aviatorken89 aviatorken89 - 1 month ago 16x
iOS Question

Creating a large GIF with CGImageDestinationFinalize - running out of memory

I'm trying to fix a performance issue when creating GIFs with lots of frames. For example some GIFs could contain > 1200 frames. With my current code I run out of memory. I'm trying to figure out how to solve this; could this be done in batches? My first idea was if it was possible to append images together but I do not think there is a method for that or how GIFs are created by the

framework. It would be nice if there was a plural
method but there isn't, so I'm lost on how to try to solve this. I appreciate any help offered. Sorry in advance for the lengthy code, but I felt it was necessary to show the step by step creation of the GIF.

It is acceptable that I can make a video file instead of a GIF as long as the differing GIF frame delays are possible in a video and recording doesn't take as long as the sum of all animations in each frame.

Note: jump to Latest Update heading below to skip the backstory.

Updates 1 - 6:
Thread lock fixed by using
, but the memory issue still remains. 100% CPU utilization is not the concern here, as I show a
while the work is performed. Using the
method might be more efficient/speedy than the
method, however I discovered you can't use the
method on a background thread with the
property set to YES; it locks up the thread.

There must be some way of writing the GIF out in batches. I believe I've narrowed the memory problem down to:
This method seems pretty inefficient for making images with lots of frames since everything has to be in memory to write out the entire image. I've confirmed this because I use little memory while grabbing the rendered containerView layer images and calling
The moment I call
the memory meter spikes up instantly; sometimes up to 2GB based on the amount of frames. The amount of memory required just seems crazy to make a ~20-1000KB GIF.

Update 2:
There is a method I found that might promise some hope. It is:

CGImageDestinationCopyImageSource(CGImageDestinationRef idst,
CGImageSourceRef isrc, CFDictionaryRef options,CFErrorRef* err)

My new idea is that for every 10 or some other arbitrary # of frames, I will write those to a destination, and then in the next loop, the prior completed destination with 10 frames will now be my new source. However there is a problem; reading the docs it states this:

Losslessly copies the contents of the image source, 'isrc', to the * destination, 'idst'.
The image data will not be modified. No other images should be added to the image destination.
* CGImageDestinationFinalize() should not be called afterward -
* the result is saved to the destination when this function returns.

This makes me think my idea won't work, but alas I tried. Continue to Update 3.

Update 3:
I've been trying the
method with my updated code below, however I'm always getting back an image with only one frame; this is because of the documentation stated in Update 2 above most likely. There is yet one more method to perhaps try:
But I doubt that is what I need.

It seems like I need some way of writing/appending the GIF frames to disk incrementally so I can purge each new chunk out of memory. Perhaps a
with the appropriate callbacks to save the data incrementally would be ideal?

Update 4:
I started to try the
method to see if I could manage writing the bytes out as they come in using an
, but again the problem is that calling
sends all of the bytes in one shot which is the same as before - I run out memory. I really need help to get this solved and will offer a large bounty.

Update 5:
I've posted a large bounty. I would like to see some brilliant solutions without a 3rd party library or framework to append the raw
GIF bytes to each other and write it out incrementally to disk with an
- essentially creating the GIF manually. Or, if you think there is a solution to be found using
like what I've tried that would be amazing too. Swizzling, subclassing etc.

Update 6:
I have been researching how GIFs are made at the lowest level, and I wrote a small test which is along the lines of what I'm going for with the bounty's help. I need to grab the rendered UIImage, get the bytes from it, compress it using LZW and append the bytes along with some other work like determining the global color table. Source of info: http://giflib.sourceforge.net/whatsinagif/bits_and_bytes.html .

Latest Update:

I've spent all week researching this from every angle to see what goes on exactly to build decent quality GIFs based on limitations (such as 256 colors max). I believe and assume what
is doing is creating a single bitmap context under the hood with all image frames merged as one, and is performing color quantization on this bitmap to generate a single global color table to be used in the GIF. Using a hex editor on some successful GIFs made from
confirms they have a global color table and never have a local one unless you set it for each frame yourself. Color quantization is performed on this huge bitmap to build a color palette (again assuming, but strongly believe).

I have this weird and crazy idea: The frame images from my app can only differ by one color per frame and even better yet, I know what small sets of colors my app uses. The first/background frame is a frame that contains colors that I cannot control (user supplied content such as photos) so what I'm thinking is I will snapshot this view, and then snapshot another view with that has the known colors my app deals with and make this a single bitmap context that I can pass into the normal
GIF making routines. What's the advantage? Well, this gets it down from ~1200 frames to one by merging two images into a single image.
will then do its thing on the much smaller bitmap and write out a single GIF with one frame.

Now what can I do to build the actual 1200 frame GIF? I'm thinking I can take that single frame GIF and extract the color table bytes nicely, because they fall between two GIF protocol blocks. I will still need to build the GIF manually, but now I shouldn't have to compute the color palette. I will be stealing the palette
thought was best and using that for my byte buffer. I still need an LZW compressor implementation with the bounty's help, but that should be alot easier than color quantization which can be painfully slow. LZW can be slow too so I'm not sure if it's even worth it; no idea how LZW will perform sequentially with ~1200 frames.

What are your thoughts?

@property (nonatomic, strong) NSFileHandle *outputHandle;

- (void)makeGIF
dispatch_async(dispatch_get_global_queue(DISPATCH_QUEUE_PRIORITY_HIGH, 0),^
NSString *filePath = @"/Users/Test/Desktop/Test.gif";

[[NSFileManager defaultManager] createFileAtPath:filePath contents:nil attributes:nil];

self.outputHandle = [NSFileHandle fileHandleForWritingAtPath:filePath];

NSMutableData *openingData = [[NSMutableData alloc]init];

// GIF89a header

const uint8_t gif89aHeader [] = { 0x47, 0x49, 0x46, 0x38, 0x39, 0x61 };

[openingData appendBytes:gif89aHeader length:sizeof(gif89aHeader)];

const uint8_t screenDescriptor [] = { 0x0A, 0x00, 0x0A, 0x00, 0x91, 0x00, 0x00 };

[openingData appendBytes:screenDescriptor length:sizeof(screenDescriptor)];

// Global color table

const uint8_t globalColorTable [] = { 0xFF, 0xFF, 0xFF, 0xFF, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0xFF, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00 };

[openingData appendBytes:globalColorTable length:sizeof(globalColorTable)];

// 'Netscape 2.0' - Loop forever

const uint8_t applicationExtension [] = { 0x21, 0xFF, 0x0B, 0x4E, 0x45, 0x54, 0x53, 0x43, 0x41, 0x50, 0x45, 0x32, 0x2E, 0x30, 0x03, 0x01, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00 };

[openingData appendBytes:applicationExtension length:sizeof(applicationExtension)];

[self.outputHandle writeData:openingData];

for (NSUInteger i = 0; i < 1200; i++)
const uint8_t graphicsControl [] = { 0x21, 0xF9, 0x04, 0x04, 0x32, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00 };

NSMutableData *imageData = [[NSMutableData alloc]init];

[imageData appendBytes:graphicsControl length:sizeof(graphicsControl)];

const uint8_t imageDescriptor [] = { 0x2C, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x00, 0x0A, 0x00, 0x0A, 0x00, 0x00 };

[imageData appendBytes:imageDescriptor length:sizeof(imageDescriptor)];

const uint8_t image [] = { 0x02, 0x16, 0x8C, 0x2D, 0x99, 0x87, 0x2A, 0x1C, 0xDC, 0x33, 0xA0, 0x02, 0x75, 0xEC, 0x95, 0xFA, 0xA8, 0xDE, 0x60, 0x8C, 0x04, 0x91, 0x4C, 0x01, 0x00 };

[imageData appendBytes:image length:sizeof(image)];

[self.outputHandle writeData:imageData];

NSMutableData *closingData = [[NSMutableData alloc]init];

const uint8_t appSignature [] = { 0x21, 0xFE, 0x02, 0x48, 0x69, 0x00 };

[closingData appendBytes:appSignature length:sizeof(appSignature)];

const uint8_t trailer [] = { 0x3B };

[closingData appendBytes:trailer length:sizeof(trailer)];

[self.outputHandle writeData:closingData];

[self.outputHandle closeFile];

self.outputHandle = nil;

// Get back to main thread and do something with the GIF

- (UIImage *)getImage
// Read question's 'Update 1' to see why I'm not using the
// drawViewHierarchyInRect method
UIGraphicsBeginImageContextWithOptions(self.containerView.bounds.size, NO, 1.0);
[self.containerView.layer renderInContext:UIGraphicsGetCurrentContext()];
UIImage *snapShot = UIGraphicsGetImageFromCurrentImageContext();

// Shaves exported gif size considerably
NSData *data = UIImageJPEGRepresentation(snapShot, 1.0);

return [UIImage imageWithData:data];


You can use AVFoundation to write a video with your images. I've uploaded a complete working test project to this github repository. When you run the test project in the simulator, it will print a file path to the debug console. Open that path in your video player to check the output.

I'll walk through the important parts of the code in this answer.

Start by creating an AVAssetWriter. I'd give it the AVFileTypeAppleM4V file type so that the video works on iOS devices.

AVAssetWriter *writer = [AVAssetWriter assetWriterWithURL:self.url fileType:AVFileTypeAppleM4V error:&error];

Set up an output settings dictionary with the video parameters:

- (NSDictionary *)videoOutputSettings {
    return @{
             AVVideoCodecKey: AVVideoCodecH264,
             AVVideoWidthKey: @((size_t)size.width),
             AVVideoHeightKey: @((size_t)size.height),
             AVVideoCompressionPropertiesKey: @{
                     AVVideoProfileLevelKey: AVVideoProfileLevelH264Baseline31,
                     AVVideoAverageBitRateKey: @(1200000) }};

You can adjust the bit rate to control the size of your video file. I've chosen the codec profile pretty conservatively here (it supports some pretty old devices). You might want to choose a later profile.

Then create an AVAssetWriterInput with media type AVMediaTypeVideo and your output settings.

NSDictionary *outputSettings = [self videoOutputSettings];
AVAssetWriterInput *input = [AVAssetWriterInput assetWriterInputWithMediaType:AVMediaTypeVideo outputSettings:outputSettings];

Set up a pixel buffer attribute dictionary:

- (NSDictionary *)pixelBufferAttributes {
    return @{
             fromCF kCVPixelBufferPixelFormatTypeKey: @(kCVPixelFormatType_32BGRA),
             fromCF kCVPixelBufferCGBitmapContextCompatibilityKey: @YES };

You don't have to specify the pixel buffer dimensions here; AVFoundation will get them from the input's output settings. The attributes I've used here are (I believe) optimal for drawing with Core Graphics.

Next, create an AVAssetWriterInputPixelBufferAdaptor for your input using the pixel buffer settings.

AVAssetWriterInputPixelBufferAdaptor *adaptor = [AVAssetWriterInputPixelBufferAdaptor
    sourcePixelBufferAttributes:[self pixelBufferAttributes]];

Add the input to the writer and tell the writer to get going:

[writer addInput:input];
[writer startWriting];
[writer startSessionAtSourceTime:kCMTimeZero];

Next we'll tell the input how to get video frames. Yes, we can do this after we've told the writer to start writing:

    [input requestMediaDataWhenReadyOnQueue:adaptorQueue usingBlock:^{

This block is going to do everything else we need to do with AVFoundation. The input calls it each time it's ready to accept more data. It might be able to accept multiple frames in a single call, so we'll loop as long is it's ready:

        while (input.readyForMoreMediaData && self.frameGenerator.hasNextFrame) {

I'm using self.frameGenerator to actually draw the frames. I'll show that code later. The frameGenerator decides when the video is over (by returning NO from hasNextFrame). It also knows when each frame should appear on screen:

            CMTime time = self.frameGenerator.nextFramePresentationTime;

To actually draw the frame, we need to get a pixel buffer from the adaptor:

            CVPixelBufferRef buffer = 0;
            CVPixelBufferPoolRef pool = adaptor.pixelBufferPool;
            CVReturn code = CVPixelBufferPoolCreatePixelBuffer(0, pool, &buffer);
            if (code != kCVReturnSuccess) {
                errorBlock([self errorWithFormat:@"could not create pixel buffer; CoreVideo error code %ld", (long)code]);
                [input markAsFinished];
                [writer cancelWriting];
            } else {

If we couldn't get a pixel buffer, we signal an error and abort everything. If we did get a pixel buffer, we need to wrap a bitmap context around it and ask frameGenerator to draw the next frame in the context:

                CVPixelBufferLockBaseAddress(buffer, 0); {
                    CGColorSpaceRef rgb = CGColorSpaceCreateDeviceRGB(); {
                        CGContextRef gc = CGBitmapContextCreate(CVPixelBufferGetBaseAddress(buffer), CVPixelBufferGetWidth(buffer), CVPixelBufferGetHeight(buffer), 8, CVPixelBufferGetBytesPerRow(buffer), rgb, kCGBitmapByteOrder32Little | kCGImageAlphaPremultipliedFirst); {
                            [self.frameGenerator drawNextFrameInContext:gc];
                        } CGContextRelease(gc);
                    } CGColorSpaceRelease(rgb);

Now we can append the buffer to the video. The adaptor does that:

                    [adaptor appendPixelBuffer:buffer withPresentationTime:time];
                } CVPixelBufferUnlockBaseAddress(buffer, 0);
            } CVPixelBufferRelease(buffer);

The loop above pushes frames through the adaptor until either the input says it's had enough, or until frameGenerator says it's out of frames. If the frameGenerator has more frames, we just return, and the input will call us again when it's ready for more frames:

        if (self.frameGenerator.hasNextFrame) {

If the frameGenerator is out of frames, we shut down the input:

        [input markAsFinished];

And then we tell the writer to finish. It'll call a completion handler when it's done:

        [writer finishWritingWithCompletionHandler:^{
            if (writer.status == AVAssetWriterStatusFailed) {
            } else {
                dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue(), doneBlock);

By comparison, generating the frames is pretty straightforward. Here's the protocol the generator adopts:

@protocol DqdFrameGenerator <NSObject>


// You should return the same size every time I ask for it.
@property (nonatomic, readonly) CGSize frameSize;

// I'll ask for frames in a loop. On each pass through the loop, I'll start by asking if you have any more frames:
@property (nonatomic, readonly) BOOL hasNextFrame;

// If you say NO, I'll stop asking and end the video.

// If you say YES, I'll ask for the presentation time of the next frame:
@property (nonatomic, readonly) CMTime nextFramePresentationTime;

// Then I'll ask you to draw the next frame into a bitmap graphics context:
- (void)drawNextFrameInContext:(CGContextRef)gc;

// Then I'll go back to the top of the loop.


For my test, I draw a background image, and slowly cover it up with solid red as the video progresses.

@implementation TestFrameGenerator {
    UIImage *baseImage;
    CMTime nextTime;

- (instancetype)init {
    if (self = [super init]) {
        baseImage = [UIImage imageNamed:@"baseImage.jpg"];
        _totalFramesCount = 100;
        nextTime = CMTimeMake(0, 30);
    return self;

- (CGSize)frameSize {
    return baseImage.size;

- (BOOL)hasNextFrame {
    return self.framesEmittedCount < self.totalFramesCount;

- (CMTime)nextFramePresentationTime {
    return nextTime;

Core Graphics puts the origin in the lower left corner of the bitmap context, but I'm using a UIImage, and UIKit likes to have the origin in the upper left.

- (void)drawNextFrameInContext:(CGContextRef)gc {
    CGContextTranslateCTM(gc, 0, baseImage.size.height);
    CGContextScaleCTM(gc, 1, -1);
    UIGraphicsPushContext(gc); {
        [baseImage drawAtPoint:CGPointZero];

        [[UIColor redColor] setFill];
        UIRectFill(CGRectMake(0, 0, baseImage.size.width, baseImage.size.height * self.framesEmittedCount / self.totalFramesCount));
    } UIGraphicsPopContext();


I call a callback that my test program uses to update a progress indicator:

    if (self.frameGeneratedCallback != nil) {
        dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue(), ^{

Finally, to demonstrate variable frame rate, I emit the first half of the frames at 30 frames per second, and the second half at 15 frames per second:

    if (self.framesEmittedCount < self.totalFramesCount / 2) {
        nextTime.value += 1;
    } else {
        nextTime.value += 2;