Communicating with Animated GIFS

Animation is simply the best. Think about it. Animators can create something out of nothing. They can warp reality or create their own version of life. Either animating a rainbow pooping cat or tackling difficult topics, animators can effectively communicate with an audience.

Nyan Cat | Foundation
Nyan Cat, an animated GIF, engaged audiences across the globe with it’s charming simplicity.

Animation’s ability to quickly engage and communicate a story to an audience completely fascinates me. GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) animations are the most exciting for me. Most GIF animations are short and are limited to file size and length. It’s incredible how effective GIF animations communicate to an audience.

Digital Animation in Action

End of Wormquake!…A-ma-zing
As a young child, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles left me in a state of awe. I couldn’t believe the world that a group of animators created for kids like myself.

I have been a huge fan of digital animation since I was a kid. In my early days, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Adventures of Bucky O’Hare transfixed my attention. I couldn’t get enough! The characters, the setting, the story completely engaged me.

My admiration of animation would grow even deeper with early Super Nintendo video games. I just loved the art and loved how animation allowed me to escape into new worlds.

Final Fantasy III for SNES became a game-changer for me. I love the pixel-based animation and how simple yet intricate the animations were produced.

I have a love-hate relationship with animated GIFs. On the one hand, they are overused, flooding every social media platform and text message. On the other hand, many artists use the medium to create incredible works of art that communicate a striking story.

I want to introduce you to a few artists that promote my desire to become a stronger visual storyteller.

Chris Phillips

When it comes to my favorite art style, I love minimalism and flat illustration. I feel like “less is more” when it comes to art. While I respect the skill, I’ve never been a fan of people who create photorealistic work. Instead, I’m drawn to artists that can take a complex image and boil it down to its simplest form.

Chris Phillips is an Australian digital animator and storyteller. His work profoundly inspires me. I’m such a fan of his simple designed animations. I also love his play on scenarios and puns.

Rain Shower shower rain flower character animation gif loop animated gif
Rain Showers, Chris Phillips

I love digital art that uses very simple color palettes and limits design to simple shapes. I also love the stories that can be told in a small amount of time. The image above created by Chris Phillips makes me so happy to see his work. His stories are always simple, easy to understand and offer a unique perspective.

Star Wars Fan Gif - Luke, Yoda and R2D2 in Dagobah puppetry duik animated gif vector star wars
Star Wars Fan, Chris Phillips

His work is also relatable. In the animation below, the internet has spoiled so many endings of TV and Film, especially during HBO’s Game of Thrones series. This GIF resonates with me!

Avoiding Spoilers, Chris Phillips

Christoph Niemann

“Night Trains” Christoph Niemann

Christoph Niemann is an illustrator and animator whose work inspires me daily. His work is published on the pages and digital versions of The New Yorker. He’s also featured in Netflix’s Abstract, a series focusing on innovative artists.

Gummi Bear Chronicles, Christoph Niemann

Christoph’s work is simple and minimalist in nature. His work focuses on observations he sees throughout the world and often is fun and unique. However, Christoph has a sense of maturity with his work, often provoking and challenging the audience’s perspective.

Doomscrolling, Christoph Niemann

Cell Phones: A necessary Evil?

Call me old, but I am starting to feel great animosity towards cellphones. I don’t know if I hate the impact it has on human interaction, or if I hate the endless algorithms that manipulate users to consume more digital media, but one thing is for sure, our reliance on cell phones needs to change.

Christoph Niemann’s Doomscrolling resonated heavily with me and challenged me to create my own animated gifs, expressing my feelings towards cell phones.

Soulsucker, Drew Furtado

Soulsucker, a digital animation, features an Adobe Photoshop Cutout Effect. I started with a self-portrait of myself and a cellphone and then used photoshop to create a cutout version of those images. I added some digital textures and wanted to produce an animation that demonstrated how cellphones were sucking users’ souls and adding a level of rot to the human soul.

The only issue I had with this image was that it was originally shot on a 30.4 Megapixel camera, and the file size was way too large for a simple animated GIF. In the future, I’ll be focusing on creating a smaller image size before animation.

Metrics, Drew Furtado

Metrics, a digital animation made in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Animate, focuses on a user’s insatiable appetite for social media’s digital metrics, including likes, hearts, and digital emojis. I find people’s obsession with digital metrics to be nauseating and worry about the impact on the human brain. I fear people’s self-confidence erodes due to the system social media platforms have created to bolster engagement.

Self-worth can not be linked to the number of followers, likes, and shares on social media. People are worth far more than that.

Addict, Drew Furtado

Made in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Animate, Addict explores the addiction users have with cell phones. Often I feel like people are teleported to another dimension when on their devices and disregard all human aspects of the current world.

This animation includes hand-drawn elements, as a vortex cloud sucks a cellphone user to another void. However, once returned, the user cannot resist the urge to pick up the device again.

Preparation is Key

If creating a four-second animation sounds exciting for you, I hope you’re prepared to work twenty-five or more hours to bring that animation to life! Most digital animations are made with programs such as Adobe Animate, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects, Toon Boom, or Aseprite.

Whatever the program used, animation is a human skill. It’s taking an abstract idea, and manifesting it to become a communicative story. It all starts with one thing: preparation.

Liz Blazer, a digital animator and author of Animated Storytelling, provides some great insight into the level of preparation needed by digital animators. Liz highlights efforts including:

  • Writing a creative brief to examine what the project involves, including fully:
    • What is the format? (Public Service Announcement, GIF, short film, etc.)
    • Who is the target audience?
    • What is the total length of the project?
    • What is the central and core theme of the project?
    • What is the deadline?
  • Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm.
    • Liz uses a “yes, and…” rule. When brainstorming, she continually asks herself “yes, and…” forcing her to delve deeper into her thought process to flush out ideas fully. Some other creative types use a similar approach by continually asking themselves, “Why?”
  • Strengthening a Story
    • Liz uses three techniques to strengthen her stories, such as elevator pitches, writing the story in six words, and to generate a film tagline.
  • Previsualization
    • Before starting an animation project, a good rule of thumb is to develop what style the project will be in and what resources are currently available. Liz suggests developing a mockup of the animation and creating a style frame with the desired visual assets to support the aesthetic look and story of the animation fully.

For More Animation Tips

Liz Blazer’s book, Animated Storytelling is an incredible resource for all animators of all skill levels. I would highly recommend checking it out!

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