Monday, March 7, 2016

GIF Art Students Combine Old and New Technology

A new topics course in the Department of Art introduces students to the animated GIF as both a digital fine art object as well as an artifact of popular culture. Since its inception in 1987 the GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) has become a ubiquitous element of our visual landscape. Its history is tied to pre-digital looping animations, such as Eadweard Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope photography of the late 19th century. One such device for creating these pre-digital animations is the phenakistoscope, invented by Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau in 1832. Phenakistoscopes are small discs featuring short animations created from multiple still frames, alternating between equally spaced radial slits. The animation can be viewed by spinning the disc while facing a mirror and looking through the slits to see a moving image.

Phenakistoscope wheel by Mattie Parrigon

Students in this semester's GIF Art course, taught by Assistant Professor Emmalyn Gennis, created their own phenakistoscopes for a recent assignment. Before beginning the project, students looked through Richard Balzer's online collection of 19th century animations for inspiration. 

In addition to creating the physical phenakistoscope wheels using foamboard, paper, and toothpicks, students scanned their designs and brought them to life in Photoshop, enabling them to post their animations online. You can see all of the students' phenakistoscopes, as well as their other assignments, on the class Tumblr page,

Phenakistoscope wheel by Jacqueline Denton

Projects in the GIF Art class will provide students the opportunity to work in a wide range of media over the course of the semester, including traditional 2D animation, stop motion, and found video. The course places an emphasis on developing a personal approach to the creation of GIF art, as well as the technical skill required to create seamlessly looping animations. Students enrolled in the course are also engaging with online communities by posting their work on platforms and social networking sites where GIFs are often shared by other users.

Phenakistoscope wheel by Mandy Reno