Before I took on some coding projects today I was compelled to GIF. I hope someone other than me can explain it to Sandy Jensen Brown (you get a daily create chance for that on August 21).

As often, I was motivated by Michael Bransom Smith’s response to something called GIFfight

I love the concept, its in the vein of ds106 Daily Creates – simple. Go to The rules are pretty complex:

GIF FIGHT!! presents a JPG or PNG each week for you to animate the crap out of. Send us Tumbler links here or via Twiitter #GIFFight.

This week presented a Darth Vader pose:


I first thought making him croon like an opera singer, but then again, I saw hime playing a mean wicked guitar, doing some Pete Townsend windmill chops. I had found previously in west texas the source of the action:

So a little dissection of making Darth Vader try on his response to Tommy Smothers “That’s a pretty…. wild style of playing guitar, how did you learn that?”

This was all done in Photoshop CS.5 in 5 frames:

click darth for full size

click darth for full size

The starting point is to figure out what parts are going to move and move them to separate layers. I used magnetic selection (I need to start using path based selections like Michael taught me) to extract the arm cut it out and paste to a new layer. The same for his head, cause his head needs to bob.

I hide these layers to go back to the base, and use the clone tool to fill in the empty space behind. This is the key key tool for this work, getting good at using it to copy elements from nearby to make the background look coherent. For the guitar, I searched google images for Gibson Guitar PNG (cause a background transparent PNG is easier to work with). I felt like Darth definitely needed a black flying V (hah its an Epiphone, oh well).

In the animation window, I use its own menu to do New Frame 4 times so I get 5 copies of the frame.

To animate the arm rotating, I had to make copies of the “arm” layer. For each subsequent frame in the animation, I would make a copy of the layer, then rotate it to a new position (keeping the previous layer visible to I got it positioned right), with ultimately a 360 rotation of the arm -here they are all visible

(see all the arms)

(see all the arms)

I did some touchup with the eraser on the shoulder to remove a few artifacts.

For the head and guitar movement, I don’t need to make copies of the layer- I can go to each frame and nudge their positions with the arrow keys, and having them move up and down.

That’s pretty much the effort. If you want to explore the file, download it from the doghouse (6.6 MB Zipped PSD)

I love the idea of GIFfight and it was cool to see RockyLou, Michael, and that Groom Guy join in as well.

We are definitely looking at rolling GIFfight into the ds106 Daily Creates and likely the headless ds106 syllabus.

Get yer GIF on!

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. This is great! Old Anakin Skywalker learned a lot from Rock ‘n’ Roll. Power chords, power grips, wild jumps, etc. Now windmills! One of the great tragic figures of modern cinema.

  2. Alan so glad you jumped in and with such an awesome remix GIF too! The group has been small and we weave in and out of ‘GIFFights’ but the longer it keeps going the more interesting it gets.

    Rockylou here’s a link to a tutorial for making GIFs in Photoshop like the ones I make for Don’t Turn That Dial. It includes how to make paths with the pen tool then turn them into selections. Though I just re-watched it and I did not describe clicking and dragging to make curved points. (That will make sense when try the tool.)

  3. It’s like Manga: people passionately imitate it, but when I open a book, I ask, “why”?
    I understand it is hard to do, and I understand that there is a camaraderie of the giffing subculture–but whence their shared sense of aesthetics? What are the criteria for excellence? What is an example of a gif I should sneer at and why?

    I appreciate this effort to educate my sensibilities in a genre that seemed to develop while I was looking away…

    So, was this Darth Vader an example of excellence?

    1. I’m not sure what excellence means as is the case with any art appreciation, it varies with the beholder. I enjoy the creation process for what it means to reduce a film to a moment again to a few frames in an attempt to convey a feeling or sense of the character.

      In looking to GIFs I seek the sensibility of if We Forget Remember Me the animation here is often elegant subtle, not a lot of flash, just suggestion of a moment.

      For these the smoothness of the loop is key, so it does not have a jerky jump but seems to flow. As well is the methods of minimal movement, just the rippling of the one from The swimming pool or the fan in the blade runner one.

      But hey, some people see Picasso just as a bunch of mis-shaped blocks. If it does not work for you, that’s fine, but that’s the way art works– my sensibility is not yours nor yours mine

      1. I agree that sensibility varies, but I also think there are external, universally acknowledged benchmarks of excellence. Someone may hate Picasso, but that doesn’t diminish his greatness as an artist. That means the viewer needs to grow into an understanding of what makes great art, as I am trying to grow into an understanding of what makes a beautiful gif.

        The gifs you pointed me to were of a quality…hmmm or perhaps genre…I hadn’t seen before. The chosen image itself was essentially beautiful…still and meditative. The movement added was subtle, as if the Mona Lisa were to up the wattage of her smile when you looked at her (not obscenely wink, which would be out of the character of the woman and the intent of the painter).

        These are art; these gifs I understand, so at least I have an entry point into what I perceive to be a primarily comic world.

        I do seem to remember a beautiful gif you did of a woman in a convertible with her scarf flying?

        I’ll admit your Darth Vader on first glance looked like he might be doing something more personal than playing a guitar!

        So my gif aesthetic is faint but pursuing. Thank you for the time to break out your criteria and to point me to some exemplars of this art form!

        1. The We Forget Remember Me GIFs is probably the most popular genre out there, and readily accomplishable by almost anyone. Having an eye for good photography and the ability to see the possibility for an endless loop are the essential skills. You are I believe amplifying and/or recontextualizing an already great piece of work.

          But the Vader GIF and the others like it (I had him yo-yoing) I believe speak to the prankster/editorialist in all of us. We all have incredible access to basically everything ever published and equal access to instantly publishing ourselves. So the desire to share our views, sense of humor, etc is there for the taking. And that’s where so much of the GIF making revolves around – cheap animated political cartooning.

          As for what makes ‘art’ in all of this, there are those with reputations in the art world that have been substantiating the artist value of GIF artists and GIF making, but so much of that is about creating markets and I find it annoying. I do enjoy really well crafted GIFs, ones that speak to the idiosyncracies of the digital, the ephemeral of youth and the weird.

          Hope that helps.

          1. I’m appreciating the thoughtful comments and discussion going on here. I’ve also been contemplating how and when I would apply my GIF making skills in my professional life to communicate more effectively. The smaller file size of a GIF makes it easy to place in an e-mail that will most likely be viewed on a mobile device these days. And it can grab their attention simply because it is novel at this point. A simple GIF of photos taken at an off-site meeting went over well. Resulting in inquiries from others who wanted to make and use a GIF themselves.

            The questions I ask myself when wanting to connect/communicate digitally are:
            *Why do I want to communicate?
            *Who is my audience?
            *What information do I want to convey?
            *What mediums of communication do they use now and are comfortable with?
            *What are the strengths and liabilities of the communication platforms I have at my disposal?
            *What worked last time & what didn’t, so I can improve this time around…

  4. Last week I decided I wanted to animate three conceptual expressions of subtraction: take away, missing addend (‘how many/much more do you need to add’), and comparison. I want to be able to crank out and make a mess of ’em with different themes… (and I *want* to get the beginnings of facility with, oh, Photoshop or Gimp…) so thanks, I’ll be playing around…

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