Once prolific across the expanses of the internet, animated GIFs became the disdained dregs of online culture, littering outdated Geospace pages, and mustering the average artistic merit of an infomercial. While the public at large lost interest, a cult following grew around the highly constrained but easily shared format, and recently there has been a resurgence in their popularity, which seems to have recently crested thanks to Tumblr. In their time out of the limelight, GIFs have evolved past the animated email icons and the encouragements to click on your home page, and have evolved their own visual vernacular. While there are still just as many bad GIFs as before, there are now as many beautiful and mesmerizing ones as well. One incredibly impressive duo that has been working in this medium is Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, who call their creations Cinemagraphs. Their GIFs are at first glance still photos, until you realize that certain details are moving, giving the impression of a living picture, a short sequence of time, caught in an infinite loop.
One of my favorite aspects of their work though is that they do not just create these single, stand alone moments, but will use them to create a narrative. Recently they collaborated with Dogfish Head brewery, and made a series of Cinemagraphs to describe the brewing of their special strawberry honey Tweason’ale.
You can see all of the images of this process, as well as the descriptions that accompany the steps on the Cinemagraph website. Beck and Burg developed their particular technique when trying to determine the best way to document New York Fashion Week.
The pair was inspired to create these cinemagraphs while preparing to cover Fashion Week this past February: “We wanted to tell more of a story than a single still frame photograph but didn’t want the high maintenance aspect of a video,” they told Co.Design via email. Primarily, Beck shoots the photos and Burg applies the motion-graphics magic in what they describe as “a highly collaborative process” that can take several hours of manual editing in order to breathe the whisper of life into each image. [...]
“The format has interesting capabilities as well as some severe limitations which are very influential in the visual style of our images,” say the pair. “GIF is very basic, highly linkable through outlets such as Tumblr, and integrated into the web. Flash certainly has more capabilities but since our images are at their heart a traditional photograph, a format like .gif makes the most sense.”
I had never previously thought of using an animated GIF to tell a story, but it seems like a logical choice for those times when a photo is too static, but want to avoid the trappings of video.