The Comeback of Animated GIFs
The GIF is a feisty little graphic file that seems to live everywhere on the web, occupying space mostly as a quirky, animated graphic and spending its existence in a constant state of pointless "looping-ness". But is this all it's good for?
As an animated file, it has a rather unique presence, demanding only a sliver of bandwidth and a fierce independence to stand on its own; the GIF does not have to rely on any media player to make it run. It will most likely continue to have a constant home on the web, as it tends to live below a megabyte in size and is an easy item to share and post.
"Blah, blah, blah, "graphic interchange format", blah, blah, blah"... check out Mr. Wiki if you need the techie details... what it comes down to is that the format for the GIF is pretty standard: a small animated file that loops like this:
Most of us were in our formative years when the GIF came on the scene two and half decades ago, and while always aware of the looping nature of the animation, the fact is we probably never really gave it props since it was always so limited in how much it could communicate before quickly growing stale right before your eyes. Back then there was this new technology called Flash and all sorts of other variations of CG technology out there blowing our minds. The itty-bitty GIF was no match for the bigger, polished stuff pushing the envelope in an effort to clone the real world.
Admittedly, there was always some fun and wickedly cool GIF that came around, and when you stumbled upon it, the discovery was brief but satisfying. For me, it was this dancing Spidey file.
I'm not sure why Spidey was crowned the unofficial ambassador for the GIF, but it's not hard to locate some quirky animation that uses him as fodder for the sublimely ridiculous. Perhaps a topic for a more serious dialogue at a later date...
The other reason for the GIF's long-lasting shelf-life is that creating one is relatively easy.
Since it's only a simple loop, generating a perpetual bit of animation can be as clunkly or as smooth as you like. In the end, it comes down to the loop's moment in time that matters most; the repetition creates the focal point and that's where the core message is pin-pointed. The GIF has become an almost subversive means to making pointless statements, highlighting idiotic behaviour and emphasizing the truly bizarre.
Case in point... this stuff:
But contrary to the whimsical legacy of these examples, there are designers today who are making absolutely stunning and beautiful animated GIFs that are pushing the envelope when it comes to looping, non-Flash animation. The end results are stunning, photographs that move.
These beautifully created images are so much more than mere animation... they are alluring depictions of a moment in time, where the movement from the still frame targets and defines the perpetual aspect of the moment. They are actually still photos with moving parts - a subtle, but substantial difference from a moving picture or video.
Check out this still photo:
Here you can view a slice of time where the subject is animated through the repetitive moment of reading a newspaper in the midst of a crowded urban setting. It's hard to imagine a more precise way to emphasize the experience shown in this image; it feels like you're falling deeper into another layer within the photo.
Some other amazing and beautiful examples (c/o Cinemagraphs.com):
In this last example, the GIF is describing the action of adding honey to a kettle in the brewing process and the loop reinforces the process in a simple, elegant way. In fact, this GIF is only one from a series of Cinemagraphs that help describe the brewing process at Dogfish Brewery - an incredible and innovative way to tell a story through so much more than just pictures.
Treat yourselft to the full view, and check them out all out here.
So has the animated GIF actually evovled past it's early roots as a silly, comedic agitator to to a point of artistry?