite types is where they use text over images to present the greeting. The other day I was browsing through their collection looking for a birthday card when it dawned on me that I could build something very similar using Keynote (the Mac equivalent of PowerPoint). Both Keynote and PowerPoint support “actions” for elements included on a slide. These actions include things like having graphic or text elements appear and disappear, move, get larger or smaller and perform other interesting stunts. In addition, both support background music that can be played throughout the card’s presentation. You control the elements included on your card and the timing of every action, then once you’ve got everything just right, export the result to a movie file and upload it to your favorite movie-sharing platform or even Facebook.

Hmmmm . . .

So I pulled out my poinsettia collection, spent some time in the Vimeo Music Store looking for affordable Christmas music that I could legally use in my project, and started experimenting. While I’ll never reach Hallmark quality levels, I found that building the bones of a Hallmark-style card is quite simple. The only real advantage they have over us is their awesome images, graphics and fonts. But then, who wouldn’t prefer family photos over professional images?

Create Christmas Cards with Keynote or PowerPoint from Moultrie Creek on Vimeo.

This example is only two slides – the first with the text and the second with photos – plus a music track. The resulting movie file is a respectable 45MB size. At this size, the file can easily be emailed or uploaded to Facebook. I could have added another slide or two and a few photos and still been well under Flickr’s 500MB movie size limit, however, the larger your movie file becomes, the more limited your sharing options.

Here are some ideas for digital cards:

  • If you want to get some family history into the mix, you might consider a photo card with a Christmas Carol theme that includes slides showing photos of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.
  • Another option is to make your Christmas newsletter a Keynote (or PowerPoint) scrapbook of photos and captions describing the things your family has been doing. The trick here is to time your transitions to give viewers enough time to read those captions before the presentation moves on.
  • Capture a short video clip of your family in front of the Christmas tree saying “Merry Christmas”. Since digital cards provide instant delivery, you’re not at the mercy of the postal service and can wait until the tree is up and the house is decorated to capture the Christmas photos/videos you want to include. Yes, it does take time to produce the card, but you can do most of it in advance and drop in those pics/video clips at the last minute.
  • Why not start a new family tradition with a Christmas Highlights card sent after the holiday? It could include pictures from Christmas Day as presents are unwrapped or the family dinner along with messages for family and friends.

Putting your presentation program’s actions feature to work is surprisingly easy. While transition effects happen as your presentation moves from one slide to the next, actions happen on elements within a slide. In the example below, the text box “Joy” is the selected element and the action is to have it move into the slide from left to right. In Keynote there are Build Ins that determine how an element appears on the slide and Build Outs which determine how an element will be removed from the slide. Actions are things that happen to the element while it’s there. When you have multiple actions happening on a slide like I do here, you determine the order they will happen and the time (duration) before the next action takes place. You can also determine what triggers the action. In this project I have every action happening automatically based on order and timing, but if these slides were for a live presentation you would probably want the actions to wait until the presenter clicks the slide to move on.

Setting actions on a Keynote slide.

In this sample card, each of the words appears from a different direction using the Move In effect. The last action on this slide happens to the word, “Joy”, which scales to a larger size.

Keynote actions for displaying a photo stack.

Here you see the second slide with the photo stack. While you’re building your slides, you’ll stack your elements on the screen all at once, then assign the actions that will determine when and how they appear in the presentation and what happens to them later. In this example, the top photo is currently selected and it will be the third element to appear on the slide. The effect I’m using here is “Appear”  and that’s exactly what happens. It will automatically appear on top of the second photo once that photo has had 5 seconds for people to look at it. The two previous photos will still be there stacked under the third. The last action is to have the Merry Christmas message appear across the bottom using what Keynote calls the “Typewriter” effect. The words appear character-by-character as if it’s being typed.

Because I’m using background music, I had to adjust the timings of most of these effects to have it all end at a good breaking point within the music clip. That can be the most time-consuming part of the entire process. You can look for music clips that are 10-15 second riffs which you set to repeat over and over again and provide atmosphere but aren’t as noticeable to the viewer – and are much easier to cut off when the rest of the production is done.

Although I’ve been discussing all these techniques from a Keynote point of view, you can do everything I’ve shown you here with PowerPoint. Regardless of the software you’re using, it will take some time to experiment with your app, discover the options available and learn what each effect does. The middle of the holiday hustle is not the best time to start experimenting. Try working on a Halloween card or Thanksgiving invitation to get the feel for actions and choose the ones you like best.

Oh, and if you’re as in love with the Hallmark fonts as I am, you can buy them at – just search for “HMK”.


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