tom moody

casual GIF theory

Was having some email back and forth with John Michael Boling about the recent spate of "animated GIFs are back" articles (Slate, Jezebel, Dazed & Confused, Vice/Motherboard that I know of). He said

Its interesting to see animated GIFs get coverage in more mainstream places, but those places always focus on the wrong things when they cover stuff like that. They always misread the sincerity as irony.

oh well a few of us out there know the truth -- the overwhelming difference a 10ms timing shift in a single frame can have to the feel of an animation, the elegance in an appropriately used dither, the subtle power that exists in the size limitations of the gif format, the chaotic perfection that can be squeezed out of a rigid bitmap grid, the individual patina that each browser gives to the gif's motion and resolution, etc, etc, etc, etc

Sally McKay's essay The Affect of Animated GIFs mentions the slow frame rate and how it makes you more aware of the mechanics of animation. That is interesting and why I prefer GIFs to straight video. Was happy to be included in that article but am not sure a couple of her terms apply to the GIFs I most like. "Affect" to me connotes a kind of sub-emotion, almost like a reflex, or a numbness in the place of emotion. Certain GIFs take "peak" moments from movies and loop them (e.g., the once-transgressive exploding head in Scanners, or Charles Foster Kane clapping angrily for his wife's terrible opera singing): this reduces a shot that has great significance in the film to what I would call "mere affect." McKay also uses the term "anaesthetic," again, implying numbness. I prefer Peter Halley's phrase "low-budget mysticism," which he used to describe his suprematist-style paintings made with day-Glo paint and Roll-a-Tex texturizer (of motel ceiling fame). The best GIFs put you in a trance for as long as you want to be in it, hooking you up with the great beyond of sublime experience while keeping you in a pleasantly wised-up state as to how you are getting there.

- tom moody

December 20th, 2010 at 4:37 am

Posted in general