The future is being able to reach out and touch GIFs. Sounds impossible, right? The GIF is, after all, a computer-based format that exists only in that digital universe behind our computer screens. But in spite of that, Brooklyn-based digital designers Rachel Binx and Sha Hwang have come up with a concept for making GIFs tangible. They aim to create customized cards from the ubiquitous image format, a plan that they are now trying to fund via Kickstarter.
In order to bring GIFs to life, Binx and Hwang are in the process of developing a website through which users will be able to upload their favorite GIFs, select a few frames, and print those frames via a method called lenticular printing. You're probably already familiar with lenticular film—it’s that trippy material that makes it look like an image is moving when you look at it from different angles. I remember seeing it in my childhood on a few special edition trading cards and cereal box prizes.
Hwang and Binx vomiting rainbows in a GIF. Natch.
Binx and Hwang think lenticular film is perfect for bringing GIFs to life: it is comprised of lots of tiny lenses onto which a manufacturer can print ten or so frames of animation. “We think that GIFs and lenticular printing are two simple, lo-fi technologies that were made for each other,” they write on the Gifpop Kickstarter.
Beyond users being able to upload their own images, Gifpop will also offer art prints. They have teamed up with digital artists Mr. Div, 89-A, and Davidope, who are at the forefront of the GIF art explosion. Binx and Hwang say that most of the revenue from these particular prints will head directly back to the artists. “We are not interested in treating digital art as a second class citizen the way it often is in the art world," they declare.
As of this writing, the Kickstarter campaign had just surpassed its goal of $5,000 dollars. With that money, Binx and Hwang hope to fund their first production run as well as pay for packaging and finish the website. But if the funding page keeps chugging along and heads on towards $10,000, they’d like to allow for Vine and Instagram support.
I spoke to Hwang via email about Gifpop's motivations and hopes, as well as the designers' opinions on all things GIF.
MOTHERBOARD: Why do you love GIFs so much? And what do you think is so appealing about them more generally?
Sha Hwang: Man, we love GIFs. How do we start? One thing that resonates with both of us is that GIFs have just been around for so long. They’ve kind of grown up along with the internet. When we didn’t have CSS, all we had were construction GIFs and weird twitchy sprites. Now that we have super easy ways to share content, and now that pages are way more dynamic, GIFs provide that same seamless, gliding experience. I think that sort of longevity is something we don’t have much of online, and for us, that’s pretty special.
Another thing that we love is how it’s being fully explored as a creative medium. What other image format has had such explicitly content driven exploration? No one talks about mp4 of jpg as a medium (though datamoshing and SecretBook are examples, it’s still not quite a community).
Why do you want to make GIFs tangible?
Well, we’ve both been working in digital design for several years now, doing data visualization, interactive websites, lots of mapping. But we’ve wanted more and more to use our digital skills to produce physical things. Last year, we launched Meshu, a way to generate custom jewelry from geographic data. Working on Gifpop was a way to explore our interests in internet culture, net art, and ridiculously addictive content. And playing with lenticular film just felt absolutely perfect for animated GIFs—they’re both kind of simple-minded underdogs.
Contentious question: how do you pronounce GIF—'g' or 'j' sound?
G sound, come on! You can pronounce it however you want, but to say there’s a right pronunciation is so silly! We speak English! Of all languages, we should be most familiar with celebrating pronunciation twiddling.
Is Gifpop the GIF growing up—out of its parent’s house (the internet) and into the real world (IRL)?
We see Gifpop not so much as the GIF going out of the house, but acknowledging that this weird barrier between the digital and the physical is just that—weird. When we check our phones waiting for the subway, while waiting for a friend, these are all casual moments where we place ourselves online. What we’d like with Gifpop is to bring the sort of casual wonder of the internet and scatter that across your room.
Is it possible to reach “peak GIF”? In other words, is there are point at which there is just too much GIF?
Is it possible to reach peak jpg? Or maybe it will be a cat GIF bubble bursting. The GIF is here to stay as long as web browsers as we know them are.
You say Gifpop is a product and a provocation. What do you mean by that?
We’re taking a phrase from one of our heroes, Golan Levin. In two of his recent projects, the Free Universal Construction Kit and the NeoLucida, he mentions this. And what we mean when we echo that is that, yes, these things are for sale, these things are items of commerce, these things will make us money, but if the project did not have a conceptual grounding—GIFs as a medium are interesting, artists should be supported properly, the internet should be allowed to leak into the real world—it would be fundamentally uninteresting for us.
There’s a class of entrepreneur that starts things for success and success alone. We are not that. We’re interested in exploring.
What are your favorite GIFs?
Oh man, here are some of my many favorite recent ones:
I just love these "Deal With It" memes. They move so wonderfully backwards!
(Writer's note: that second one is pretty seamless and incredible.)