The Animated History of GIFs
By Afia Ahmad
Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) is a popular source of content in the form of moving images, which is widely used on the web today. Apart from the ambiguity of its pronunciation, not much is known about its evolution.
Determining the exact historical evolution of GIF art may be difficult. While there is no dearth of animated GIFs, it is completely devoid of documentation. Ironically, the inception of the first GIF is said to have taken place more than half a decade before the actual existence of the World Wide Web!
Technology and the evolution of GIFs
On June 15, 1987, CompuServe introduced GIF for the provision of a colour format for file downloading areas. This was done to replace the solely black and white former run-length encoding (RLE) format.
The rising popularity of the GIF is owed to its usage of LZW data compression. It exceeded in efficiency when compared to RLE formats. Large-sized images could be downloaded fast, regardless of problems such as slow modems.
The original version of a GIF format was known as 8a. 89a is an enhanced version, which was released by CompuServe in 1989. It supported delayed animation, transparent background colours, and storage of application-specific metadata. It also supported the incorporation of text labels as actual text and not by embedding them in the graphics.
The adoption of GIF was facilitated by CompuServe as they provided conversion utilities that were easily downloadable for computers. In December 1987, an Apple user could easily view pictures that were created on computers such as Commodore 64. Along with the monochromatic black and white XBM, GIF was among the two image formats commonly used on websites.
Netscape Navigator 2. 0
A revolutionary step in the world of GIFs was facilitated by Netscape Navigator 2. 0 in 1995, with the addition of the ‘loop’ feature in GIFs. Storing numerous images in a single file that is accompanied by control data is widely popular for the production of simple animation on the web.
Another aspect that catapulted GIFs popularity is the interlacing feature. Though an optional feature, it allows a partially downloaded image to be recognizable through the storage of image scan lines. It means that a user can stop a download if he/she feels that it is not needed anymore.
The multimedia giant Facebook introduced GIF support in May 2015.
Iconic GIFs created through the years:
1997–2008, The early years
The art collective duo-MTAA, released the Simple Net Art Diagram in 1997. It is the earliest and probably the most long-lasting one, owing to its ability to welcome participation. Although artists generally do not license the GIFs made by them and they are considered as public property by web users, MTAA’s main intent was communication, which is represented by the GIF itself.
1995, The Dancing Girl
In 1995, Chuck Poynter created the dancing girl GIF. It was considered especially intriguing because of the tiny blinking pixel on the left.
2002, Super Mario Clouds
In 2002, Cory Arcangel created the Super Mario Clouds GIF, which is one of the most recognized animated GIFs today. Taken from the Nintendo game Super Mario Brothers, this GIF is best viewed when it is tiled (often used as backgrounds) rather than in an isolated cube. Factors like nostalgia and simplicity make this GIF iconic and immensely popular.
The pulsating lines of OptiDisc created by Tom Moody have a hypnotic effect. This GIF incorporates the ideals of modernism and was a surprise for most web users.
Kevin Bewersdorf created Mandala in 2008. He essentially amplified the core attractions of a GIF such as blinking, twirling, throbbing and bouncing. This GIF is especially noteworthy as it incorporates a multitude of separately moving GIFs with minimum compression.
GIFs are taking over the World Wide Web, often replacing content. With users spending less time reading and more time scrolling, they are as relevant as ever. They are getting advanced in graphic design as they are creative and engaging. There are plenty of online courses, professional courses and short term courses that specialize in animation, graphic design and the creation of GIFs.