Delight in an Animated GIF,

published at 11:05am on 05/12/12

The animated GIF is a delightful art form that sits solidly in between the still photography and a moving film. As a technology, it’s not much more than a fluke, but as art, it shares a rich history with the zoetrope, the stereograph and even the flip book.

It’s amazing that this one quirk of this one file format can provide such a rich medium for creativity, but it does. As it is such a portable file format, the number of “digital movie to GIF” apps that have cropped up in recent years is quite astounding. The moments captures in the GIFs on If We Don’t, Remember Me are absolutely stunning, and are art unto themselves. They’re a far cry from the “under construction” animations that I first came across in the mid-90s.

But it is the jerky, raw GIFs that really appeal to me. Individually recorded still frames, stitched together in software, endlessly looping back and forth between two, three, or four frames, at most, that I enjoy making the most. While the video GIFs seem like much more of an extension of film, these two-frame animations feel much more like an extension of still photography to me. When I make a still image, I am choosing a particular moment in time to present to my audience. A single moment that has to communicate the entire feeling that I am trying to communicate. When I show that boy smiling, is it a smile that is about to turn into a grimace? A laugh? It’s up to me to tee up the moment, and up to the viewer to follow through.

Animated GIFs let me cheat.

An animated GIF lets me show two or three moments, a before and after, the smile and the grimace. The ice cream cone before and after it topples to the ground. But it also forces me to choose those two moments. It is, in some ways, harder to choose exactly the right frames to convey exactly the right moment, but it is there that lies the challenge and the joy. When a moving image is complete, I often find myself watching the frames flicker back and forth between each other, wondering which moment came first and which came second and wondering when, if ever, time will carry on.

Incidentally, you really should read Anil’s Animated GIFs Triumphant for more thoughts on the humble animated GIF, and check out my gallery of GIFs.

Filed under: Observations

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