Recently I’ve become more and more fascinated with GIFs, those little looping one-second animations that keep proliferating across the web. Though the most common form of GIF might still be a TV clip with a snarky headline added, or cat stickers, GIFs are capable of much, much more. The world is full of talented animators and illustrators creating amazing GIF art. In this post I’m including links to some beautiful GIFs across the web, so click around!
On the website giphy.com, you can explore a section on featured artists. Scroll down until you find one that moves you, then just watch it for a while. On Tumblr there’s the GIF Artist’s Collective. With some digging, beautiful GIFs can be found across the web on sites from Ello (who often send beautiful curated collections to subscribers) to Imgur, to Twitter. If there’s any question of whether GIFs are art, see Moving the Still, a website with work from the GIF exhibition at Miami Art Week. My favorite genre of GIFs might be those created by coders and mathematicians, who create mesmerizing repeating patterns using computer algorithms. I could watch these for hours. Something about the symmetry, I think, massages some deep part of my brain that loves order.
As an animator, I can’t get enough of GIFs. Maybe it’s the fast-paced world we live in that makes this ultra-short format resonate, but I think it’s more than that. If you go to the giphy homepage, you see a seemingly random series of GIFs, which occasionally repeat. There is also a quote from one featured GIF artist, Elle Muliarchik:
“Think of how we recollect memories: close your eyes and think of something from your past. You don’t see a frozen still image – you see GIFs!”
When you visit giphy, after you get over the initial overload of movement, GIFs capture, for me, something essential of the world of our time. I imagine them as a sort of time capsule of human civilization, the stream of information we might send into space for alien life to understand us.
A Brief History of the GIF
A blog post on GIFs wouldn’t be much without a little history, so briefly here it is. Where did GIFs come from? In 1987, CompuServe released an image format called 87A. The format was later updated, and the name later changed to Graphics Interchange Format. GIFs use a lossless data compression technique to reduce file size without degrading image quality. The color palette for each image is limited to 256 colors (which is why more complex images appear a bit grainy as GIFs, as opposed to logos, for example which are sharp because they use larger blocks of color). GIFs survived the dot.com boom and bust and have moved into widespread usage. Their ability to store multiple images in one file accompanied by control data is used extensively across the web to play short animations.
How Do You Say GIF Anyway?
The inventor, Steve Whilwhite, intended GIF to be pronounced with a soft ‘g’, as in the peanut butter Jif (CompuServe employees would apparently say, “Choosy developers choose GIF”).
A Life in GIFs
Recently the animator James Curran created a GIF a day on his visit to NYC, and there’s something about these short clips that capture his experience in a way other mediums couldn’t. I find the whole project inspiring.
The beauty of GIFs, to me, is that though GIF TV elicits a type of overload, a single seamlessly looping GIF can be a zen, meditative experience. I see more GIF creation in my future.
Enjoy the Memorial Day Weekend, everyone 🙂