An entertaining article at boagworld discussed the renewed interest in an antediluvian graphics format, the animated gif. At the dawn of the world wide web, the pioneering internet users were fascinated by the innovation of an animated gif image that would (gasp) actually move! This movement would be jerky and of a looped duration of just a few seconds, but it turned previously dead static pages into animations and an entire net generation into neo-Galileos exclaiming “eppur si muove” (and yet it moves)! Decades later, when this generation is accustomed to watching HD videos in full screen format, it would seem that the revival of that old and very limiting animated gif format would be left only to the terminally nostalgic or technologically challenged, but it turns out that through the Flash vs. HTML5 wars, the old standby is making a comeback for specific applications.
Why the Comeback?
Perhaps it was Community’s spark that ignited the blogosphere’s hunger for entertaining gifs, or maybe we are in a new stage of our internet’s memetic evolution: one that can’t be bothered to sit through even a one or two minute YouTube video. But as Twisted Sifter explains in its thoroughly enjoyable (mostly SFW) 10 Reasons Why Animated Gifs Are Amazing, they capture the “essence of [the] incredible,” the candor of raw footage, remixed. Gifs represent the “greatest hits” of your viral entertainment. They can even be refashioned into new memes from the infinite spare parts left scattered throughout the internet’s pop culture backyard (the Tumblr blog #whatshouldwecallme knows what’s up).
Web trends shift at lightning intervals, so savvy businesses are riding this one while it’s still hot. How can you capitalize on your own marketing gifs? Check out the tips below.
Animated Gif = Tiny Files
The primary problem with animation formats is that they can generate huge file sizes. Some unwise web designers decide to throw the kitchen sink into their Flash animations, bumping up to the inherent 16,000 frame limit and ending up with some file sizes that are larger than entire text encyclopedias. That is why some designers are rediscovering animated gifs that allow file sizes to be kept to a bare minimum for super-quick load times. A skilled animated gif creator can provide a pleasing looped animation in a couple of MB, which would be barely enough for a Flash Loading message.
256 Colors in a 32-Bit World
Not all is perfect in animated gif land, as with the tiny file sizes come some rather serious limitations. Although you can technically devise animated gif presentations of any length you’ll find yourself severely limited by the format’s prehistoric color palette restriction of 256 colors. At the time of the format’s inception the VGA monitor standard was brand new and computer users everywhere were astonished by the amazing depth of color. Today when 32-bit color is the norm, generating more than a billion colors, the old 256 color palette pales into pixel insignificance. The palette limitation is what separates the animated gif experts from the amateurs. If you think you can just fire up your Photoshop CS6 Beta, whip together an animated gif, and export it happily… you’re in for a big surprise. The 256 indexed color (vs. RGB or CMYK) fundamentals of the gif format will take your magnificent 36.3-megapixel Nikon D800HD-SLR photograph and turn it into a pixellated onion field.
There is an entire science to devising animated gifs that look good and it all starts with the original image. You have to start with an image that can comfortably fit within the 256 color limit, so if you want to display a reasonably accurate flesh tone, you’re going to have to do it on a person wearing a black suit against a black background as in the Kenneth Cole animation in the boagworld article. You’ve only got 256 colors to work with, so you have to pick your battles as to where they are going to be displayed. These limitations are turning on an entire clique of artists who are finding expression through that restricted palette – but anyone seeking photorealism in the animated gif’s small file size is going to be disappointed.
Animated gifs have their place and can be a superlative Flash replacement for limited color short looping animations, that will load quickly on the worst mobile connections and on any device: If your expectations synchronize with the format’s limitations.