Turning online animations into high art


Once upon a time, a motion picture lasted somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. Film shorts weren't entirely dead, but they were limited to classroom movies, music videos, and other relatively marginal outlets. From time to time a TV channel would show a miniseries, allowing writers and directors to tell a longer story. But those too were exceptions. If moving pictures were your medium of choice, you were expected to accept fairly rigid time constraints.

Today those limits have been shattered. Thanks to cable, DVDs, and Internet streaming, television now has room for stories that extend for dozens of hours but—unlike an old soap opera—follow from a storytelling vision sketched out in advance by just a few writers, or even by one man writing alone. On the other end of the spectrum, there has been a vast online revival of short films. A format virtually everyone had written off a decade and a half ago is now probably more widely watched than those feature-length pictures you see in the theater.

And then there is the animated GIF, simultaneously the shortest variety of motion picture (just a few seconds) and the longest (those seconds loop forever). As a technology, these have existed since 1987, but they've only just recently exploded in popularity, as mass access to the Internet allowed them to travel rapidly and virally online. The most popular GIFs are tiny snippets from movies and TV, ripped from one context and plugged into another: a disposable little gag to stick in a Tumblr post or a BuzzFeed article. But serious artists are working with GIFs too—photographers who want to introduce motion to their images, animators more interested in crafting a moment than telling an extended story, cartoonists who'd like to let some of their panels move, collagists delighted to have an extra dimension to play with. All creating strange and striking micro-movies.

Take Milos Rajkovic, a.k.a. Sholim, whose GIFs feel like a Max Ernst collage crossed with one of Terry Gilliam's animations from Monty Python's Flying Circus. In Manager, most of a man's head has been replaced by a birdcage lined with money; in the middle of a cage, a tiny brain runs on a hamster wheel. In Skinner Box Head, holes in a man's face reveal that he's a machine—and in the center of the head, where the brain ought to be, a chicken pecks repeatedly at part of the mechanism. Sholim loves to open people's skulls to reveal contraptions as complicated as any Rube Goldberg cartoon, but while the typical Goldberg machine is a ridiculously elaborate means to accomplish a simple goal, Sholim's creations spin purposelessly forever.


Lilli Carré's GIFs, meanwhile, are drawings that move. Sometimes they tell a tiny story: a woman eats an infinite supply of flowers (rose hips), balloons pop and fall to Earth (oh brother), an item repeatedly emerges from a woman's body to pierce her in the back (lil' self-sabotage). Other Carré GIFs, like the staggering strange snow, look like abstract expressionist paintings come to life.

Lilli Carré

The Turkish artist Erdal Inci is obsessed with cloning—not the biological process but the photographic one, in which the same person appears several times in a single image. Combining cloning with movement, Inci's GIFs frequently feature hordes of identical men performing the same action again and again. The effect is spooky, hypnotic, and occasionally comic: Inci's Stumblers, in which a mob trips en masse, looks like the climax of a Buster Keaton film.

Erdal Inci

Then there's Tiago Spina, a São Paulo artist whose efforts fall into so many styles that it's hard to generalize about his work. My favorite Spina GIF is Processo Criativo, in which an old-fashioned woodcut-style image of a man deep in thought is transformed by something you could never see in an actual woodcut: a pulsating orange light.

The animated GIF is not the first species of motion picture to combine brevity and eternity in this way, with a simple sequence repeating potentially forever. In the 19th century, optical toys with peculiar names—zoetropes, praxinoscopes, zoopraxi­scopes—created the illusion of motion by showing a succession of images in rapid sequence, helping pave the way for the movies. But unlike a 20th-century film (and unlike other 19th-century moving picture amusements, such as the flipbook) they span in a circle rather than progressing from beginning to end. Some of them feel surprisingly modern, even psychedelic.

How do I know what those ancient motion pictures look like? Because fans of early cinema have posted many of them online. Frequently as GIFs.

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  1. awesome examples. Interesting to think of Gifs as art.

    I remember a video installation in DC in 2002 where an artist made repeating video loops. The washington post described it as ‘purgatory’.

    I just found a description online: “Bethlehem, Pa., artist Ihsuan Lin’s multichannel video installation at DCAC offers an eternal present. A black thread unwinds endlessly from its spool. Scissors cut through a never- ending sheet of paper. An old-fashioned typewriter cranks out “one plus one plus one plus one” without hitting Return.”

    I think back about those video clips and think she was just a few years ahead of her time.

  2. Anybody remember how the GIF format was almost killed off because of a patent dispute? Now that it’s free of restrictions, it’s everywhere.

    1. The pronunciation dispute will never expire.

      1. The ‘g’ in ‘gif’ should be pronounced like the ‘g’ in ‘garbage’


    1. I never understood the rigid orthodox thinking that is so prevalent in the art world. I suppose it is a means for the established to keep a monopoly.

      Art is not restricted to any medium or style. Art is expression that inspires…simple as that.

      1. Art is not restricted to any medium or style. Art is expression that inspires…simple as that.

        I explained this exact view to my wife just today, and she said “Yeah, and that’s why I won’t ever go to an art gallery. Nothing is created to inspire, it’s just created to sell.”

  4. This is going to trigger the fuck out of Ted S.

  5. OT: So in the midst of a Go-Live for a client that is (not in my area, thank the deaf, fluffy lord) apparently turning into a clusterfuck. Been at it for 10 hours. Mostly waiting. I found some Busch NA in the office fridge. Its been in there since Labor Day. It tastes like slightly caffeinated sugar water. With only 13g of carbs, I strongly recommend this to anyone trying to step down from full sugar soda to sugar free. My final opinion: Far less offensive than Busch beer.

    1. I hope NA doesn’t mean what I think it does.

      1. Non-Toxic Alkaloids.

      2. My 1st guess was North America, but now I’ve settled on No Alcohol (as LA was Low Alcohol).

      3. Yeah. It does. Although it looks like we are actually working. Excuse me, the system is up and my tiny corner appears to be working. If they still need me on call, I’m going to go to the shitty beer-barn/country-bar across the street and have a real one.

  6. Like putting my mouse pointer where the balloon is going to pop. Wicked!

  7. GILFS are art? Ohhhh… .gifs!

  8. Big deal. I used to draw animated plane crashes in the margins of my textbooks, one scribble per page, then flip the pages.

  9. Are the GIFs of huge dicked futa women fucking the living shit out of a furry hermaphrodite dog morph while flying through space on a dildo rocketship also art?

    1. I started reading the comment body before the poster, and was expecting Agile Cyborg.

  10. OT: Charles C.W. Cooke is a goddamn trolling genius for getting this op-ed about African American gun rights published in the New York Times.

    Until around 1970, the aims of America’s firearms restrictionists and the aims of America’s racists were practically inextricable. In both the colonial and immediate post-Revolutionary periods, the first laws regulating gun ownership were aimed squarely at blacks and Native Americans. In both the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies, it was illegal for the colonists to sell guns to natives, while Virginia and Tennessee banned gun ownership by free blacks.

    In the antebellum period, the chief justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney, wrote a grave warning into the heart of the execrable Dred Scott decision. If blacks were permitted to become citizens, Taney cautioned, they, like whites, would have full liberty to “keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

    The freakout in the comments section is a thing of beauty.


    1. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Progressives are the dumbest fucking creatures on the face of planet Earth:

      The second amendment was designed to prevent Northern abolitionists from acting in Congress to disarm Southern slave patrols, which were necessary to keep the slaves in line. Disarm those patrols, which were usually part of the militia, and slavery would be unmanageable. Hence the language about a well organized militia being necessary to the security of the state, which needed to be armed. So, say what you will about the advantages of African-Americans being armed, you’ll not find support for that by celebrating the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment was passed to protect slavery and it deserves no one’s admiration.

      This moron thinks the second amendment was created to help anti-black slave patrols. Yeah, clearly the people who just got through fighting a revolution using guns that the government had tried to confiscate had no rational reason to maintain gun rights. Must be racism!

      1. In true progressive fashion, you will also notice that this nitwit (unlike Charles C.W. Cooke who provides a ton of citations and evidence) offers no proof of his assertion.

        I don’t need evidence! I’m a progressive and my feelings are always true!

        1. I will never, ever understand the mentality of a person who willingly, brainwashedly, disarms themselves. You don’t have to disarm this moron; he/she does it to themselves eagerly. This is the kind of person who would walk to the gas chamber with a skip in their step if their political overlords told them to. Just a disgusting waste of protoplasm.

      2. rogressives are the dumbest fucking creatures on the face of planet Earth:

        They’re a hybrid mix of communists, luddites, and assorted hysterical idiots. So yeah, they are nature’s example of a severe malfunction.

        1. Ok, so accidentally cutting off the P had no value…

        2. One would be inclined to think that Natural Selection should’ve finished them off long ago, but we keep them around for some reason…

      3. Oh man, I read that dude’s comment and laughed out loud. He’s so fucking nuts it must hurt.

        1. The other great one was the guy saying ‘How dare you invoke the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a pro-gun article’ even though Cooke quotes a friend of MLK’s who said he had an ‘arsenal’ in his home.

          Yeah, how dare you use an example of a well-armed civil rights leader in an article about well-armed civil rights leaders? You miserable disgusting gun nuts with your ‘facts,’ ‘evidence,’ and ‘historically accurate anecdotes!’

          1. But Irish, it doesn’t feel right!

      4. It got 10 recommendations from other NYTimers! It’s gotta be true!

      5. The great thing about the second amendment is that the intentions don’t MATTER. Whether the second amendment was written by racists or not is irrelevant. Having the freedom to carry levels the playing field so you can live next door to people who hate you without feeling powerless to stop them.

        Progs either can’t or won’t understand that because they live in a dreamworld where intentions trump everything.

      6. Proggies lie. Gun grabbers lie. Its what they do.

        Didn’t some fuckwit proggie write a book not long ago claiming that guns in america were a modern thing, that historically americans were not commonly armed?
        He got busted in his lie but I still hear proggies cite his work.

        1. Michael bell isles, arming america

          1. It’s “Bellesiles”. The book won the Bancroft Prize, but then promptly had it revoked once it came out that most of the facts in the book were bullshit. It was the first Bancroft Prize to be revoked.

    2. Fucking brilliant op-ed. Unfortunately, the left still won’t get it.

      1. The only thing the left gets is free shit, and they’re angry when they don’t get it.

      2. OH, they get it, thats why they are anti-gun.

    3. Reminds me of this book,…..0465033105 , which I’ve been meaning to read, about self defense in the Civil Rights movement.

      The fact that so many Democrats still want African Americans to be without the means to defend themselves is a good sign that the racism hasn’t gone away, they’re just better at hiding it.

    4. One of the many areas Blacks lag behind Whites is the suicide rate, Oh wait, that’s actually a good thing but now you want to try and make that “equal” too. Thanks.


      Given that the black gun homicide rate is like 4 times as high as the white gun homicide rate, I don’t think this guy knows what he’s talking about. Clearly a lot of black people own guns already, so I’m confused as to how he thinks applauding black gun rights would magically make all the black people start killing themselves.

      The magic gun aura just invades your mind and causes you to kill people, I guess.

    5. Holy fuck:

      If blacks are looking for a lot more trouble than they already have, getting hold of more guns would be an excellent start.

      It’s the New York Times, so this guy might be arguing that the ‘trouble’ would be caused by racist whites or some stupid shit like that. However, I can’t be the only one who reads this as ‘Armed darkies are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.’

      1. You got it exactly right. “Stay on the plantation and follow the rules you fucking niggers”

      2. I hope the Black Panthers show up at the home address to have a discussion about the relative merits of open carry.

  11. OT:…..ous-drugs/

    A federal court question weed’s schedule one status.

    1. See!? The courts work!

      It only took em … 45 years?

    2. The fact that a plant has a ‘schedule’ proves that we are still a primitive breed of primates.

    3. Testimony regarding the constitutionality of the federal statute designating marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance will be taken on Monday, October 27 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in the case of United States v. Pickard, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM.

      Um…constitutionality? What part of the Constitution are they claiming it violates? I’m thinking they didn’t really mean to use that word.

      However, I’d be more than willing to challenge the fed gov’s Constitutional authority to make any substance illegal.

      1. Yeah, it seems to me the only constitutional aspect at issue here is where the feds get the authority to ban anything. Technically I guess they could ban the importation of whatever they want because of the commerce clause, but if someone grows pot in their dorm room, there’s no justification for the feds banning it.

        1. Technically I guess they could ban the importation of whatever they want because of the commerce clause, but if someone grows pot in their dorm room, there’s no justification for the feds banning it.

          From a principles point of view, I agree. From a legal standpoint, Gonzales shows that the SCOTUS disagrees.

      2. If the government requires Schedule I to have no medical benefit and pot has obvious medical benefits then they are Unconstitutionally disobeying their own regulations by doing so.

        1. they are Unconstitutionally disobeying their own regulations by doing so.

          Okay. Are you an attorney or are you guessing? Or both? 😉

          And if so, then all they’ll need to do is change the definition of Schedule 1 from having no medical benefits to FYTW and all will be in order, right?

          1. Schedule I
            Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.

            Cannabis has multiple accepted medical uses. After the mid-term something like 23 states are likely to have MMJ permissive statutes. By the statue definition, marijuana does not meet the criteria of Schedule I. By keeping cannabis on Schedule I, the executive regulators are disregarding the statute passed down by Congress. Therefore they are maintaining an unconstitutional regulation. IF Federal Courts actually worked, this is exactly the sort of thing they were made for.

  12. The GIFs are cute. Of course, many of them express some SJW outrage at capitalism, free markets, big corporations, or whatever else socialist/progressive idea popped into the artist’s mind. That’s no coincidence either: most of the people creating this art are publicly supported and really have nothing better to do.

    1. But then there are the porn gifs.

      1. [citation needed]

      2. Pics or it did not happen.

    2. Huh, I though 97% of them were just funny clips of like… Simon Cowell rolling his eyes or some shit and then attached at the end of forum posts on buzzfeed.

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