The charm of the GIF


Here’s a serendipitous interweb discovery : an artist named RRRRRRRRoll (8 R’s) who produces charmingly animated GIFs like the one above (many more on her Tumblr site).

The GIF is a low-resolution old format dating from 1987 (Wikipedia article here). It would have disappeared long ago but for two saving graces : small file size, because of the limited, 256-colour palette, and  its ability to display crude animations, basically a series of a few to a few dozen pictures displayed sequentially, flip-book style.

Once overused as an attention-grabbing advertising technique (with web pages littered with garish animated ads like the spoof one below), GIFs got a bad rep. They continue to build on that, with a startpage.com search for “animated GIF” bringing up zillions of lame GIFs people have thrown together.

But there has been a (minor) rise in GIF interest from artists, driven probably by digital nostalgia and the urge to simplify. Earlier this year, The Photographers’ Gallery in London put on a show called Born in 1987: the Animated GIF — its JoyOfGIF Tumblr archive won’t change your life, but it’s an lively browse. And there’s the occasionally find like RRRRRRRRoll, who can still use the GIF evoke a certain innocent whimsy. Makes me want to fool around with the form.

If you really wanna dig into the high art, here’s an academic paper entitled The Affect of Animated GIFs (Tom Moody, Petra Cortright, Lorna Mills) with links to some eye-poppping (and -hurting) GIFs like Tom Moody’s 2005 OptiDisc (below).

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