The internet shares a complex relation with animated images, better known as GIFs. On one hand it has elevated the format to an art form, a short-hand language of social media, and an education tool. And on the other, it has diminished it to a merry, repetitious gag.
Short for Graphics Interchange Format, GIF has been around for decades, having evolved from awkward clipart images on Geocities, Angelfire and other early sites to the current form that everyone recognises. In India, as around the world, there is a new breed of digital artists, the GIF makers, who are using these looping artworks to bridge the gap between flat illustration and animation.
Here are some of these artists whose GIFs speak for themselves:
Pune-based designer and visual artist Adrita Das, aka Das Naiz, is best known for her project Selfie Gods, where the 24-year-old merges elements of pop culture and medieval paintings. While it started off with Photoshopped images, the project has grown to include GIFs. “GIFs have seen me through good days and bad,” said Das, who considers the technology the “light of my life”. “Some days I wake up in the morning, see a funny GIF and think to myself: What a time to be alive.”
Das says that GIFs from movies and TV shows have been around for a while, but “Indian artists have taken to the trend” since Facebook allowed the format. “Since a lot of artists are playing around with GIFs, a lot of new material can come out and the limits can be pushed.”
Rae Zachariah has been making GIFs for the past year. “The thing about them that really draws me is the freedom that the movement allows,” said the illustrator and graphic designer. “The fact that I’m able to create something that moves and sort of magnifies the message of an illustration is fascinating. My initial explorations were tentative, but then I began to see how exciting GIFs as a medium actually is.” Her process invariably begins with humour (a funny thought) or music (a song she’s obsessed with) and ends with creations that bear the marks of both.
Abhijit Kalan, an illustrator and graphic designer, opts for a minimal look in his colourful GIFs. The Mumbai resident is not just making them for his personal art, but also for clients as banners and basic animation presentations. “A GIF is like any other medium,” said Kalan, who uses the online persona Crownicles. “If my artwork demands a GIF, I make it a point to do one. For me, creating meaningless artwork is senseless. I consider myself a visual artist who loves to use different techniques and tools to create my artwork. GIF animation using Photoshop is one of them.”
Mayukh Goswami of Mayukh’s Art Menagerie views GIFs as an extension of his art, creating which enables the exploration of your mind and ascertainment of your existential place in the modern world. “GIFs are a more distilled way to express these thoughts.”
The first film he ever watched was Eadweard Muybridge’s Sallie Gardner At A Gallop, a 20-second clip made of a series of photographs of a galloping horse. “To me, Sallie Gardner wasn’t just an example of a film. It was movement frozen in time (as opposed to photography, which is a moment frozen in time). Salvador Dali has always been an inspiration for me because as an artist, he always pushed the limits of whatever medium he used to express his ideas. So when I started trying my hand at digital illustrations a couple of years back, animating GIFs was a logical progression since I don’t see GIF art as snippets of longer videos, but an entire dimension added to illustrations and paintings instead.”
Illustrator and storyteller Shruti Sharma, aka Shroodle, calls GIFs “a symbol of our generation” – “it holds your attention for the perfect amount of time”. Her creations usually are almost like short-short stories, each self-contained but lending to more. She says her experimentation with GIFs is a test of her abilities. “My foray into GIFs came about because I was fascinated by moving illustrations. I wanted to see if I had the ability to create them.”
Visual artist Aishwarya Sadasivan started off as a traditional medium illustrator but always had a fascination with motion art. “While studying motion design in college, I came across various types of motion art and GIFs were one of them,” she said. “I loved how they showed really cool animations in just a few seconds. This drove me to start experimenting with GIFs on Photoshop.” Her three favourite themes for GIFs are monsters, foxes and love.
Saakshi Vyas, a Mumbai-based artist who runs the art page In The Middle of Something, opts for simple and cute GIFs. “I was a huge fan of Ed, Edd and Eddy on Cartoon Network. I loved the way those squiggly lines moved frame by frame. They added more dynamics to the animation and look very cute. I think that is where all my love for GIFs started from.”
Vyas says when she began making GIFs she was scared that the result might not match the vision. Now, she has an emotional connect with every GIF of hers. “Every time I draw a picture and want to tell a story, I end up animating it, keeping it short and minimal. I also try to limit the number of colours I use because you don’t want the end frame to look very busy. Cats are a constant in my drawings.”
A co-founder of Mumbai’s Studio Seaweed, Devarshi Gohil explores minimal movements in her GIFs to add a subtle element of surprise to her illustrations. “Animation is something that has fascinated me from an early age, obviously from watching lots of cartoons when I was a kid,” she said. “Works of brilliant GIF artists like Guillaume Kurkdjian, Nicolas Menard, Adam Ellis, Jen lee and Uno Moralez have also been a constant inspiration.”
She says there has been a newfound appreciation for illustration in India, in every format, in recent years. You can see it right from packaging and mainstream advertising to websites. “Earlier, Tumblr and Deviantart were used to upload and view GIFs but now GIPHY and Facebook have made them very accessible.”
Ayesha Kapadia, aka KometJuice, is fascinated by how a GIF is “like an animation but it’s not, and it’s a moving still image but it’s not”. The Mumbai-based visual artist’s love for the medium has come a long way from the time she dabbled in it in art school. She made a video for Kolkata pop artist Nischay Parekh’s song Panda with a series of GIFs and and did a workshop for students on typography GIFs to introduce them to .gif as a medium.
Diya Sarker believes that with GIFs, the possibilities are unlimited. “It’s the most fun way to express yourself online and they can be used for education too. My fascination with them comes from gaming in the ‘90s. It was also back when I was sharing music and art on MySpace and saw people making these crazy moving images with their illustrations and pictures. So I hopped on board and made some too. It’s so easy to make and share.”
Asked to describe her relationship with GIFs in one word, Diya replied, “Quickie.”