Like in the fairy tale, GIF had evolved from a clumsy pixelated duckling into a gracious melancholic swan. But does it mean that the fun days are over?
The arrival of cinemagraphs last year was heralded as the coming of age to the animated GIF. Enough of the silly jokes!
Granted, the webscape has changed a lot since the good old text-heavy days of Web 1.0. Animated flames are no more the way to add sex appeal to your website. Flashing “Under Construction” is in fact an obituary and even the infamous dancing baby doesn’t do the trick for website visitors any more. But if you think that the fun is over, think again. It has just moved to the next level.
Take Paul Robertson. His work is strongly inspired by manga and Western pop culture which he mixes in various ways. This colourful world has everything. Fighting scenes? Check! Weird anime creatures? Check! Big-boobed Pixel babes? Check! Some of his animations are so close to being seinen manga that technically you have to be over 18 to watch them.
Francoise Gamma, on the other hand, has created a super surrealistic space world that brings to mind both the 1990’s rave parties and Stanislav Lem’s ”Solaris”. Are those figures doing what you think they’re doing? How is that even possible? His newer works can be seen at his ComputersClub page.
Fans of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” will definitely be delighted by Elvis (the) Weathercock’s Gallerie de Guffaws. Surrealism in these dimensions is a rare and pleasant encounter. And by these dimension I mean surrealism as in God and Man sharing a spliff or a man falling down from M.C.Escher’s endless stairs. Another artist using famous works of art to create GIF-animations is Saul Chernick, whose works liven up the encounters with Death almost as much as Terry Pratchett.
In fact, does it even make sense to speak of cinemagraphs as a completely new step in the evolution of animated GIF? Yes and no. Cinemagraphs are indeed (thankfully) a big step away from the ‘average’ GIF you’ll find aplenty on, say, Memebase and BannedinHollywood. Although these funniest-home-videos GIFs can be hilarious (I’m a big fan of Animals Being Dicks), they do not even get close to pushing the boundaries of the format. Compared to these GIFs, cinemagraphs are definitely something new.
However, leaving the mainstream aside and comparing Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg or Mr. Whaite with Elvis Weathercock or Paul Robertson, shows that the differences are not that great after all. Elvis Weathercock’s Marilyn Monroe is not that different from Mr. Whaite’s Marilyn. Mood is different, sure. Cinemagraphs and other Subtle School GIFs like the Tumblr gallery of movie stills tend to convey a melancholic or meditative mood instead of absurd humour.
Nevertheless, both the Subtles and Surrealists use motion in a similar way. It is an element that tells a story. The difference is that Surrealists take an existing scene and make it absurd, whereas the Subtles seek to find the meditative in the moment of time. In PBS Off-Book series Beck and Burg describe it as “trying to capture the moment”.
The new generation GIF renaissance has brought new reflectivity to the medium. It has made GIF – the annoying perpetuum mobile – slow down in a graceful manner. But instead of breaking its playful spirit, this renaissance has added it a new dimension. The fun is not gone; it’s just not the only thing about GIF any more. If that’s what growing up means to it, bring it on.
Kristel Pent, living in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is currently working on re-training her skills in portrait painting. Loves digital humanities, books, bookmarking interesting web content, volleyball and travelling.