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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Powerpoint Magic

Powerpoint has some shortcomings, but it can be used to make some really spectacular presentations:

This was done entirely with Powerpoint; though I generated the molecular models in CN3D, the labels, the emphasis masking, everything else was Powerpoint-only (no Photoshop required!). It took me quite a while to put this slide together, but it can be done very rapidly once you know the process.

First, I pasted the molecular model image, then cropped and resized to cover the entire image. Next, I de-emphasized the area around the focus points of my image by creating a large grey oval, making it mostly transparent, and applying an edge-softening effect to the shape. The hard part was creating the focus points: Powerpoint does not have a function that allows you to 'cut holes' in shapes that you've made, so I had to devise a workaround to get the enzyme cofactors of interest to shine through the de-emphasis mask:
  1. Create the 'emphasis ovals' by selecting a dashed, red outline and no fill
  2. Copy the entire background molecular model image
  3. Crop the background image to the area of interest, so it has exactly the same height and width as the emphasis oval
  4. Select the cropped image and 'save as picture' to an easily-accessible directory
  5. Repeat (2) and (3) for each emphasis oval
  6. For each emphasis oval, switch the fill to 'picture', selecting the pictures you just cropped and saved
Next, I just added a bunch of arrows and some informative labels (again applying the 'softening' effect to the textboxes to make them blend in better) and I was done!

When you've inserted an image as a 'fill' on a shape, you can apply sorts of effects to the shape, change it to freeform, edit the defining points, and get some really neat results: link

Powerpoint is an often-abused artform... I saw some pretty horrific things on an industry internship a few years ago. It's a visual aid, so keep the text to the minimum! If your Powerpoint doesn't look like anyone else's, you're probably on the right track.


  1. Looks awesome! But why do you need to cut the ovals out of the background at all? Couldn't you just line up and paste the emphasis ovals on top of the background?

  2. Because I can't 'cut out' ovals in the de-emphasis mask, I have to fill the emphasis ovals with another copy of the background image that's been cropped to the same size as the oval itself. As far as I'm aware, you can only fill a shape with a picture that's stored as a file. The extra effort to make sure they're the same size prevents the image from being distorted when I fill the oval. This way, I only need to line the oval up with the background image after it's been filled, and I don't have to play around with additional resizing to get everything to line up correctly.

  3. You should definitely send this to my Dad. Back in 2004 he gave a lengthy conference presentation on animating molecular interactions with powerpoint at Auburn. I remember it being similar, but maybe less polished looking?

  4. Ironically, the presentation itself was a bit of a flop... that's what I get for assuming other chemical engineers might know the littlest bit about the FUNDAMENTALS OF LIFE outside of their niche of specialization.