Kickstart or Kill? Bringing Animated GIFs To Life

Welcome to the first of a new series here at Betabeat. Each week we will highlight one Kickstarter project focused

This brah wants to shred your coffee table

Welcome to the first of a new series here at Betabeat. Each week we will highlight one Kickstarter project focused on technology and based in New York City. The idea is to discuss the merits of the project and dissect their approach to fundraising.

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To kick things off we’ve got Physical GIF, a project that combines our favorite file type with the laser-based maker culture that percolates at places like NYC Resistor.

Treating GIFs like high-brow art isn’t a new concept, but it’s having a moment right now. Artists like Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck, who refer to their GIFs as “cinemagraphs”, have had their work featured in the New York Times, NY Fashion Week and an upcoming campaign by Oscar de La Renta.

This project, from ITP’s Greg Borenstein, is a sort of Benjamin Button approach. It takes the frames that make up a GIF and makes each one into a physical piece, then combines them all to build a revolving zeotrope. Revolving static, slightly changing shapes to trick the eye into seeing motion has been happening since the days of ancient China, and the technology hits its peak at the end of the 19th century, serving as popular entertainment for the masses before the introduction of film.

Physical GIF is hoping to raise $4,000 with $1,797 pledged and 29 days left to go. The money will go towards building one of three already designed GIFs and paying some GIF artists making limited edition works for the project.

At $1, you get a thanks on the website.

At $5, you get a laser-cut logo to use as a patch or coaster.

At $50, you get a Physical GIF complete with the strobe you need to make it play. Some assembly required.

At $250, you get a limited edition GIF from one of the artists.

At $350, you can submit your own GIF and have it turned into a zeotrope.

The Verdict

BEN: I’m gonna say fund this puppy. Anyone who wants something unique for their coffee table is getting a good deal at the $50 level. I don’t buy the project’s promise that the limited edition GIFs, “will quickly become highly sought after collectors’ items.” And I’m not sure that a zeotrope will really work with something subtle and complex. Most of what is being offered here is the sort of simplistic animation I associate with the child’s toy, not the internet meme. But since I love GIF art, I think it’s worthwhile to create an outlet for the folks who are pushing the boundaries of that art form to make some real cash. You can’t live on the love of Reddit alone.

ADRIANNE: This is a poor imitation of the great art form that is animated GIFs. I think this media is unique to the internet. Jonah Weiner summed it up best over at Slate: “GIFs get to the point instantaneously, and at the exact moment when one feels the impulse to rewind and watch the climax again, the loop restarts right where it should.” These toys look kinda cool but that’s way too much work and too much money for something’s been unnaturally transplanted from its native environment. Maybe I would have funded it if they didn’t try to call it Physical GIF. And if they weren’t $50 each.

NITASHA: I’m gonna have to side with Adrianne, GIFs are best left in their native internet soil. I can appreciate the steampunkian feel of the toys–I could picture Man Ray (RIP!) building something trippy on top of it like he did with the metronome. And the concept of “bringing the online offline” has been floating around, but this seem like more of a throwback curio than a boundary-pusher. Using a GIF to develop the physical art isn’t the same as the result feeling anything like the immediacy of a GIF. The closest real-world analogy to a GIF would be a looping video, but what would be the point? The beauty is getting a moving moment in time on a static screen without hitting play. Plus my coffee table functions as a desk and the examples they have take up valuable real estate. Although I could just be dizzy after watching the video sales pitch.

VERDICT: Kill this project, 2-1.

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Laser-cut Zoetrope from Greg Borenstein on Vimeo.

Kickstart or Kill? Bringing Animated GIFs To Life