The Animated GIF

Seemingly dead, or at least down-for-the-count, the classic Animated GIF is making a comeback.  And you know what? It’s due for one.

When the internet was in its infancy, it was commonplace to see a website builder do anything to draw attention to itself.  And in those days, a spinning star, a blasting trumpet, or a neon green meowing kitten was fair game for web design. Indeed, the more plastered your site was with distracting, ugly spinners, the more ‘pro’ you were.  Oh, those days will not be missed.

An example of the stupid spinning logos of the 1990s.

In 1996, websites were staggeringly terrible. Check out Lego’s official site:

Lego’s Official website presence in 1996. Note the spinning Lego character.


The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) is a bitmap image format that was introduced by CompuServe in 1987 and has since come into widespread usage on the World Wide Web due to its wide support and portability. GIF is designed to allow users to define new blocks. In the 1990s, Netscape designed the Netscape Application Block, which indicates that a GIF file is an animation instead of a static image. Support for these animations first appeared in Netscape Navigator version 2.0, then spread to other browsers.

After 15+ years of websites evolving, we are now at a point where web language has far surpassed the need for such simplistic tools.

However, as an art form, I think the Animated GIF is a great medium.  It’s a quick, dirty and simple method for proving animatics, expressing moods, and showing diagrams.

Just yesterday, my friend showed me a math model using cylinders that were animated using the GIF format. This could have been made with a variety of video formats, and probably pulled off more cleanly, not to mention in HD.  But the animated GIF is small, versatile, and easily embedded just like a photo would be. Nearly every browser in the world can render them, and without taking up much bandwidth at all, you can tell a story.

Last week, I stumbled upon I am Not an Artist, a collection of animated GIFs from around the world. Some are terrible, but the vast majority are spare, clean, and in a lot of ways, great examples of post-modern art. They have a vintage color scheme, and humorous, repetitive actions, which command attention without being overly monotonous.

So, artists, thinkers, designers, creatives, go off and make an animated GIF!