GIFs : Re-birth of a Medium

GIFs : Re-birth of a Medium

The GIF is an image file format created in 1987 by CompuServe as a portable, low bandwidth image file easily rendered by a web browser. Restricted to only 256 colours, and able to store multiple frames in a single image, the GIF brought animated movement to the static webpages of the 1990s in an era before YouTube and Flash.

Since the early days of the web, users have been posting animated GIFs. Once synonymous with shovelling construction workers on parked domains, GIFs are now more frequently appropriated images than hand drawn, but like their predecessors, they attract attention.

In the way that Twitter has shortened news flashes to 140 characters, the new animated GIFs can express a point of view, with humor, in just a few frames.

And though they once embodied all that was tacky on the Web, animated GIFs have even been elevated to an art form.

GIFs are one of the oldest image formats used on the web. Throughout their history, they have served a huge variety of purposes, from functional to entertainment.

The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) is a bitmap image format that has come into widespread usage on the World Wide Web due to its wide support and portability.

The format supports up to 8 bits per pixel thus allowing a single image to reference a palette of up to 256 distinct colors. The colors are chosen from the 24-bit RGB color space. It also supports animations and allows a separate palette of 256 colors for each frame.

The color limitation makes the GIF format unsuitable for reproducing color photographs and other images with continuous color, but it is well-suited for simpler images such as graphics or logos with solid areas of color.

GIF images are compressed using the Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) loss-less data compression technique to reduce the file size without degrading the visual quality. This compression technique was patented in 1985.

Controversy over the licensing agreement between the patent holder, Unisys, and CompuServe in 1994 spurred the development of the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) standard; since then all the relevant patents have expired.

Modern Day GIF Artists

Micael Reynaud

Micael Reynaud is a French freelance designer who creates these mind-bending Gif animations that he describes as “hypnotic very short films”, and which are made of over 100 pictures for some. He enjoys working on Gifs because of their added fluidity, compared to stop-motion

Martin Schoeller Portrait-Morphing by Micaël Reynaud”

click on the photo of Cate Blanchett (above) to see the amazing hi res GIF by Micael Reynaud using photos taken by Martin Schoeller

Amalgamation of Michael Jang photos by Micael Reynaud

In 1983, San Francisco photographer Michael Jang took a series of portraits of would-be weather reporters. It took him 30 years to “loosen up” and finally publish the photos.

Jang’s analog photographs, now celebrated in the art world despite their 30-year hibernation, have so quickly been “amalgamated” into a purely digital art form by Micael Reynaud

Serial animated GIF-maker Micael Reynaud stumbled on those photographs and looped them together into an animated amalgamation. When the Daily Dot interviewed Reynaud last year, he told us he loved GIFs because of the repetition.  “It’s like a hypnotic very short film,” he said.

Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg

Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg are from New York City

Visual Graphics Artist Kevin Burg began experimenting with the .GIF format in this style in 2009 but it wasn’t until he partnered with photographer Jamie Beck to cover NYFW that Cinemagraphs were born.

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 and Burg named the process “Cinemagraphs” for their cinematic quality while maintaining at its soul the principles of traditional photography

Marrying original content photography with the desire to communicate more to the viewer birthed the cinemagraph process. Starting in-camera, the artists take a traditional photograph and combine a living moment into the image through the isolated animation of multiple frames.

To quote supermodel Coco Rocha “it’s more than a photo but not quite a video”.

Launched virally through social media platforms Twitter and Tumblr, both the style of imagery and terminology has become a class of its own. The creative duo are looking forward to exploring future display technologies for gallery settings as well as pushing this new art form and communication process as the best way to capture a moment in time or create a true living portrait in our digital age while embracing our need to communicate visually and share instantly.

In their work, only certain elements of an image are animated/moving, drawing your attention to very specific parts of the image

El Hadji Diouf trips – internet Forum phenomenon

“Diouf Trips” is an exploitable GIF series based on a replay footage of El Hadji Diouf, a professional football player currently playing with the Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish Premier League, getting tackled by an opponent defense player while dribbling the ball during a match in February 2011.

El Hadji Diouf is a Senegalese football player who is best known for his ability to handle a versatile range of positions. However he has also brought a large amount of media attention to himself for a series of controversial incidents and remarks, such as numerous offenses of spitting at spectators, cursing at the referee during a match and most recently announcing his support for the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

During his debut match for the Rangers against Hearts FC on February 2nd, 2011, Diouf was tackled by Hearts’ midfielder Ian Black, resulting in an injury for the Senegalese footballer

Not wishing to waste such a golden opportunity, Something Awful user T. Finn posted a forum thread titled “What tripped El Hadji Diouf ?  A GBS Photoshop Project” on Feb 5th, 2011:

“Yes, I know all Photoshop threads should start with a submission by the OP. However due to reasons I can’t comment on at this time I am legally prevented from using any photo manipulation software. However an image has come up that I feel could be made quite funny by those of you who are actually good with Photoshop. Ideally we could get close to the Zidane headbutt thread after WC 2006.”

Hilarity ensued as other Something Awful users jumped in on the thread, resulting in hundreds of GIF animations of Diouf blundering his way through scenes from popular movies and video games. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the thread was kept open beyond the thread’s default deadline.

The GIF files began to spread across varios club football communities like Red Cafe and Celtic Talk as well as social media blogs like MemeBase, BuzzFeed, FunnyJunk and TheChive, further driving the trend beyond Something Awful forums

It’s remarkable that this simple little file format has played such a pivotal role in so many iterations of the Internet, which was still just a couple of networked computers when Steve Wilhite invented it at Compuserve.

Today’s Internet would be basically unrecognizable to web users of that era–except for the GIFs, of course.

According to Steve Wilhite, the creator of the GIF format, the original pronunciation deliberately echoes the American peanut butter brand, Jif, and the employees of CompuServe would often say “Choosy developers choose GIF”, spoofing this brand’s television commercials.

This pronunciation was also identified by CompuServe in their documentation of a graphics display program called CompuShow.

  • GIFs are suitable for sharp-edged line art (such as logos) with a limited number of colors. This takes advantage of the format’s lossless compression, which favors flat areas of uniform color with well defined edges.
  • GIFs can be used to store low-color sprite data for games.
  • GIFs can be used for small animations and low-resolution film clips.
  • In view of the general limitation on the GIF image palette to 256 colors, it is not usually used as a format for digital photography.
  • Digital photographers use image file formats capable of reproducing a greater range of colors, such as TIFF, RAW or JPEG.

GIF is palette-based: the colors used in an image (a frame) in the file have their RGB values defined in a palette table that can hold up to 256 entries, and the data for the image refer to the colors by their indexes (0–255) in the palette table. The color definitions in the palette can be drawn from a color space of millions of shades (224 shades, 8 bits for each primary), but the maximum number of colors a frame can use is 256.

This limitation seemed reasonable when GIF was developed because few people could afford the hardware to display more colors simultaneously.

Simple graphics, line drawings, cartoons, and grey-scale photographs typically need fewer than 256 colors.

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