Animated GIFs Create New Viral Marketing Buzz

Kevin Petajan HeadshotBy Kevin Petajan | Motion Graphics & 3D Animation

When most of us think of GIFs, we harken back to an archaic format that became popular during the early years of the Internet.  Animated GIFs, now considered long in the tooth, have been replaced by Flash, HTML5 animations and even full-blown streaming video.  But wait… not so fast.

A new technique has revitalized the GIF as an artsy format that many are using as part of their marketing strategy.  Cinemagraphs, a term coined by Jamie Beck & Kevin Burg, are a hybrid of still photos and motion video.  At first glance, the viewer expects to see a still photo. The cinemagraph quickly catches the viewers eye with subtle, unexpected movement. Here are a few examples in particular that caught my eye.

Stanley Kubrick Cinemagraph

Source: FilmmakerIQ | 30 Amazing Stanley Kubrick Cinemagraphs

Pouring Strawberries Into Wooden Bucket

Source: The NY Times | Brewing Beer with Dancing Strawberries

James in a Burberry trench outside Tartine in the West Village

Source: From Me To You

How’d They Do That?

Here’s how it’s done.  A photographer/videographer takes a series of stills, or full motion video, of a subject.  To keep things simple, it is necessary for the camera to be on a tripod.  This maintains the stability of the image, while allowing other motion elements to move within the frame.  Also, it’s best to limit the amount of movement in the frame so that the end result will not stutter or create a roller coaster of movement for the viewer.

Once the image sequence is captured from the camera and into the computer, it can be imported into a full-fledged compositing application like After Effects.  At this point, the artist will decide what the focal point of movement is in the sequence.  A backplate, the still background, is then chosen from the series of stills and then brought into Photoshop where all hints of movement and foreground elements are removed.

Meanwhile, back in After Effects the chosen focal point of movement is rotoscoped, or masked, so that it can be laid over the backplate image.  The series of images that make up this movement are then looped back and forth or blended so that the movement can continue without appearing to jump or stutter.

Once the backplate and the masked image sequence with movement are composited together, or married to each other, the new image sequence can be exported to a GIF or other appropriate format.  Voila, a cinemagraph is born!

Cinemagraphs have been used on several sites, including the New York Times.  Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg created a set of cinemagraphs to illustrate a production process for an upstart, DogFish Head Craft Brewery.

Large corporations are starting to catch on as well with HP and others starting their own viral cinemagraph campaigns. Like every media format, some cinemagraphs are better than others.  However, this technique can be quite unique and engaging when used tastefully.

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This article was from the blog of Plum Moving Media, a Milwaukee video production company. Services | Contact Us