Yes, you can probably guess who this is and what show she’s in. It is of course Mabel from Disney’s Gravity Falls and she’s doing something that’s pretty popular at the moment, that is, starring in a GIF. Now we all know they’ve been around for a while (25 years in fact), and they’ve since been elevated to a new art form with Cinemagraphs, but why are they so popular with fans? That’s what this post aims to find out.
You can see them for just about every show and film currently going all over the internet, although Tumblr remains a popular haunt with whole blogs devoted to the filetype; here’s a Gravity Falls example. They don’t seem to do much besides recap a particularly funny part of the show or a singular joke. A lot of them often include subtitles for what’s being said, since the GIF format lacks any sound. They don’t do much besides loop some animation, right? Yes, but that isn’t why they’re so popular.
If you think about fandoms and the activities they tend to engage in, the GIF makes a perfect addition. Fans like to discuss shows, sure, but more importantly than that, they like to discuss particular points about shows, i.e. favourite scenes, action shots, romantic embraces, and so on and so forth. A static image says a lot, but a GIF like the ones below say a lot more:
When you view them in that light, the spread of GIFs (and rash of poor ones) is much more understandable. The impetus for this particular post came courtesy of Anil Dash, whose love of GIFs is well-known, and who linked to an interesting article over at The Content Analyst where the use of the GIF as a content tool is discussed. The topic there was new reporting methods (the recent London Olympics in particular) but the point was that GIFs are becoming increasingly prevalent for reporting and discussion purposes.
For the animated fandom, it would appear that they are already ahead of the curve and are in fact, blessed by the limitations of the GIF format. Think about that for a second; GIFs must be relatively short (because they are downloaded, not streamed), they must be well made (because they are looped and a poor one is jarring to watch) and since they lack any sound, they are saved from being turned into annoyances or mini-AMVs.
They also serve as an important connection between the fans and the studio. Yet again, Adventure Time leads the way as the show’s tumblelog often gets in on the act, posting GIFs from the show as well as fan-made ones like the one below :
And here’s an example from Neon Genesis Evangelion, showing the transition from rough through to final animation.
Again, the value in the connection goes both ways with fans gaining from a feeling of importance, and the studio gaining from fans actively filtering and selecting their favourite scenes. All of this drives the engine that is the show and keeps it running.
In fact, you can find GIFs for plenty of old stuff too. Heck, I same across this GIF from the too-perfect-to-succeed film The Thief and the Cobbler:
What does that tell you? Well it should show you how awesome the animation in that film is. The visuals are gorgeous to be sure, but only when they begin to move does the real magic begin.
So what can we conclude from all of this? That GIFs are an important part of fandom of course! Long may they continue to proliferate the fandom landscape.