Food, sex and superheroes: what makes a great GIF?

The animated GIF is reaching new heights of invention: four leading exponents share their thoughts about the format and how to create for it

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Animated GIF by Robin Davey for Wired Italia

“My career parallels that of the GIF format,” says illustrator and animator Robin Davey. “Unbeloved for many years, plugging away, facing obsolescence only to be rejuvenated by emerging platforms and applications.”

Davey was speaking at the opening of Loop, an exhibition of animated GIFs staged by ad agency JWT London. Around the agency’s reception, stills of GIFs from a variety of artists who have risen to the limitations of the medium as a challenge to their creativity sit, framed as artworks. Thanks to a tie-in with augmented reality app Blippar, currently gaining considerable traction with marketers, visitors may bring each image to life by viewing it through their smartphone. (You can see the work from the show here).

Loop was organised by JWT creative Yoni Alter, who invited four of the featured artists along to speak at the opening. Davey ran through a selection of recent GIF work, including some brilliant pieces for Wired Italia, shown below

Interestingly Wired Italia use still versions of the work as illustrations in print and animated GIFs in the iPad version of the magazine.

Alongside Davey, Matthew Powell and Mathew Lucas travelled down from the North West while James Curran made the shorter journey from Soho. Each one ran thorugh their GIF portfolio on Tumblr, providing a whistle stop tour of the extraordinary variety and richness of execution possible within the tight constraints imposed by both the medium and Tumblr’s upload restrictions.

So what makes a great GIF? “Start with something small and don’t overcomplicate things,” advises Powell. Here’s his hypotic piece, Reflection


Implode, also by Powell


And Topography

Perennial favourites on Tumblr, the key GIF distribution channel, are fast food, superheroes and sex – or combinations of all three.

Here are a couple of Davey’s food-related GIFs

And Flip Flop from Powell


Superhero GIFs from Curran


And Davey


Away from the more popular themes, Lucas’s graphic experiments are absolutely beautiful. For him, creating GIFs in his spare time has become a “full-blown addiction”


And you might recognise this one


Curran advised sticking to no more than two characters at a time (his Piratetheses GIF, part of a project to create type-themed GIFS, is shown above) while Lucas pointed out that, although Cinema 4D and Blender are typically used to create GIFs, great results can be obtained by just using Photoshop.

While animated GIFs may have been around for years, the work of all four speakers at the Loop event revealed just how sophisticated the format has become. It’s amazing how much hypnotic appeal can be packed into 1mb and a few hundred frames.

  • lovely work!

  • Flo

    fantastic collection!

  • Love these. Graphic simplicity triumphs again.

  • These are definitely the best gifs, I’ve seen. Very inspiring.

  • Dom

    I love how trendy gifs have become.

  • Inspired! Really great stuff

  • Tarryn Rennie

    Never underestimate gif animation. Love it!

  • Excellent ones, the penultimate one is a very lively take on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures.

    I must admit I quite like GIFs, they are good fun. Very addictive, too, I can an hour watching the things and laughing like a complete idiot. You wouldn’t be able to tell I’m almost 29.

  • These are all super great, but I have to say: seeing these together, one after the other, makes me dizzy.

    Did anyone else start to feel that way?

  • As the song goes….got to gif a little love…


    Stunning work. Their success is in their simplicity.

  • As the song goes….got to gif a little love…

  • Always liked the simplicity and deliver-ability of gifs.

    This guys stuff is really impressive

  • kv

    instead of writing down a comment can we just vote “like” or not. it saves all the fuss.

  • Another good demo of less is more.

  • Great collection. Very inspiring.

    “Although Cinema 4D and Blender are typically used to create GIFs, great results can be obtained by just using Photoshop” – I knew that those Gifs weren’t out of Photoshop as I thought at the beginning. It would be pretty tedious to achieve such results in PS.

  • Great collection of gifs. Definitely agree with you Tanner, it does make you go dizzy seeing them one after the other.

  • Jon

    That Implode gif from Powell, is messing with my eyes