There was a ROFLCon panel on GIFs? Of course there was — and of course we were there. However, this was less about GIFs as source of brilliant comedy and more about GIFs as a foundation for artistic expression on the web. Or, you know, animated dong photos. A video of the opening presentation, and a transcript of some of the panel, after the jump.
Moderator Ethan Marcotte: What started you on making GIFs?
Aaron Meyers: I was fascinated by repetition. I started “Start Webcam,” which lets you create a GIF, and it became an iPhone app.
Jonny Vingiano: I run a blog called LeMeme, which has been happening since 2008. I also run OKFocus. Actually our first project was with Aaron. I started this at Emerson College as a blog for friends, and over the last couple of years it’s gotten more and more popular. This is not a Tumblr, but people think it is, so the audience that it’s found is very different.
Alana Post: I come at this from a wildly different angle. I’m just the idiot that collects things. I have a website called Each Day is a Gif. We started very broadly by just posting a GIF every day. It’s the poor man’s GIF collection.
The shorter and shorter forms that comedy can take are really attractive to me. These little files capture those moments, it’s an evolution of photography capturing an action instead of an occasion. And failing that, to simply provide an emotion, and the ability of them to disrupt threads and conversations and be distractions.
My role is mostly as a collector and an aficionado, not so much the art aspect as the part that makes my friends laugh.
Olia Lialina: I am a Net artist, and I started to work online in 1995. At that moment, GIFs weren’t really big, they weren’t talked about at online conferences and Internet discussions. GIFs are a big part of my personal life and professional life. I make only a few myself.
I made my first GIF because I needed some subtle movement in the corners for a work. In my later projects, I later tended to avoid the use of animated GIFs, although I was very interested in the movement, I wanted to be very medium specific, to use parts of the browser like frames and reloading to create are.
Things really changed around 2000, I started to teach, I was supposed to teach web design, but really we were teaching user culture. I wanted to show them what people did on the web before professional web designers. For example, Dancing Girl was on every page in 1997. I started to be more conscious of GIFs and collect them, and bring them back to the Web. By a certain point, every work was based on a collection of free GIFs.
Mod: What’s a favorite GIF?
Aaron: I guess if I had to pick a favorite, there’s a guy named David on Tumblr who makes great work (DVDP.Tumblr.com). He’s a motion artist. This guy, in addition to be an amazing animator, is really able to understand compression and technical limits. He makes these GIFs with no visible starting point or ending point and full of motion, and he’s prolific as well.
I really like these seamless loops that you can stare at for a long time.
Jon: I’m drawn to patterns a lot in the GIFs I enjoy. I like the poppy GIFs, but I’m also drawn to very flat black and white plain and simple GIFs. Guys like Dylan Fischer (Dylan Fischer.com). They’re studies in looping patterns and they’re really great. I’m drawn to abstraction in GIFs, maybe that comes from being a web designer and looking at these things as they fit into a larger system. This is Dylan’s way of telling a story, just in a very abstract manner.
Alana: The ones that I’m drawn to, favorites-wise, tend to be the more absurd the better. My sources are mostly Tumblr. I have a pretty amazing collection of Deal With It GIFs. Animation is a great resource as well. I guess either it’s taking older elements and bringing out the absurd, stuff that already inherently loops just calls out to be clipped. Owls and cats in particular.
I like them in a mass without any taxonomy reduces them to just a moment. The artist in me isn’t satisfied with how it’s done, but the Internet ADD person in me loves it.
Olia: The Dancing Girl GIF is an inspiration. What I think is beautiful about it is that so many people copied it, and changed the name, but didn’t fix any flaws.
Mod: What makes you choose a GIF?
Alana: I think I go looking for them often as a response to something. Somebody will say something I start to reply to in writing, but then I decide I’d rather reply with an image. It’s very personal and in the moment: what would this person think is funny?
Jon: I often, in maybe the last year, everything I’ve posted has been a response to someone else in the community. I feel like it’s conversational.
Alana: Yeah. To watch it become abstract is an important element, to me. People watching, interpreting it.
Jon: That’s been a big thing, in terms of process and posting GIFs. I’ve made stuff for people to make GIFs with.
Aaron: I’ve done a number of projects in the past where I use GIFs as a raw material that I sculpt into something else. There are massive repositories of GIFs out there that are just great.
Mod: I don’t know the sources for most of these things. Have you guys had any experiences in attribution?
Olia: I made mine to be distributed and to not have any copyright.
Aaron: I think most of the stuff that I do that most of the output is not a GIF file. Obviously a single file is easy to replicate infinitely on Tumblr. But it’s not something I think about very much.
Jon: I’ve had some stuff from the OKFocus website. I think that part of attribution is that some stuff you can’t rip off, the rest you just kind of let it go. Attribution is something we have fun with. Attribution online is a tricky thing.