NPR’s Planet Money recently ran an article on glass recycling, How A Used Bottle Becomes A New Bottle, In 6 Gifs. The Gif part is what intrigued me. A “gif” is a tightly-compressed image format file that web designers leaned on a lot back in the days of low bandwidth. It’s especially good for designs with a few discreet colors, such as corporate logos or simple cartoons. It also supports a kind of primitive animation that was completely overused in the late 90s to give webpages flying unicorns and spinning globes.
Animated gifs have grown up. They make up half the posts on Tumblr. They are often derived from funny scenes in movies and come with humorous captions. The Planet Money piece uses them for storytelling: text is illustrated by six gifs showing different parts of the recycling process. The movement helps tell the story – indeed most of the shots would be visually uninteresting if they were static.
The short loops reminds me of Vine, the six-second video service from Twitter which I’ve used a lot for silly kid antics. They can also tell a simple story (they’re particularly well suited to repetitive kid antics: up the steps, down the slide, up the steps, down the slide, up…).
In my work with Friends Journal I’ve done some 7 – 12 minute video interviews with off-site authors using Google Hangouts, which essentially just records the video conversation. It’s fine for what we use it for, but the quality depends a lot on the equipment on the other end. If the bandwidth is low or the webcam poor quality, it will show, and there are few options for post-production editing. But honestly, this is why I use Hangouts: a short web-only interview won’t turn into a weeklong project.
Producing high-quality video requires controlling all of the equipment, shooting ten times more footage than you think you’ll need, and then hours of work condensing and editing it down to a story. And after all this it’s possible you’ll end up with something that doesn’t get many views. Few Youtube users actually watch videos all the way through to the end, drifting away to other internet distractions in the first few minutes.
I like the combination of the simple short video clips (whether Vine or animated gif) wedded to words. My last post here was the very light-weight story about a summer afternoon project. Yesterday, I tried again, shooting a short animated gif of Tibetan monks visiting a local meetinghouse. I don’t think it really worked. They’re constructing a sand mandala grain-by-grain. The small movements of their funnel sticks as sand drops is so small that a regular static photo would suffice. But I’ll keep experimenting with the form.