A Few Thoughts on “Excellence” and the 2015 .GIFYS

by Paddy Johnson on February 17, 2015 · 15 comments Reviews

nJnD26r Cat Smoke

GIF lovers rejoice. Public voting is now open for The .GIFYS, an annual award dedicated to celebrating excellence in the field of GIF-making. 14 GIF experts have narrowed down the field into 11 categories: Animals, Art + Design, Can’t Look Away, Cats, TV + Film, Music, Nature + Science, News + Politics, Sports, Throwback, and Weird. Now that they’ve whittled down an entire year’s production, it’s your turn to vote on the best of the best GIFs of 2015. Ready. Set. Wait a minute….

I’ve got a few reservations about this award. The biggest issue is obvious: voters are not given selection criteria for “excellence.” Are we awarding GIFs for the effectiveness of their loop? Their shareability? Their usefulness in a comment thread? Were judges assigned sections they matched their expertise? All we know for sure is that The .GIFYS organizers hope that voters will embrace “the most GIFtastic in each category.”

These are questions that require answers. They tell us what to look for in a good GIF, and they help us celebrate craft. And since those qualities might vary from section to section—a good political GIF might not make for a successful cat GIF—it would be good to know what to look for when voting.

Nor do we know what guidelines the judges followed to make their own selections. The “about” page lacks much detail about the selection process, other than that it includes a juried and public vote, and that 14 judges picked their faves. They are a cross section of journalists (Ann Friedman, NYMag; Mallika Rao, Huffpo; Jess Conditt, AOL/Engadget), designers and animators (Dan Milano, DailyMotion; Ben Jones, FoxADHD; James Dybvig, Mashable; Jeff Petriello, Mashable; Zipeng Zhu, Sagmeister & Walsh), and Internet nerds (Lil Bub, a dwarf perma-kitten famous for her appearance; Victoria Taylor, Reddit; Jason Eppink, The Museum of Moving Image; Chelsea Marshall, Buzzfeed; Jason Roche, Ministry of GIF; and Ivan Perez-Armedariz of CP+B).

Lil Bub notwithstanding, these judges know their GIFs. But past the selection of jurors, it just seems like the awards themselves were not adequately thought through. There’s not even a published deadline for voting on the site. Possibly worse, though, is fact that none of the GIFs in these awards are labeled with the names of their makers. That may not be an issue in less career-oriented categories, but for those whose livelihoods rely on their names, this isn’t good. Almost all visual artists want their work attributed.


Can’t Look Away Finalist GIF by Paolo Čerić

Artists also care about the presentation of their work. The GIF above by Paola Čerić looks great because it’s not compressed. A screencap of the GIF on the GIFY site, though, reveals significant loss of image quality. Not good.

This lack of consideration and thoroughness extends so far as the categories. Granted such things are subjective, but there simply aren’t enough to account for the breadth of GIF making today.  So, while Paolo Čerić’s practice fits the “Can’t Look Away” category—he creates meditative moving drawings—his striped and undulating Op-art blob seems a lot better suited to an op art specific category. That’s an entire genre of work and yet there’s no award for it. Nor, tragically, is there one for dogs (a bias of ours over here).

That does a great disservice to the award, which, though flawed, still feels like it does good for the world. The net is filled with enormously talented creative makers; it’s about time we celebrated them.


splatterbuttz February 17, 2015 at 11:07 am

Is it a problem that many of these gifs are not even from 2014? Not even talking about the source material. Springing to mind as GIFs that have been floating around for a few years: the woman eating her own head with a spoon, the woman eating a burger from a television. Hard to quibble about provenance when they can’t get the year right.

Are you interested in the technical limitations of presenting many GIFs on a page and preserving a smooth experience in-browser? Once you have a bunch of GIFs going with different frame rates, the experience degrades quickly. It’s made worse if you downsize a large GIF in HTML by setting an inline height/width. The in-browser rendering is inefficient, and thumbnailing is necessary if you want a page to scroll smoothly and have all these stupid GIFs on it. Caveat lector: sorry if this is boring “nerd talk” – as in “let’s get a latte and let the nerds sort this one out.”

For many people, GIF is vernacular for “any dumb animation on my computer screen.” Many of these GIFs are taken from video and would be better as MP4/WEBM — certainly they would render more efficiently! What if you viewed source and saw a bunch of WEBMs (or “GIFV” as Imgur would have it). Would you be concerned if the files were not GIFs at all?

Paddy Johnson February 17, 2015 at 11:16 am

Yeah, I should have mentioned the year too—I was talking about that problem in the office this morning.

The whole thing is a mess.

You’re right about display issue, but there has to be a better design solution what they came up with. They could lay out on different pages maybe? Not sure, I’m not a designer, but I know this is a terrible solution.

Paddy Johnson February 17, 2015 at 4:45 pm

Oh, and I wouldn’t be concerned if these were mp4s but it depends on the artist. If the flatness and color range of the GIF is essential to its viewing then obviously, I don’t want it rendered as an MP4. If it comes from a video already, who cares?

Zach Scott March 6, 2015 at 4:15 pm

haha, well, the answer to your first question is now very clear. YES!

Zach Scott February 17, 2015 at 11:13 am

I shouldn’t criticize too much because two of my GIFs are nominated, but suffice to say I share many of the concerns from the article.

I’m sure it’s been written about at length somewhere, but I would argue that the GIF lexicon needs to be expanded. It’s technically correct to refer to all of the nominated images as GIFs, I guess, but they include everything from unmodified excerpts of film/tv to completely original work (like Paola’s GIF above). I would guess the commonplace “GIF” referred to in pop culture is most frequently just a looping video clip. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s weird to lump that in with something that is original, seamlessly looped, and designed with the format in mind.

Paddy Johnson February 17, 2015 at 11:20 am

Well, they do make film/tv a separate category. The difference between a documentary and a comedy is large enough that they aren’t comparable, so we give them separate categories at the Oscars. Maybe this is similar?

Paddy Johnson February 17, 2015 at 11:21 am

Regardless of the problems, though, congrats on the nomination.

Andrew Benson February 17, 2015 at 4:12 pm

I’d like to add that these are really boring, conservative specimens of the overall gif flora. This is like if you ask one of your work friends from the sales dept for their favorite GIFs, or just breezed through a message board for reaction GIFs. In other words, I’m now regretting having spent any mental energy on it.

Corinna Kirsch February 17, 2015 at 4:23 pm
Corinna Kirsch February 17, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Thanks, Andrew, for the best comment on the blog today. “Co-worker GIFs” should be a category for most of the GIFs in this contest.

Paddy Johnson February 17, 2015 at 4:31 pm

I totally agree.

Zach Scott March 6, 2015 at 3:55 pm
Corinna Kirsch March 6, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Derp. I’m depressed. Thanks for your attention, Zach!

Zach Scott March 6, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Oh, no problem. I only knew that because someone (the tweet I linked to above) replied to the GIFY’s tweet announcing their GIF of the year by telling them that it was from the wrong year. The GIFYs favorited his reply. sad lol.

I was slightly annoyed at how they ignored provenance, just on a personal level, but I didn’t think the problem would end up undermining their GIF of the year! poetic justice of a sort, I suppose.

Paddy Johnson March 6, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Wow. What a failure.

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