Resurgence of the Animated Gif



Cinemagraph – Animated Gif Redux

The grand daddy of browser compatible image formats loops back in the limelight. Whether you pronounce it with a hard g as in “gift” or soft g as in “gem”, gifs are here to stay… and they’re classier than ever.

A Little History

In 1987 the Graphics Interchange Format (gif) was introduced and embraced for its whopping 8-bit per pixel, 256 web-safe color palette. By 1989, these images could be strung together into a rapid sequence to create simple animations, in addition to supporting transparent backgrounds. In 1993, Mosaic unveiled the ability to embed them into HTML pages and in 1994 the animations became “loopable.”
The animated gif was alive.
animated email graphic NEW graphic animated Under Construction GIF
The internet would never be the same. It quickly became over-saturated with spinning globes, waving flags, dancing babies and blinking construction signs. Visitors were so bombarded by animated gifs, their eyes adapted and learned to automatically avert the blinky madness, leaving us all with a tinge of “banner blindness.” By the end of the ‘90s, pulsing gif ad banners had fallen out of favor and were replaced by Flash-based, text-driven ads. Then, finally, along comes .png format in 1996 with its sexy alpha channels and 32-bit color palette, and it was game over for the jaggedy edged gif.
R.I.P., Little Buddy.
Or so we thought…

The Internet Culture

Parallel to the timeline mentioned above, the internet, as a whole, was becoming more and more of a widespread household activity. It went from being a business and academic network communications tool, to a popular form of entertainment for the masses. It became a culture, in its own right.
Social hubs and photo-sharing platforms were created for users to post and share these moving bits of entertainment. The galleries provided “single serving” bite-size chunks of digital fodder for a newly spawned short-attention-spanned subculture. The internet meme came to life. Anyone who created an animated gif had hopes of it going viral on a level of Hamster Dance fame.
Animated miceAnimated miceAnimated mice
Then came YouTube and cameraphones. High-quality cameras and video editing software became accessible and affordable to a majority of internet users. Again, this changed the game and the animated gif trend was overshadowed by self-published short videos.
Tumblr, Reddit, Imgur, and other social networking sites, are largely responsible for another rising of the animated gif. There’s something about the “simplicity” of it that appeals to users, not to mention the small file size is appreciated by those viewing via mobile phones on limited data plans.

Moving photographs

A Cinemagraph is an image that contains within itself a living moment that allows a glimpse of time to be experienced and preserved endlessly. – Beck + Burg

Recently in 2011, the fashion magazine industry further propelled animated gifs back into popularity as artistic moving photographs, or “cinemagraphs.” Photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck pioneered the marriage of magazine-quality, fashion centric photos with an isolated animated moment, looped and frozen in time.

Cinemagraph by Kevin Burg + Jamie Beck

Cinemagraph by Kevin Burg + Jamie Beck

Cinemagraph by Kevin Burg + Jamie Beck

Cinemagraph by Kevin Burg + Jamie Beck

Classy, right? You have to love the subtle movement… in a 200kb image, no less.
This sparked interest in the artistic photography scene and inspired some beautiful work, which in turn, inspired the cameraphone culture to want to create their own. In fact, dig in, there’s an app for that! (iPhone and Android) You can also create them in Photoshop by importing video frames to Timeline layers. (Tutorial)
Of course,  all of this harkens back to Eadweard Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope photographic series from the late 1870’s.
Eadweard Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope photographic Image of a Nude man striking a blow with right hand (Animal Locomotion, 1887, plate 344)
I’m curious to see how the future continues to blur between photography and video. For some reason, Cyriak‘s Baaa comes to mind…

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