Fix animated GIF timing

Have you found a priceless animated GIF but are disappointed with its timing? Maybe it’s too slow or too fast? I’ve got an easy solution for you. You don’t need any complex software like ffmpeg or mencoder or imagemagick or any of that crap (well, they’re not crap; they’re just ridiculously complicated and user hostile). All you need is a simple hex editor.

Here’s a simple before/after example of what I’m talking about:

Before:

Before

After:

After

As you can see, the top GIF is much slower (depending on your browser, here in Chrome it animates at the default of 10fps). The bottom GIF is much closer to the original movie’s framerate of approximately 25fps.

To do these kinds of simple corrections, all you need is a hex editor with a search and replace feature that lets you search for hex strings and replace them with other hex strings. The venerable HxD is a fantastic hex editor with exactly such a feature. Go download and install HxD now.

Now download your new favorite timing-challenged GIF to your local computer and open it with HxD.

Search (CTRL-F) from the beginning of the file for the hex string 21 F9 04 05 00 00 (you need to select Hex String from the drop down; the default is Text String which is not what you want). If you cannot find any matches using this 6 value string, search instead for 21 F9 04 05 (leave off the last two 00 00). If even that does not find any matches, then search for just the first three hex values 21 F9 04. Whatever you do find, copy 6 values out of the display starting at 21 F9 04 and put them back into the search/replace dialog.

The last two values of the 6 value sequence specify the delay time to wait after displaying each frame. You’ll encounter many copies of this sequence throughout the GIF file because it will exist for each frame of the animation.

Most of the problematic GIFs you’ll encounter will just specify 00 for the frame delay time, meaning “don’t care”, which is pretty dumb if you think about it. Browsers will just interpret that as defaulting to something obscenely slow and useless like 10fps, which explains why the GIF appears to be slow in playback.

Once you’ve identified the 6 value sequence to search for, go ahead and replace all occurrences of it with 21 F9 04 XX 07 00 (where XX is the same value as what you searched for, which may or may not be 05). The second-to-last value, 07, is the frame delay time measured in 1/100ths of a second. Feel free to modify that value to your liking. Choosing the best value here depends entirely on the source material’s frame rate, so I cannot tell you exactly what to fill in here.

I find that useful values are in the range from 04 to 07. Remember that the smaller the number, the faster the animation will run. You can do the math yourself based on the source material’s frame rate: 100 / n, where n is the frame rate.

  • 03 is pretty good for 30fps source content (actual rate will be 33.333fps, a bit too fast and sorta noticeable)
  • 04 is perfect for 25fps source content (most movies)
  • 07 is pretty good for 15fps source content (actual rate will be 14.286fps, a little slow but not very noticeable)

Unfortunately, we can’t specify fractional values in this animation delay time field, only integer values. This appears to be an oversight of the GIF animation specification. The 16 bits of space reserved for this animation rate value is horribly underutilized. No one should ever need an animation delay of 655.35 seconds, for instance. They should have instead stored a frequency value here, not a delay time value. Off the top of my head, I would make use of these 16 bits to store the animation rate in fps at a x100 scale. This would give much finer grained control over the frame rate, e.g. storing 2,997 as a 16-bit unsigned integer value will yield a playback rate of 29.97 fps, or 3,000 for 30.00fps, or 1,500 for 15.00fps, etc.