Written by: Sophia Chiang (22-O1)
Designed by: Cheng Zhi Shan (22-U1)
As you scroll through Twitter one day, you come across an animated image of some celebrity at an award show. Or, you see a reply to a tweet with the most hilarious meme possible of some guy blinking and you just have to save it for yourself.
Chances are, what you have just seen is a GIF. Though this form of media is pretty commonplace in today’s world, not many people actually know where these GIFs come from or how they are made.
Thus today, I have the honourable task of informing you on just what the big deal about gifmaking is all about.
What is GIF making?
To understand the art of creating a GIF, one must first understand what a GIF even is. GIF, short for graphics interchange format, is essentially a file format able to store static and moving images, however in the present day it is more often used to store the latter. This is due to its ability to store many images in one file, allowing it to be used to store the frames of an animation sequence, forming the moving image that we can observe.
From this, it becomes quite clear that the act of GIF making is to create these animated images. These animated images are usually derived from sections of video clips, usually two to five seconds long. Though many people might take the easy road and use a GIF generator to do this (which are available for free online), content creators treat the creation of GIFs as something of an art form, and they go about it in a variety of ways.
How do I create a GIF?
Creators usually split their process into two stages – the giffing stage and the colouring stage.
In the giffing stage, the main objective is to obtain a file containing the animated image of one’s choice, no matter the file format. This means processing the video in some way and getting the parts that you need, as well as sizing the gif to the desired dimensions. Some creators also enhance the quality of their GIFs in this stage of the process, by making the images in each frame sharper.
One way creators go about this is by using a GIF making software online to generate their GIFs for them. This is an easy way for new creators to get into the hobby since it is easy to pick up. However, this presents some limitations. For one, these online softwares restrict the size of the video you can upload, which means you might need to edit your video before uploading it. Additionally, these softwares might not produce GIFs of the highest quality, as the way the GIFs are generated is out of the creator’s control.
Another way to do this is to use a video processing software to extract something that enables you to get a GIF. Some softwares allow you to extract a code that you can paste into another software (e.g. Photoshop) in order to process it into a GIF, while others allow you to extract a GIF file from the video. This allows you to edit the GIF somewhat before the next stage and allows you to obtain GIFs of a higher quality than if you were to rely directly on an online software.
Though this stage of the creation process is important as it can determine the eventual quality of the GIF obtained, most creators value the next stage – colouring – far more, as it is truly what sets apart a person making a GIF for fun and a content creator making a GIF as a form of art.
Process focus – colouring a GIF
Colouring a GIF is a long process, and unique to each creator. However, it is first important to know what colouring is, and why creators do it.
Colouring usually involves increasing the aesthetic value of a GIF. This is due in part to some videos being dull, which necessitates this step in editing, or creators wanting to enhance the colours of a GIF.
As each artist has their own art style, each creator also has their own colouring technique and style. Different creators take different steps in the colouring process, with each creator’s process and technique being unique to them. However, stylistic variations are the most apparent – these come in the way the creator chooses to colour their GIFs. These differences may be so apparent that if you are familiar with a creator’s style, you will know what their GIFs look like!
Though many of these words may sound complex and technical, fret not! Though I cannot represent the myriad of colouring styles and techniques that exist among creators, I will try my best to explain using my own process to convey an overall sense of what creators like us aim to achieve!
Essentially, the process of colouring requires us to edit the GIF the same way a photographer would edit a photograph, which means applying the same skills and techniques. Depending on the GIF, this might mean making it look brighter, making the colours pop more, or editing the GIF in a specific way in order to fit an aesthetic.
This takes many stages, with each stage changing a different aspect of the GIF, hence coming together to form something spectacular. However, this is not a tutorial, and each creator has their own unique process, so I shall mainly highlight how the editing process changes how a GIF can look like.
GIF clipped from https://youtu.be/u4iDL3c0T1c, edited by me
Above, you can see one GIF that has been split into three frames, showcasing two different styles of editing as well as a cut of the unedited GIF. Even if the difference in editing styles is not apparent at first glance, what is clear to see is the stark difference between an unedited and edited GIF! This is the indication of a creator’s effort from turning a GIF from an animated clip to a visual design creation.
Going into further detail, we can see that the enhancement editing style is one that makes the colours in the GIF brighter and more vibrant, as well as making the differences in colour more stark. This increases the aesthetic appeal of the GIF, and thus makes it more appealing to the eye. This form of editing is usually a creator’s go-to style, and is used in the majority of situations.
In contrast, colour-focused editing is usually applied in specific situations and might not be used as often. This style is usually used when the creator wants to highlight a specific colour to a viewer, or change the overall colour scheme of the GIF. In this case, the GIF has been edited to look more green, in contrast to how the background in the last third of the gif is more warm-toned and yellow. The creator might do this if they are trying to make this GIF fit in with a colour scheme, since sometimes GIFs are created in sets that have to be colour-coordinated.
Beyond the two styles of editing showcased, there are many other different styles of editing, and editors may even combine multiple GIFs and text together to create full-fledged graphic designs. The limits of creativity are meant to be pushed, and this is no different in the world of GIF making, where the limit to what you can create is yourself!
Colouring a GIF is a large part of what makes GIF making creative and is something that creators put a lot of time and effort into, as these skills develop with practice, so it is especially important that we appreciate their efforts and support these creations!
Why GIF making?
Each creator has their own reasons for starting to create GIFs, but there are some common overarching responses that are common to hear from content creators!
Firstly, it is an important hobby to many creators! GIF making allows them to relax and unwind, taking their mind off studies or work. Many also find the slightly routine feel of creating GIFs comforting and calming, and may do this as a form of stress relief.
Additionally, many also use it as a creative outlet. Compared to other forms of visual content, like drawing, GIF making is found by some creators to be a more efficient and less stressful creative outlet that they can turn to when they do not have the time to commit to creating a full-scale drawing, for example. Others have also said it allows them to be creative even though they are unable to do other things, like draw or write, and is an alternate way for them to express themselves. Many also enjoy observing the differences between what they create and what others create, since different creators have very different styles. Some creators like to quip that 10 different creators can GIF the same clip but it will never look the same, and it is this diversity that creators relish!
For many, this form of creation is also a way for them to interact with people who have similar interests as them. For example, creators who are in the same fandoms are able to connect with each other over these GIFs and other creations, allowing them to find a community! Clipping these moments also allows you to see what other fans and creators thought of that moment, since people reblog or retweet these creations with their thoughts! It also allows creators to promote and support the fandoms they create for in their own small way, and allows them to capture moments they enjoy and make them happy.
The work that comes out of creators is their very own labour of love, and it is so massively important to support creators! However, this does not always happen.
Since online creators make their content without getting paid, a lot of their work tends to get stolen by reposters, who take these creations as their own and repost them without crediting the original creators. This is not a problem unique to gifmakers, however it tends to happen more as people tend to see these GIFs as clips that they can take for granted of these moments, without taking into account the effort that has gone into creating them. Reposting can be within the same platforms, or across platforms – for example, within Twitter or from Tumblr to Twitter. Sometimes, these GIFs are even screen-recorded and posted on Instagram as videos, or are posted onto Pinterest where even more people might use them for their own purposes.
This is extremely frustrating for many creators, especially because they do not have the power to stop their creations from being stolen. Reporting a post is only effective if it has been reposted within the same platform, and contacting the person who reposted it may not work if the person is uncooperative and refuses to take the post down or credit the creator. The problem is worsened if the repost becomes a “hit post”, or a post that blows up online within that community. This usually causes the post to spread even further, and even more people might end up saving and reposting it. Often, creators only find out about their GIFs being reposted when their fellow creators notice it on another platform, and not knowing about their creations being reposted is an often occurrence and this also prevents them from asking people to not steal their creations. The problem has been prevalent for so long that many creators have made watermarking their creations in ways that cannot be cropped out as a part of their routine, in order to try and deter reposters.
I hope that by explaining how people create their GIFs, I have been able to convey the amount of effort, time and love these creators have put into their work, and that you can learn to appreciate that! I hope that you learn to value these creations, and not to take these GIFs for granted whenever you see them while browsing the internet.