Moving Pictures

They’ve been lurking in the background for years, but animated GIFs have had a comeback in popular culture lately. People use the format to create humorous Internet memes, low-resolution video clips of events like cool sports plays or their own mini-cartoons. Tumblrs are spilling over with animated GIFs, El Kaiser has created an excellent Pop Tech Jam GIF and BuzzFeed even had a list of favorites for 2012. (Like wildlife? Check out the Animal PerfectLoop site.)

Not bad for a file typet that’s been around since the Reagan administration. The GIF format was first introduced in 1987 by CompuServe. GIF itself stands for Graphics Interchange Format and some have argued how to pronounce the acronym. (The creators of the format have said they pronounce it like a certain peanut butter-brand chosen by choosy mothers, although some dictionaries support both pronunciations.)

Animated GIF files are generally smaller than the average video file and only support 256 colors. An animated GIF, which is a series of still pictures (frames) combined together to create action or motion, does not contain sound like most video formats do. Video files also typically have at least 24 frames per second or higher to create fluid motion in a wider range of colors. This small file size of the animated GIF and its compatibility led to their relative popularity in the early days of the Web when dial-up connections were too slow to handle streaming video (or much of anything else besides text).

Before you decide how you want to make your animated GIF file, you should select the images to use for the project, like a sequence of pictures of say, a hamster on its wheel or the best three seconds of a video clip. If you’re using still photos or illustrations, all the images used should be sized to the same dimensions. The fewer pictures used, the faster and choppier the animation will be in the final GIF file. Some basic animated GIF files just use four images. For more fluid, video-like motion, use more images in the sequence.

Recent versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements, a popular photo-editing program designed for home users, can make animated GIFs using the Layers feature. If you have one of these programs, you can use it to create animated GIFs:

You can also use snippets of video and convert the clip to an animated GIF. The How-To Geek site has instructions for converting bits of YouTube clips to animated GIFs here and the Switched blog has a tutorial on the same topic here.

Plenty of Web sites also offer simple GIF conversion. You upload a series of images (or a short video clip) and the site crunches your upload into a GIF for you. MakeaGIF and Gifninja are two sites that can handle the job.

Want to animate your GIFs on the go? Check out your app store for options. Gifboom is one such mobile app with iOS and Android versions available.

But really, the technical stuff isn’t so hard. The hard part of finding that perfect GIF-able moment, but when you do, you feel like this:


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