Thursday, 2 May 2013

Zeega Beta and the Animated Gifs


A few weeks ago whilst working with some Year 8 students on the Extreme animations, my eye was caught by an animation on a screen across the room. It was a moving optical illusion. When I admired it, the student's neighbour complained, "He didn't make that". I said I knew this, that it was an animated gif, and I encouraged him to think about interesting transitions and animations in Powerpoint that could accentuate the features of the gif in an original way. Aye, but there's the rub. In the main animated gifs aren't that creative. You find them and stick them somewhere. Or so I thought...

Back in the dawn of Web 2.0 when Wikipedia was Encarta's weedy rival and YouTube still a sparkle in its founders' eyes, I built a website.  I used MS Publisher and lots of animated gifs. It served two purposes: as an advert for my services and as my web playground . I used the gifs to create some visual interest . Since I couldn't afford the cost or learning curve of Flash, nor yet its excellent cut-price offspring Swish,  AGs were the way to go, back then. I tried not to overdo it, most gifs run continuously and can be pretty distracting like this geezer and, in those pre-broadband days, too many made pages slow to load...

Once I'd got a grip on the Open-source nVu  I built a new site magiclanternlearning. co.uk. Sadly the Wayback Machine doesn't keep the images, for many were 'handmade' gifs using Animation Shop - then part of Paintshop Pro, now a free download. Each page had an animated Magic Lantern logo which played an animation relevant to the page and was visually linked to bar at the head of the page; tasteful, groovy and original I felt. But slow, slow, slow...

Animated Gifs have had something of a revival since it became possible to use YouTube videos to create them. There are lots of sites that will do this. The fire was chopped from one of my own YouTube videos. They can be added to social networks really simply.
Trying out the new beta version of Zeega this morning I noticed that one of the sources available to use was Giphy, a search engine for animated gifs. I'd come upon the site before, but, having a sense that AGs were old news and a bit naff, never really explored it properly. As I did explore properly, the problem seemed to me to be how they are used. Generally they are humour - kittens falling off the toilet etc. - or they are decoration - like the warrior above. Writing this page I suspect they don't really mix with blocks of text.
You may well agree.

The nature of Zeega - fundamentally a storytelling application - creates a different context for the animated gif and caused me to wonder if there was indeed a new way of using gifs; as punctuation. 




All stories need some form of punctuation: pauses, full stops or slow fades for example. The animated gif sits between a still image and video. It plays without the need for action on the viewers part. Naturally movement is key but in a story maybe they need to loop without over-obvious junctions to convey a sense of continuity. Perhaps, like all punctuation, it best signals a changeover. My Magic Lantern animations were headings. The fire above could be the beginning or ending of a piece and used to symbolize leaving or arriving home. The water: dissipation  or a response to a whim...

The new Zeega Beta has a much slicker interface but not yet enough of the tools that make the original so interesting. But keep up the excellent work chaps. You can tell from this post you're making me think afresh.

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I'm sure that anyone with a beard as impressive as CEO Jesse Shapins has to be a winner. 
In fact that gives me an idea for an animated gif... 
Footnote:
The bearded one hisself sent me a link to this superb Zeega that uses animated gifs - definitely time for a re-appraisal.