fyi [links, jun 2016]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

The author of this article takes the position that ”standard“ GIFs included in GIF-libraries should not be used. Staple GIFs that can be found via key word search are convenient on one hand, but on the other hand rather arbitrary and may lack the personal note.

Here we have a short article portrait about a spanish artist, including some of his thought of GIFs in the context of art, social commentary and different audience groups for modern art.

Last month I haven’t found that many links. As a small compensation, here are two links to older podcast episodes about some aspects of GIF culture:

About two years ago, Tyler Menzel from Giphy was a guest at the sideshow podcast. (MP3)

Last summer, the Teen Screen Feminism Podcast had an episode about ”shipping“ – fan fiction and GIFs in that context. (MP3)


Déjà-vu: GIFs at the Olympic Games 1900, 2012 and 2016

Deutsche Version lesen

Round and round it goes for the gymnast on the high bar. Eternally. Always in the same manner. Actually, their endurance should come to an end eventually, but the motion is captured in a GIF loop that lasts as long as the spectators remain in curiosity*. Reoccurring motions are amongst the classical GIF motifs, either by humans, animals or machines, either dance, assembly line or bodily exercise.

Gymnastics have been (like in this animation by Ottomar Anschütz) and still are a popular motif for GIFs.
Gymnastics have been (like in this animation by Ottomar Anschütz) and still are a popular motif for GIFs.

But the motif is not always a perfect loop of motion, at all. Fails or other non-looping clips are famous as well. However, sport events are one of the most common branch of GIF motif providers.

Four years ago – one Olympiad – we witnessed the hype of the GIF format’s 25th anniversary. This date marks the phase in GIF culture history when a broad audience became aware of GIFs as a cultural technique. The Oxford Dictionary named „gif“ their word of the year, countless retrospections were published in the media and GIFs have been discovered as a journalistic device.

This new appropriation probably emerged during the Olympic Games in London in the same year. Thanks to an animation of a gymnastic exercise in permanent repetition, the nuances of this sport become visible in detail. This way, the judging panel’s rating – based on the critical evaluation of experts – becomes more comprehensible for the audience.

The desire to precisely analyse the movement of humans and animals already existed more than a century ago and image series have been used back then as well. The chronophotography of a galloping horse, made by Eadweard Muybridge, is still famous and iconic. But not only him, Etienne-Jules Marey, Ottomar Anschütz, Georges Demenÿ and others put motion sequences at the centre of their work as photographers and engineers. Their chronophotographies captured persons who climbed stairs, performed somersaults or other movements – and have been almost naked in many cases.

During this pre- and early historic phase of cinematic history, Marey attended the Olympic Games in Paris in the year 1900 to produce image series of athletes. He used an obscure apparatus that resembled a rifle rather than a camera and shot several meters of film in a short time span. Just like GIFs illustrate motion sequences very well, Marey’s picture series were a perfect base to explore the technique of athletes from other countries.

By analysing single frames, many more details became visible than with the mere glimpse of the eyes during the event itself. Not only could Marey realise that the team from the USA have been victorious because of their superior technique, he later used his image series to teach his fellow French athletes these very techniques.

Marey was not interested in animating his images, his foremost interest was the inspection of single frames. Nowadays it is the other way round. The fine specifics of athletic movement are, thanks to looping GIFs, vividly captured without losing the flow of motion.

Since the Olympic Games in London 2012, the use of GIFs in online journalism evolved, of course. They are utilised mainly for entertaining purposes, for example to recap the “best moments” of a film or a TV show. Sport GIFs do not fall short here, like in this collection of tennis GIFs, that allegedly make you laugh, cry and scream (I smell… clickbait), or numerous football GIFs on Twitter, that already caused conflicts with the NFL.

Despite all disadvantages and limitations of the GIF format, it can serve well for reporting or even knowledge transfer and shows a high potential for sport coverage. But since GIFs are mostly used for entertainment, it remains to be seen whether the 2016 Olympic Games stimulate the full capacity of animations or if journalists will use GIFs merely as a clickbait device.


*translation note: In the original German version of this text, I used the term “Schaulust” which draws a subtle connection to scopophila (pleasure in looking).

Literature tip regarding the work of Marey, including the pictures of Olympic Games in 1900:
Braun, Marta (1994): Picturing Time. The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

fyi [links, may 2016]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

TGIF: A New Dataset and Benchmark on Animated GIF Description
More GIF science, hooray! This paper examines techniques for automatic GIF description. Two side notes: The authors see this as (only?) one step towards automatic video description. And this research was supported by Yahoo (and others) – might Flickr plan some new GIF features?

At first I wondered why I found so many articles about GIFs during the last weeks, but then I quickly became bored of the many mentions of Giphy. They apparently are on promotion tour to pursue their wet dream of total GIF domination – sadly I’m not joking.

Here is one of many recent portraits of how Giphy emerged, peppered with some context from the current situation of GIF culture. The following quote points out the most important observation: ”If Giphy succeeds, it could represent a massive shift in the way GIFs are produced and shared, effectively moving GIFs from a mostly bottom-up expression of the Internet counterculture to a mostly top-down product led by the marketing agendas of big media companies and brands.“

How the GIF Is Taking Over the World“ – Seriously, can nobody talk about GIFs without drowning in superlatives anymore? Anyway, this is one of these articles that sums up GIF trends from the last year or so and I actually only link to it because of this: “That interactive future for photography is not yet here, but GIFs are perhaps the harbingers of what’s the come.“ Well then, bring it on:)

From Zoetrope to GIF and back
This article follows the traces of Zoetrope-like artefacts in the GIF-dominated world of animations nowadays.

Twitter’s ‘GIF Party’ Is Just a Sneaky Way for the Site to Promote Itself“ – The headline raises hopes for a critical media analysis, but after a short introduction the author presents… a list of his favourite GIFs from Twitter. m( Or should we rather call it Videos?

MEMEWARS: of gif campaigns and gamer politics“ was a short talk at the re:publica about the approach to use visual communication for political activism and what effects have to be concerned when trying to do that.

In the first 20 minutes of this ”Reply All“ podcast episode, you can hear the well researched story about the old GIF website Animation Plaza, that was full of obscure GIFs.

This last link is a German article that contains one aspect I’d like to mention here. German scholar Daniela Wentz, who was interviewed for this article, describes the ”Distinktionskraft“ of GIFs (one might translate it as distinction potency). By comparing GIFs to emoji, she highlights how the enormous variety of GIFs may give you an exact expression for a very specific emotion. This way, GIFs include very fine nuances that go far beyond a rather simple smiley. Of course, we all knew that, but it’s nice to have an analytical term for it.

Déjà-vu: GIFs bei den Olympischen Spielen 1900, 2012 und 2016

Read the English version here

Runde um Runde dreht sich die Turnerinnen am Reck. Endlos. Immer wieder auf die gleiche Weise. Eigentlich müsste die sportliche Ausdauer irgendwann nachlassen, aber im GIF ist die Bewegung in einer Schleife festgehalten, die so lange anhält, wie die Betrachter in ihrer Schaulust ausharren. Wiederkehrende Bewegungen gehören zu den klassischen GIF-Motiven, egal ob von Mensch, Tier oder Maschine, ob Tanz, Produktionsstraße oder eben Leibesertüchtigung.

Turnübungen sind damals (hier von Ottomar Anschütz) wie heute ein beliebtes Bewegtbild-Motiv.
Turnübungen sind damals (hier von Ottomar Anschütz) wie heutzutage ein verbreitetes Bewegtbild-Motiv.

Längst nicht immer ist das Motiv eine perfekte Kür oder überhaupt ein Loop, auch Fails oder andere Ausschnitte sind beliebt. Auf jeden Fall aber sind sportliche Ereignisse einer der häufigsten Motivgeber für GIFs.

Vier Jahre – eine Olympiade also – liegt der Hype um den 25. Geburtstag des GIF-Dateiformats nun zurück. Dieses Jubiläum markiert in der Geschichte der GIF-Kultur die Phase, in der sich GIFs einer sehr breiten Publikumsmasse als Kulturtechnik erschlossen. Wir erinnern uns: Das Oxford Dictionary hat „gif“ zum Wort des Jahres erkoren, zahlreiche Rückblicke auf die vergangenen GIF-Dekaden waren in den Medien zu lesen und vor allem wurden sie als journalistisches Medium entdeckt.

Diesen neuen Anwendungsbereich haben GIFs wohl unter anderem den Olympischen Spielen in London zu verdanken, die im gleichen Jahr stattfanden. Dank einer Animation von einer Turnübung in permanenter Wiederholung werden die Feinheiten des Sports besonders gut sichtbar. Das, worauf die geschulten Augen der Jury achten, wird hierbei auch für andere besser zu analysieren und das Jury-Urteil wird besser nachzuvollziehen.

Schon mehr als hundert Jahre zuvor bestand der Wunsch, die Bewegung von Mensch und Tier besser analysieren zu können und bereits damals wurden Serienbilder eingesetzt. Die Chronofotografie des galoppierenden Pferds, aufgenommen von Eadweard Muybridge, genießt noch immer große Bekanntheit. Nicht nur er, auch Zeitgenossen wie Etienne-Jules Marey, Ottomar Anschütz, Georges Demenÿ und einige weitere hatten menschliche Bewegungsabläufe als Motiv für ihre Bilderserien erkannt. Mit ihren Chronofotografien hielten sie häufig Menschen fest, dierannten, Treppen stiegen, Purzelbäume schlugen oder ähnliches – und das nicht selten fast nackt.

Während dieser Vor- und Frühgeschichte des Kinos fertigte Marey bei den Olympischen Spielen in Paris im Jahre 1900 Fotoserien von den Sportlern an. Hierfür benutzte er einen kuriosen Apparat, der mehr an ein Gewehr als an eine Kamera erinnert und meterweise Film in kurzer Zeit in Fotoserien verwandelte. So wie GIFs heute die sportlichen Bewegungsabläufe besonders gut für das Publikum sichtbar machen, konnte Marey auf ähnliche Weise die Technik der Sportler aus anderen Ländern auskundschaften.

Durch eine genaue Analyse der einzelnen Aufnahmen waren mehr Details zu erkennen als mit bloßem Auge während des Wettkampfes selbst. Nicht nur konnte er erkennen, dass die Olympioniken aus den USA wegen ihrer besseren Technik siegten, das gesammelte Bildmaterial konnte später eingesetzt werden, um seinen französischen Landsleute später eben jene sportlichen Techniken beizubringen.

Eine Animation der Serienbilder war nicht Mareys eigentliches Interesse. Da er die Fotografien für Analysezwecke erstellte, ging es ihm vor allem um die einzelnen Standbilder. Heutzutage ist es andersherum. Die Feinheiten der sportlichen Bewegung werden mithilfe von Loops besonders anschaulich, ohne dabei den Bewegungsfluss außen vor zu lassen.

In den letzten Jahren seit den Olympischen Spielen in London hat sich der Gebrauch von GIFs im Online-Journalismus natürlich weiterentwickelt. Sie werden vorrangig zu Unterhaltungszwecken eingesetzt, etwa um „die besten Momente“ eines Films oder einer Serie zu rekapitulieren. Sport-GIFs kommen dabei nicht zu kurz, wie in diesem Beitrag mit Tennis-GIFs, die angeblich zum lachen, weinen und schreien anregen (Clickbait ick hör dir trapsen), oder zahlreichen Football-GIFs auf Twitter, die bereits Konflikte mit der NFL (US-Football-Liga) nach sich zogen.

Trotz aller Nachteile und Limitationen des GIF-Formats kann es angemessen für Berichterstattung oder sogar Wissensvermittlung eingesetzt werden und zeigt vor allem beim Sport seine Stärken. Aber gerade angesichts dessen, dass GIFs selbst im journalistischen Kontext mit Vorliebe zur Unterhaltung eingesetzt werden, bleibt es abzuwarten, ob die Olympischen Spiele 2016 das Potenzial von Animationen ausschöpfen, so wie 2012, oder ob GIFs im Journalismus doch nur zum Clickbait-Instrument verkommen werden.

Literaturtipp zu den Arbeiten von Marey, u.a. bei den Olympischen Spielen:
Braun, Marta (1994): Picturing Time. The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

fyi [links, apr 2016]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

A short report on Google’s April Fool’s ”Feature“ which completely went wrong. Why am I linking this? Because by clicking ”Send and Mic Drop“ Google Mail users could end a conversation by sending a Minion Mic Drop GIF – and apparently someone lost their job because of using this accidentally.

Recently, everyone and their grandma is talking about AI, especially after the AlphaGo vs. Lee Go game. Consequently, a pair of artists used a neural network to alter stereoscopic GIFs (wigglegrams) into colourful, trippy versions. They experimented with different art styles to observe how well these play along with the stereoscopic effect.

A GIF of a crucifix machine came across me several times during the last week or so and it was made as part of a master thesis art project. You can watch this and other animations here.

Remember FLIF, another approach for a new lossless image file format with some nice ideas for animation? Here you can read an interview with one of its creators.


A few days ago, the online exhibition ”Geographically Indeterminate Fantasies: The Animated GIF as Place“ was launched. Art F City has some thoughts about it and here you can read a curatorial statement.

And I totally missed the event ”What We Talk About When We Talk About GIFs: Visual Culture and Social Media“, organised by NYU Center for the Humanities. Luckily, all of the presentations can be watched on YouTube.

fyi [links, mar 2016]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

First we have an interview with Olia Lialina, who is one of the earliest GIF artists, about current web art development and her project to preserve GeoCities pages. In a sidenote she states, that she is ”not an animated GIF model anymore but a PNG model.“

Giphy founder Alex Chung held a presentation at SXSW (audio recording at Soundcloud). I try to hold back my criticism, but amongst only a few interesting ideas and viewpoints, I think most of his statements are either biased historical views or an exaggerated praise of GIF’s future. That’s something I also criticised about Adam Leibson’s (Giphy COO) statements earlier. The story they tell basically goes like that: GIFs are awsome, but just ”now“ they have gained ”real“ popularity and the Giphy guys actually see GIFs as the universial communication medium in the future. Guess that happens when you run a business focussed on GIFs and have to sell a product. At least that comes along with a huge variety of GIF applications and support for many artists. I just wish they could do that without presenting GIFs as the saviour of communication and without the absolutist demand that Giphy will be the one dominating GIF entity.

Also at SXSW, there was a discussion about sports events coverage on Twitter. They talk a little about GIFs here and there, but I think the key aspect was mentioned during the Q&A towards the end: Sports league officials started to realise that GIFs are very effective in spreading enthusiasm about sports. But handling copyright very restrictive, as those leages tend to do, only restrain this positive, community-driven effect.

And at last: I decided that I want a place to collect some GIFs that I make from time to time and present some from elsewhere on the web. You can find it at

fyi [links, feb 2016]

Some more or less recent stuff, focussed on GIFs. Or other web animations. Or something else loosely connected to that.

There is now a GIF search feature on Twitter.

After the analysis of Hillary Clintons GIFability some time ago, here are two articles about how GIFs seem to establish as a political campaign tactic for Donald Trump: one at The New York Times and one at Inverse .

In some months there are a ton of links, but this isn’t one of these months. So, to present you at least a third link, I picked ”something completely different“, but nonetheless an interesting example of creative GIF appropriation: Alfa-kinetix is a constructed alphabet that makes use of animations, and therefore is depicted by GIFs (at least at the Omniglot website).