In an age where your virtual background says more about you than actually being in the call, static backgrounds in Zoom are just plain boring.
While Zoom supports video virtual backgrounds, finding an appropriate video can be challenging (although not impossible if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves), due to the length and work it takes to trim out just the section you want.
Because the animated GIF is the new third language behind Emojis, it can easily communicate your thought of the day.
Unfortunately Zoom doesn’t support animated GIFs and lets you add only static PNG, JPG and BMP files to use with its virtual clipping background. But there is a workaround, so keep reading to find out.
Why use an animated GIF?
To get started, you’ll want an animated GIF of choice. The Graphics Interchange Format dates back to the 1980s and CompuServe. It can function as a still image or as a short-length animated sequence.
And yes, this technique will work only if you pronounce GIF the way its creator, Steve Wilhite, intended it to be pronounced: “JIF.” For those who don’t follow this convention, suffer with your static background picture of a leaf.
We think GIFs are the superior choice because they are plentiful and typically use just the best part of the video, game clip or background that you want. You can go to the giphy.com, reddit, or pick from dozens of sites that host a never-ending stream of GIFs.
Another advantage GIFs have over video is the army of Internet commandos standing ready to create immediate-reaction GIFs to news events, press conferences, and game-winning shots in almost-real time. If you want it, someone’s probably already made it.
Grab your favorite GIF
You can typically download a GIF from most services by right-clicking it and selecting Save As from within your browser. We recommend creating a folder for your GIFs and one for your final Zoom backgrounds.
For the purposes of this video, we’re using a GIF we had previously clipped from a PCWorld video segment and converted into a bite-sized GIF to post on Twitter. With a full shelter-in-place going, what better way to annoy co-workers?
Upload your GIF
As we said earlier, Zoom doesn’t work with GIFs, so you’ll need to make this into a file format the app supports. There are many ways available, but we used the free web service ezgif.com. The site supports making your own GIFs as well as converting GIFs into a video format Zoom supports. Once at Ezgif.com, just navigate to Video to GIF, and then GIF to MP4.
On the GIF to MP4 tab, select Choose File and browse to the folder where you’ve stored your GIF. Select it and then click the Upload! button.
Once the file is uploaded, click Convert GIF to MP4! After a few seconds, you should see the message “Output MP4 Video:” appear below the Convert button.
Upsize your GIF
Before you call it a day, most animated GIF files are low-resolution, and Zoom’s minimum requirement is 640x360 pixels. If your file’s resolution is too small, click the Resize button and it’ll put your converted video into the Resize Tab. You can fill out just the New Width box or just the New Height box to meet the minimum size, and Ezgif.com will fill in the other box for you. This works most of the time, but if either is smaller than 640x360, you’ll have to increase the size.
Once you’ve filled out the box, click Resize, and a resized video box will show up in your browser. Scroll down and look at the width and height of the resized GIF to confirm it meets or exceeds 640x360. You may need to do this a couple of times. Once you’ve hit the right size, save your completed GIF to your folder and add it into Zoom.
Add your animated GIF to Zoom
To add it to Zoom, click the gear icon on the upper right-hand side of the main screen of the desktop Zoom app and select Virtual Background. (Note: For Zoom’s virtual background video to work without a greenscreen, you must have a fairly modern computer. That means a 4th-gen Haswell Core i7 quad-core, a 6th-gen Skylake Core i5 quad-core, or any CPU with 8 compute threads or clock speed higher than 3GHz.)
On the right side of the screen click the + symbol, select Add Video and then scroll to the folder where your converted MP4 GIFs are. Most of the time it will take a second to add, but we’ve found Zoom to be very finicky with some video files converted from GIFs. We’ve tried changing aspect ratios and formats (it also accepts MOV files), and it just would not take the file.
You could try exiting out of Zoom after adding it and restarting Zoom. Do this by right-clicking on the Zoom icon in your Windows system tray and selecting Exit. If that doesn’t work, it’s best just to move on, as there are thousands of other GIFs you could use instead. Or you could try again a few days later, as we’ve anecdotally experienced a shift where Zoom will suddenly change its mind.
Note: Zoom will always look to the location of that original file, so put it in one location and don’t move it.
Have some taste, please (or not)
With great power comes great moving animated backgrounds. We recommend that you don’t go all Grumpy Cat on your co-workers or family, but instead look for subtle backgrounds that enhance the chat. A GIF with a short, seamless loop and very little movement will offend the least. A cityscape with subtle blinking and twinkling lights, or softly falling snow, can make your video seem more lively. And yes, you can go all 80s-retro-wireframe if you want to. Just don’t expect your boss to tolerate it for very long.