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From Hokey To Hip: Animated GIF Goes To Hollywood!!

October 14, 2011

Early animated GIFs were pretty simple. Flashing lights were popular. Starting with version CS2, you could build animated GIFs entirely in Photoshop (earlier versions also required ImageReady). Here’s a video tutorial by Howard Pinsky which shows how to construct a “flashing lights” GIF similar to the one shown below.Β simple animated GIF showing a movie marquee with flashing lights circling around the words Feature Presentation

Because animated GIFs are constructed using layers, you can easily position your “flash” behind an object, like so:
animated GIF showing skull and flames on black background

Using just a few frames, you can construct a humorous animation, like the, um, exotic dancer shown below. This RDesign tutorial shows how to construct a simple GIF animation in Photoshop CS2. This Russell Brown tutorial shows two different approaches to creating a 5-frame animation in Photoshop CS3.
animated GIF of elephant wearing jeans and thong underwear swinging hips and doing exotic dance

Recently, animated GIFs have acquired a new cachet– and a new name: cinemagraphs. Photographer Jamie Beck and graphics artist Kevin Burg are credited with coining this term. They’ve written this very short history of cinemagraphs.

One of their images is shown below. It’s one of the most common types of cinemagraphs: billowing hair and/or clothing in an otherwise still photograph. You can see more of their work at

animated gif cinemagraph showing fashion model in gown sitting in front of mirror with her long hair gently blowing in the breeze

Rain and snow are also commonly found in cinemagraphs, like this rainy night in the city:
animated GIF cinemagraph showing rain falling on a downtown city street, with neon lights reflecting on wet sidewalk

Below is a good example of my own personal favorite type of cinemagraph: the animation is restricted to a single individual or element in what is otherwise a still photograph. The effect is mesmerizing. It reminds me of certain episodes of Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone television series, where individuals become trapped in a static or frozen world. Β animated GIF cinemagraph of busy city street scene with man sitting on bench turning the pages of his newspaper

Given their potential for easy laughs, it’s not surprising to find cinemagraphs that
feature movie stills– a return to hokiness!! Here’s one from The Shining, starring
Jack Nicholson and his eyebrows…animated GIF cinemagraph showing Jack Nicolson flashing sinister smile at little boy in scene from the horror movie The Shining

How about Lee Van Cleef playing catch with his gun in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly? Mmm… he’s Bad!!animated GIF cinemagraph showing Lee Van Cleef tossing gun from hand to hand in scene from the movie The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

And here’s a nice bit of creepiness from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. You may have to stare at it a bit before the hair stands up on your neck!animated GIF cinemagraph showing Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates giving sinister smile in scene from the movie Psycho

You can view more movie cinemagraphs at Arshad Cini’s excellent DesignBeep blog.

What do you think? Have animated GIFs evolved, or are they just wearing fashionable new clothes? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2011 11:04 PM

    Methinks some of this animated stuff needs to be used prudently or else it’s too gimmicky.

    As a surprise for special occasion, it might work for you Mark.


    • October 17, 2011 9:18 AM

      Well said, Jean. The potential for overuse and a gimmicky look is definitely there. And what we really need is more cinemagraphs involving bicycles… : )

      Always glad to have you stop by– thanks!


  2. October 17, 2011 8:02 PM

    Thank you, Mark! πŸ™‚

    And I think these things are kinda cool! πŸ™‚


    • October 17, 2011 8:42 PM

      Frank, I’m so happy you stopped by. After reading about that new children’s book you illustrated, I visited your site and was most impressed with your work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out a way to leave a comment to that effect! That Don Drysdale portrait on your landing page is excellent. I remember him well from my Topps bubble gum card days… : )

      Glad you enjoyed the post, and many thanks for your support!


  3. October 19, 2011 9:05 AM

    What a cool! I like it as well the guy with the newspaper. That’s really cool.

    Thanks for sharing it πŸ™‚


    • October 19, 2011 10:11 AM

      They are fun, aren’t they? It seems like J.K. Rowling may have anticipated cinemagraphs with those moving newspaper photos featured in her Harry Potter books.

      Pretty exciting to have an accomplished photographer like yourself stop by– many thanks! : )


  4. Margie permalink
    October 26, 2011 10:14 AM

    I like the rain, and the guy with the newspaper – more artsy than gimmicky. It would be incredibly fun to put an animated GIF in my blog now and then, and see if anyone notices!


    • October 26, 2011 12:13 PM

      Yes, hooray for Artsy, boo Gimmicks!!

      An animated GIF on your blog would be very cool– maybe a bee landing on a flower, then he turns to the audience and takes a little bow? Hmm… sounds a bit gimmicky– needs more thought!

      Many thanks for stopping by, Margie– I’m looking forward to seeing your latest!


  5. robpixaday permalink
    November 6, 2011 12:07 PM

    These are fascinating and fun!
    I’m waiting for one that has the Mona Lisa sticking her tongue out…LOL

    Thank you for sharing them!!


    • November 6, 2011 8:13 PM

      I did seen the Mona Lisa stick out her tongue. What’s scary is, I was standing in front of her at the Louvre at the time. Seemed kinda rude… : )

      Merci beaucups and saucers!


      • robpixaday permalink
        November 14, 2011 5:50 PM

        What in the world did you SAY to her?



        • November 14, 2011 6:46 PM

          All I said was, “Robin King woulda done a lot better job on you than goofy ol’ Lennie DaVinci.” It’s the truth, I don’t know why she took offense… : )


  6. robpixaday permalink
    November 6, 2011 12:13 PM

    Me, again.
    Haaaaaa!! I found her!
    Should have known she’d be out there somewhere!
    Love the interwebs

    Great post!


    • November 6, 2011 8:14 PM

      What?? She gave you the raspberry, too?? : P““`


      • robpixaday permalink
        November 14, 2011 7:03 PM

        Ahhhhh…….well, she must’ve been having a bad day.


        (sorry for leaving this reply swinging in the wind, but I can’t nest it more deeply)


  7. April 17, 2012 9:16 AM

    Pretty interesting. It’s kind of like having your photograph or painting come alive. I can see these being used more and more for online magazine ads… Of course, the Anthony Perkins frame is chillingly creepy! I really like how you give great lessons and updates on the industry, as well as charm us with your art. πŸ™‚


    • April 19, 2012 8:18 AM

      Hi Jayne, thanks so much for your lovely comment.

      I was mesmerized the first time I saw a cinemagraph– seems magical, spooky, and impossible all at the same time. And yes, we must do something about Anthony Perkins– nobody should be allowed to give out that many goosebumps!!

      Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks again for your kindness and support! : )


  8. July 13, 2012 2:53 PM



  9. September 7, 2012 11:54 PM

    Wow! I love this. The billowing hair, the rain, the man turning the newspaper (yes, J. K. Rowling might have been ahead of her time), Jack Nicholson’s eyebrows and creepy Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.

    While there might be overkill on this delightful gimmick, I think it’s amazing.


    • September 8, 2012 11:05 AM

      Ha! “Overkill,” “delightful,” and “amazing” all seem to apply! The stuff is absolutely mesmerizing, especially the first time you see it.

      Incredible just to think it can be done. Thanks, Judy! : )


  10. December 15, 2012 10:15 AM

    Very Fun…but how to do share your picture animation moving in my wall facebook


    • December 17, 2012 11:38 AM

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

      To upload an animated GIF to your Facebook wall, try this:

      1. Save the GIF to your hard drive
      2. Go to FB and click Add Photo/Video
      3. Upload the GIF from your hard drive



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