New York-based director and animator Jay Sprogell has worked on music videos for Bruno Mars and The Roots. He also creates daily GIFs using found images. His animated collages offer a fun and surreal take on everyday phrases – from channel surfing to clean eating – and combine iconic images of well known figures with photographs of animals, planets and fast food. We asked Sprogell about the joys of GIF making and what makes for a great looping video…
CR: How did you get into GIF-making?
JS: I do a lot of photography and video work, but was feeling a little stagnant creatively last year and wanted to experiment with a new format / medium. This was also around the time I started seeing more curators on Instagram. There were cool images being posted but I wasn’t seeing a whole ton of motion graphics (even though I know now that it was definitely out there). I figured posting these loops was a way for me to participate in the “art world” in a new way without taking a complete 180 from photography and video direction.
CR: What is it you enjoy about making GIFs? And what does it allow you to do creatively that other mediums – such as photography – don’t?
JS: When it comes to photography and directing there are a lot of elements you can’t control. The thought of “I hope this turns out how I want to” doesn’t really come up when I make a GIF. I can rework things and shift directions without feeling I’ve invested too much because the source material is pretty simple and can easily be manipulated. The captions or file names are also elements which I really gravitate towards. It gives me a chance to try and be a little more clever with the whole piece.
CR: Where do you find inspiration for your GIFs? Is it images you come across or things you’ve read? You often reference everyday sayings or phrases…
JS: Sometimes I’ll just make something simply because I think it’s interesting visually but for the most part I enjoy taking common phrases or ideas and playing with the context or perceived meaning.
CR: And where do you source imagery?
It all depends on the project, but the majority of the time I search for vintage photography of a specific subject or theme. For my personal work, I pull a lot from old National Geographic scans and for commissioned work I use the standard stock photo sites then colour-correct the images to make them look more retro. It’s fun to take an image that has already had its time or is cemented in the visual lexicon and give it a new life.
CR: How often do you try to create GIFs for Instagram? And how long do they tend to take you?
JS: I try to do one a day, although sometimes I’ll do two if a second idea comes to me. It usually takes me an hour or two for one if it’s personal work, but for commissioned pieces it could take up to 5 hours.
CR: What kind of work do you think is best suited to the GIF format? We tend to think of GIFs as quite a fun, ephemeral thing…
JS: One of the great things about GIFs is that there isn’t any one style or technique that works particularly better than another. I see a lot of great photography-based GIFs as well as 3D animation and more traditional 2D stuff. I find that the more simple the concept, the more room there is to make the visuals more abstract.
CR: And what do you think makes a good GIF?
JS: Less is more when it comes to the actual movement or animation. It’s important that the overall concept take priority over technical prowess. Making the GIF an infinite loop also adds a lot to the engagement value. Short and sweet … but also infinite.
CR: Do you think GIFs are becoming recognised more as an art form and not just something you might use to express your emotion on social media?
JS: I definitely think GIFs are more recognised as an art form, because content is now being consumed in such small doses. Just because something is instantly absorbed or sharable doesn’t mean that it can’t have artistic value. In fact, I think that because you can view and share GIFs so quickly they are one of the best outlets for artists to reach such wide audiences.
CR: What advice you do have for other aspiring GIF makers?
JS: There is no specific formula to make a good GIF. Finding and refining your specific style or aesthetic is more important than mastering any program.
CR: What other GIF makers do you admire?
JS: Frank Nitty (@FrankNitty3000) is doing great stuff with collage animation, especially in the fashion realm. The animation techniques aren’t too complex (in a good way), and I like how he duplicates layers and his looping choices.
Jaime Martinez does these great three-dimensional portraits which I think are awesome because he has such an unique eye for photography. Another artist I admire is Esteban Diacono (@_estebandiacono). He does these really clean motion capture pieces and his 3D modelling is incredible. He also does these great surreal pieces where he manipulates stock 3D models to look like rubbery globs.