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Animated GIFs: Annoying Fad or Teachable Moment?

Opinions on animated GIFs range from pure hatred to unabashed overuse. “Hide your eyes,” wrote one reporter on CNET. Meanwhile, Tumblr, which is the undisputed platform for animated GIF enthusiasts, announced it has reached over 100 million blogs. Now that Google has released a new search tool for these dynamic images, some wonder if we’ve reached peak GIF.

We may be experiencing the second incarnation of animated GIFs, a 25-year-old medium, but it feels totally different this time. More than just dancing babies and glittery hearts, animated GIFs now have the potential to evoke a whole new narrative depth. They can be distractingly anarchic or subtly creepy. They can also strike a balance between these two, offering a small, yet thoughtful charge of emotion. Alastair Macaulay’s homage to the State of Liberty in The New York Times was illustrated with three animated GIFs, each with calming, subtle looping movement—the rolling waves of the New York Harbor, a bird soaring past Lady Liberty, and the swaying branches of the trees on Ellis Island. Why aren’t all newspaper articles illustrated so dynamically?

Whether or not the revival of the animated GIF is a fleeting trend, they present an opportunity for animators and the community-at-large. Vine, which is Twitter’s answer to the animated GIF, is quickly becoming a teachable moment. “Vine is a wonderful thing,” wrote Daniel Stuckey on Motherboard. “It’s teaching the mainstream how to loop.”

On an obvious level, animated GIFs are a simple, lo-fi educational tool for teaching loop cycles. But I think they could yield far greater potential; animated GIFs could be to up-and-coming animators as ACEOs are to illustrators, painters and print makers— highly collectible miniature works of art that are traded and sold. I could also see an increase in animators taking commissions to create customized GIFs for avid fans.

Now that apps and software have foolproofed the GIF-making process, many have begun to experiment in wholly refreshing ways. Animators like Polly Dedman are creating animated GIFs unlike any I’ve seen before (see above). Major events, such as elections and award ceremonies, are being live GIFfed. Even Hollywood is exploring how animated GIFs can effectively promote feature length films by making them available as collectible downloads. The GIF is here to stay. So how can the animation community stake its claim in this rapidly evolving narrative medium?

  • Heh, that Kim Jong Un gif is pretty funny. :D

  • Apologies for the shameless self-promotion, but I did write a post addressing these very issues a few months back:

    • Lee

      Love that GIF you have under item 5. Nice and eerie!

      • Hey, thanks. I think the range and breadth of what can be done with them artisitcally has a lot further to go.

  • I think any medium can be put to good use: you just have to except that with every new medium there’ll be many people who use it very idley

  • jmahon

    as an animator I have a giant folder of what the internet calls
    “reaction gifs”, a fad nowadays where they’re used in place of text or
    smilies they’re short, small, fast loading gifs of tiny clips from TV
    and movies and whatnot that are usually just one fast little emotion or
    action the poster wants to convey, like an eye roll or a sarcastic laugh
    or a high five or something. They’re often hilarious, and are
    creatively used in context, and a hidden reference goldmine- I love them
    because they’re little acting snippets and are fantastic reference if
    you need some inspiration for a shot. They’re used the most on websites like reddit, or tumblr, who also create them.

    • Tim

      Why didn’t I think of that? You are a genius. I love that frightened Beaker gif.

    • Chase S.

      I definitely agree! :) I’ve turned my tumblr blog into a nice stash of Anim goodness!

  • Observant

    Don’t forget ADHD on fox is super GIF active, their website is pretty much updated with gifs almost every hour.

  • Stefan Marjoram

    Just be sure you’re happy with vine’s t&c’s before you get too carried away. It’s the increasingly familiar “we can do whatever we like with it without having to pay you anything” line. See point 5…

  • Another great site for interesting gifs is Whte Bkgrnd ( ) There’s a lot of experimentation with simple shapes and shadow that makes it worth a look. (Be warned, some of the earlier stuff is NSFW)

  • ZZDas

    GIF it’s and will be an important format for animators(and the whole world) for the speed of which it can be created and published but something that got my atention lately it’s the APNG [] format that uses the same principle as gif but instead of the 254 color limitation and because it use png you got all the colors you want, also it’s great to see that most web browser(Opera, FireFox..) now support this format natively and others like Chrome, with plugins like this [ , I have no idea about IE support and as a matter of fact, I’d like to know… anybody using it (to see apng’s?) ?

  • There’s a whole community of GIF artists out there now. I think GIFs are a great way for animators to get their start. To have something that is so instantly viewable works wonders for sharing your content. I have a tumblr that I update weekly with original GIFs, and I’ve even gotten some work from that. I know others that have too.

    (also here is my GIF blog: )

  • Spartan, even.

  • Without gifs, there would be no YTMND.