Eric Fleischauer and Jason Lazarus

The GIF scholars discuss the boom in the short, looped animations.

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The graphic image format has been with us since the ’80s, but 2012 was the year we all got GIFed. Lending the looped, seconds-long animations some needed gravitas, the Oxford American Dictionary named GIF (as a verb) its word of the year. Perhaps the world’s foremost GIF scholars, SAIC teachers Eric Fleischauer and Jason Lazarus (who also lectures at Columbia College) have poured their research into a film, twohundredfiftysixcolors (the title references GIF’s limited palette). Fleischauer calls the piece, which is expected to premiere in the Siskel’s Conversations at the Edge Series this spring, a “curated, crowd-sourced collection of over 3,000 animated GIFs that have been transformed into a cinematic event.”

What was your reaction to the Oxford American Dictionary’s recognition of GIF? It beat YOLO!
JL
“What took so long?”
EF
At first I thought it was a joke.

How do you account for the GIF boom?
EF
Tumblr is an important factor, mainly because it created an infrastructure for the mass dissemination of GIFs.
JL
GIFs are easy to make, and if you can’t figure them out there are websites that automate the process.

GIFs seem like an insignificant thing. Is the form more versatile than it appears?
EF
Definitely. The compact size is a way to present moving images to people without any loading time, without having to click play, and they loop infinitely.
JL
In what other medium can you so easily create an infinitely floating, rotating, morphing sculpture in an imagined environment, or kinetic text?

What’s your favorite online GIF gold mine?
JL
Pizza Dog’s Animated GIF of the Day project and the GIF Connoisseur Tumblr.
EF
Anytime I come across something really smart, unique, amazing, poignant or stand-out, I post it on twohundredfiftysixcolors.tumblr.com.


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