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The Quest to Make a Simple Internet Slideshow in Windows 7 for Free


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In early 2015 I got the idea for a slideshow comic to put on Youtube, and maybe slap an ad on for revenue. And figured if it wasn't too difficult, I might make lots more as well, to promote other works of mine.

I'd never done this before though, and so wasn't sure I could pull it off, even if I ran into no technical hurdles. So I just focused on making a 'proof of concept' version first. Or prototype, if you will.

I was greatly aided in this by a remarkable woman I was first contacted by last year, in that she gave me the motivation to attempt this and various other new projects over past months.

I loved comic books when I was a kid in the 1960s, and for a while harbored ambitions in that area. But in my teenage years I realized I wasn't really good enough for that, having no formal training relevant to the process, and no easy way to get it. I did make a few stabs at it in various ways: just enough to realize what an incredible amount of work would be required to put out even just one measly comic book, let alone the thousands industry icons like Jack Kirby did.

So instead of making comic books, I ended up doing my best in the 1970s to mimic some of my comic book superheroes in real life, by building my own gadgets with which to fight off bad guys (since that actually seemed easier for me than comic book creation, and my home county was filled with such villains). But that's another story, some of the consequences of which can be seen on my web site and in my Kindle ebooks.

Anyway, by early 2015 the time and motivation had finally come for me to try pushing out a complete work of my own in this field, no matter how crude and limited it might be.

But even with the bar set that low, it still turned out to be tougher than I expected.

However, the initial seed of the project came to me so easily as to be embarrassing. The script just flowed out of my mind like it'd always been there, just waiting for me to let it out. And BOOM! I had my story.

That was surprisingly easy and quick, I thought. But next came the artwork. Ugh!

Baby steps

I knew from the beginning that there'd be no significant shortcuts I could take where the artwork was concerned. I had to have at least the most basic of original imagery, like a storyboard, for the thing to work at all. So I went ahead and began churning it out before knowing what process I'd use to turn it into a slideshow.

I divided the script up into chunks I thought each warranted its own image, and realized nearly two dozen sketches would be required. That was daunting, considering how rusty I was in general, and how bad I am in particular at drawing the female form (and the lead role here was going to be a woman).

This was awfully hard for me to do, and I quickly realized I'd soon give up completely if my goal was to go the full route from pencil sketch to shading to inked drawing and coloring, etc., etc. So I decided just to go with plain rough sketches.

I could only stand to work on them at most a couple hours a night, a few nights a week. So it took me maybe three weeks to get the majority of the imagery created. Then I scanned them in with my ancient CanoScan LiDE 60 (cast off from a family Mac user years back, I believe), looked up Youtube's preferred picture/video resolution (2560 x 1440), and set them up that size in an old Photoshop Elements app I bought way back in my Windows XP days (Elements 4.0). I later had to reconfigure many of them once I decided most images should be formatted like the pages of an open book, since my pencil art was usually done vertically aligned on 8.5 x 11 inch paper, and I needed plenty of space for the accompanying text. So the left page would usually host the picture, and the right the text.

The search for software

Next commenced the search for slideshow/video-making software. I was surprised to find that there were actually zero good choices available online for free, for Windows 7. The makers of ezvid have got a commanding online presence when you Google this stuff, with what may well be an actual, functional, easy-to-use slideshow/video maker-- only it's not truly free as it seems to claim, and is fairly onerous in sound restrictions and/or other problems. From the further Googling I did, it seems the ezvid makers have rigged it so that no matter what sound track you use in their software (even if you attempt to use none at all) your slideshow on Youtube will automatically be flagged as containing music owned by the ezvid makers or their cohorts, and so any revenue generated by your video there gets sent to the ezvid schemers rather than you. Ouch!

As I can't afford to make stuff that only makes money for strangers rather than myself, I figured there must be something better than that around. And of course there was. Even free ones. Maybe not better in ease of use, but better in being truly free, and less restrictive sound-wise. However, all those posed plenty of other problems of their own. Especially for someone like me who only needed to make the most simple slideshow imaginable for presentation on the web, with minimal time and effort put into learning how to use yet another new piece of software (ugh!).

I wasted lots of time looking up and trying various alternatives. Then my Googling brought up the fact that I'd had the free Movie Maker on my PC the whole time. And it turned out to have an amazingly easy and straightforward interface, that allowed you to simply dump your images into it and then shuffle them around in the order you wanted, to make a slideshow near instantaneously. I saved PNG versions of my images from Photoshop Elements to use in Movie Maker. I got within a single breath of having the whole slideshow complete and maybe ready for uploading to Youtube... and then I hit the wall.

It turned out Microsoft has badly neglected Movie Maker development for several years now, and even while actively working on it, they'd only designed it for very small, very brief presentations. So small and so brief, that Movie Maker would have severe memory problems with projects the size of mine (around 15 minutes long, I think it was), and end up automatically lowering the resolution of the imagery to compensate. Which made the artwork and text look horrible. I Googled for a fix or workaround, and found there really wasn't any good one.

So goodbye Movie Maker: hello more Googling for an alternative.

So I wasted still more time on the issue. There were plenty of different apps to try, but they all possessed their own showstoppers, where my personal project goals were concerned.

Well, I'd noticed I was having concerns about the timing in an automated video-based slideshow anyway. That is, I felt the reader should be able to manually control the pace of the slides, in order to read the text at their leisure, and move on when they were ready, rather than at the pace I thought they should.

So I figured why not forget Youtube all together, and try making a javascript slideshow on my own web site instead? I used to be a programmer in the 1980s and early 1990s. And have dabbled in javascript a little since. Plus there's sample code and tutorials for it all over the net. So I did.

But here too I was surprised by how much more commercialized everything has become online, since 2000 or so. Now almost everything has a price on it, or show-stopping restrictions in usage for many real world purposes. And many of these things can be quite sneaky/misleading about it, much like the ezvid people seem to be with their app.

But even though everything's become more commercialized, that doesn't seem to have necessarily improved the capabilities or ease of use of the software available. Or the quality, quantity, and diversity of selection. No, rather the commercialization seems to have worsened all those characteristics, in many niches. So that these days, even if you buy something outright, it might not work as well as similar function software which was freely available online ten years ago or so.

Or maybe the world is merely suffering from fewer and less skilled programmers than it once had.

Another problem is whenever you do find some suitable code available for free usage, it may have terrible dependencies built into it which make it ultimately unreliable in the long run. That was something else I discovered, when some free code I tried turned out to heavily depend upon code libraries in a distant server somewhere, for every user's click on the slideshow. Yuck! That meant that even if my own site was running fine, if that other wasn't, my slideshow would break. It also meant that even if my site and the remote server were both okay, but the internet connection between my site and other had problems, my slideshow would break then, too.

No thank you, faraway site. I don't know a lot about modern javascript, but I do know for a task as simple as this one I didn't need my site to refer to you.

So I searched some more. And finally found something that sounded like it'd work. Only it didn't. The author, while generous with his code, had apparently failed to confirm the code functioned the way he said it would, on-site. So I had to tweak it to make it actually fulfill its stated mission.

But that's how all that free code is supposed to work anyway, right? Right.

Unfortunately there still remains a bug or two I'd like to squash in it. So hopefully I'll manage to improve it over time. And maybe my little brother, who's a much better programmer than I, will make some helpful suggestions or tweaks as well.

So after all that, the result is One Hero's Life. I hope you like it!

Copyright © 2015 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.