If you have a computer machine that’s connected to the interweb this week you have probably been sent a few messages from excited web enthusiasts containing links to compilations of subtly animated gifs. Some of them are very nicely done. Some less so. They generally involve pseudo-cinematic scenes looping at, gasp, reasonable frame-rates. The art in this approach to gif-crafting is in carefully compositing the discrete object in motion, and returning it to its start position gracefully such that the loop can repeat near seamlessly.
It’s an old trick. And yet I have just received a dozen of these messages.
Anecdotally, it would appear that animated gifs are weirdly blipping the viral radar this week. At least for certain web developers eager to do something “cool”. Most of the messages I received included suggestions that it would be so cool to “add this to our site(s)!”
Whoa whoa whoa. Guys, I can’t be the only one in the room old enough to remember the last time people hyperventilated up the animated gif flagpole, am I? It was around 1997, and your messages were worded exactly the same way. “We should totally do this on our site – it’s so cool.” Only back then you were talking about jerky rotating logos and offers that blinked. Now you’re talking about hair blowing in the wind, and with all due respect – it’s the same thing.
News flash: we could do every bit of this subtle gif animation back in the 90s. And some did. Technical limitations considered. But like so many excellent pieces of work in the 90s, they fell largely lost against a tidal wave of random newness and novelty that made qualitative distinction a coarse affair. The medium was indeed new at the time, and amidst an overwhelming surge of changing data points, users (and most developers) simply didn’t have enough solid ground – consistency – a base-line – with which to develop a collective discriminating palette.
In many ways this condition undermined some of the most impressive, visionary work that was produced before the bubble burst. Creative threads were invented then which would still utterly challenge the state of the art today – if only they hadn’t been lost to the collective aesthetic dimwittery. And ultimately that work vanished into the Digital Dark Ages. Once the economic bubble burst, anything that wasn’t profitable was immediately marginalized and disregarded, despite the fact that there was indeed a strong body of interactive inventions available then, creative solutions, which would have illustrated the true future of the medium as we experience it today. You won’t ever get to see most of those now.
And that’s why – only now – 15 years later – subtle animated gifs seem novel. We finally have a collective qualitative base-line. It’s nothing earth-shattering – but we have one.
Now that we do – don’t make the same mistake you made in the 90s.
Don’t mistake technical advancement or an advancement in sheer craft, for a creative concept. The novelty of some new functionality or effect should not pre-empt leading site development with a creative concept, an idea. As we saw the first time, novelty wears off. And pretty damn fast too. Maybe before your development cycle completes.
Start with a concept. A story you want to tell. And if executing that concept happens to require a woman whose hair is subtly blowing in the wind, well psych! You can now debate the numerous support tools with which you could achieve that same effect gracefully.
Because for 15 years, an animated gif has been one of them.