If I have my facts right, what you are seeing is a GIF-ITI — Donwood actually painted a building multiple times and took photos, then turned them into an animation:
My challenge was to take two very static items, a beautiful lino-cut and a less beautiful box of a building, and bring them to life. After a week of sweating in the Los Angeles late summer sun re-painting the whole building several times i got there. Animated as a continuous GIF it may only live online but some would argue that is where most now live their lives…
Preston Blair’s Animation (Book 1) is the best “how to” book on cartoon animation ever published. When Blair put the book together in 1947, he used the characters he had animated at Disney and MGM to illustrate the various basic principles of animation. Apparently, the rights to use some of the characters were revoked after the book was already in the stores. Publication was halted for a time, and he was forced to redraw most of the MGM characters, replacing them with generic characters of his own design. The revised edition went on to become a classic, and the first edition was forgotten.
Jonah Weiner in his piece on the “glorious GIF renaissance,” wrote that while animated GIFs might seem like nostalgic, throwback, internet junk food, “they perform distinct functions that other formats can’t.”
One thing the GIF does well is “the money shot,” or “the payoff,” or the “Did you see that?” moment:
There is an appealing economy to these GIFs. They get to the point instantaneously, and at the exact moment when one feels the impulse to rewind and watch the climax again, the loop restarts right where it should. In the two minutes it might take me to load a viral video and watch it in full, I can watch the money shots of 15 different viral videos. Yes, we’re talking about decadent levels of impatience, inanity, and time-wasting here, but GIFs allow us to waste less time online—or, rather, to waste it more efficiently.
Weiner also writes that GIFs are great at “reliving and exulting in shared experiences, where zero setup is needed because a familiarity with context is assumed on the part of viewers.”
Tufte pointed to this batch of amazing baseball pitches as a perfect use of the medium. (A baseball pitch also contains the two elements above that Weiner wrote about: “the money shot” and a “familiarity with context.”) It got me thinking about ways in which we could use animated GIFs as not just time-wasters, but as explanations or illuminations… (UPDATE:@adamgoucher sent me this fantastic post of animated GIFs showing the physics of World Series baseball swings.)
I was also reminded of this batch of James Brown dance moves where the .gif-maker sampled pieces of a youtube video, added annotations (“funky chicken,” and “The Boogaloo”), and put them into a photoset, providing a fabulous entertainment, yes, but also suddenly giving us a “Small multiples” information display that Tufte is so fond of:
Tufte has said over and over: “To make comparisons, it’s better to have information adjacent in space than stacked in time.” You can stretch this a bit and fit it to the internet, and certainly the Tumblr dashboard. (Witness this animated GIF of a Clayton Cubitt video getting almost 3x as many likes as the original.) Seems like for maximum effect, it’s often better to have information in space period.
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. Now, 25 years after the first GIF was created, they are experiencing an explosion of interest and innovation that is pushing them into the terrain of art. In this episode of Off Book, we chart their history, explore the hotbed of GIF creativity on Tumblr, and talk to two teams of GIF artists who are evolving the form into powerful new visual experiences.
When reading a 1976 oral history book called I Wish I Could Give My Son A Raccoon, he came across a line that seemed really familiar: “We’ve always been hewers of wood and the drawers of water.” He went home and checked his bookshelves:
I grabbed off the shelf a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 masterpiece, “Blood Meridian.” Right there in the first paragraph of the first page was the line: “His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water …” I thought I had uncovered some secret, cracked a code. As McCarthy himself said in one of his rare print interviews, given to The New York Times in 1992, “The ugly fact is books are made out of books.” After a little more research, I found out this same line about hewers of wood and drawers of water appears in a much older and more well-known book, the King James Bible, in Joshua 9:23. At first I thought McCarthy had copied this woman’s line, but in reality, she had likely taken it from the Bible as he probably did. Unoriginality was much more ancient than I had originally suspected.
I went down to the Tate and they’ve got a huge collection of Victorian Christmas cards so I went through the collection and photocopied things and started moving them around. So the style just developed out of that rather than any planning being involved. I never analysed the stuff, I just did it the quickest, easiest way. And I could use images I really loved.