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An animated gif is a sequence of images stored in a single graphics file in GIF format. When the graphic is displayed on a monitor screen, the sequence of images is run consecutively at speed, giving the impression of movement. The method is essentially the same as that used in movies or TV; but the clip usually quickly loops back to the start, resulting in a short sequence that keeps repeating itself.
Once upon a time, still images on the Web were often stored as gif files. However, nowadays still images are most often stored in JPEG or PNG format, so the term "gif" is commonly understood to refer exclusively to animations.
Animated Gifs in Fandom
Fans create and use gifs for several different purposes.
Animated gifs can be used as (or as part of) the banner for a website.
It is common to take a short section of screencaps from a video and animate them as a GIF file.
Reaction gifs are the most ubiquitous on the internet, not just fandom. They can be used to express emotion. A gif of Michael Jackson eating popcorn in a theater, for example, can mean, "This has the potential to be excellent wank."
Other uses of single gifs include expressing one's shipping preference or having an animated portrait of an attractive celebrity to gaze at. Harry Potter fans have commented on the similarities between actual gifs and the magical photography in the books.
Gifsets are a popular art form on Tumblr. A gifset consists of two or more thematically related gifs and as such is distinct from gif-heavy masterposts or text posts collecting a random assortment of a user's favorites (sometimes collected in one place for the user to refer back to when selecting a reaction gif). The theme may be visual (similarities in color, motion, clothes, scenery, etc.) or character-based (multiple characters being awesome, one character's personal growth, etc.), often both. Many gifsets are made from a certain scene from a film or television show; fans make these gifs to squee over a new episode of a television show, to point out their favorite moments, or to use it as an illustration of their point in a meta essay about the work. People make gifsets of moments they find funny, moving, or hot. In RPF fandoms especially, footage from interviews, concerts, sports games, youtube videos, etc. may be giffed.
Gifsets can also transform media in significant ways by re-captioning gifs and juxtaposing them with other images to radically alter the text. These include AU gifsets, the visual equivalent of an AU fanfic, but also include visual meta that make a comparison without telling a story. (examples)
Credit and Ownership
Some people want credit for the gifs they make, and will add a watermark into the gif. Other fans will post gifs with a note that indicates that they can be downloaded and used freely. In January 2013, a Tumblr campaign was started to discourage the practice of "stealing" gifs by reposting (i.e. downloading and then uploading to start a new chain of reblogs) instead of reblogging. See the fail_fandomanon discussion.
Examples: Animated Website Banners
|Animated banner used to head the White Knight Trapped in Darkness site.|
Examples: Single Gifs
A gif used to assert one's fannish devotion to a certain ship.
Gifsets depicting scenes from films or tv, as well as AU gifsets, should be "read" from the top left to the bottom right like (Western) comic panels. See, for example, #the only time a character in a musical actually acknowledged the fact that they were in a musical, a two-by-four gifset of a scene from the film Enchanted that represents a moment fans found funny.
Here is another two-by-four gifset, an AU from the Stilinski Twins meme: Teen Wolf AU, in which Stiles has a not so social skilled brother, Stuart. Everyone knows them as the Stilinski twins. by brogitsune (2013). If you read from top left to bottom right, they show a lunch room scene in which Lydia Martin and Allison Argent are ogling the Stilinski twins, who in turn are talking about Stiles's relationship with Derek Hale. Each gif is captioned with the dialogue of the scene. The caption in the gif shown to the left, "The Stilinski Twins?", is meant to represent a voice-over of Allison asking Lydia a question, and the gif itself represents a point of view shot as Allison checks to see what Lydia is looking at. A film technique used in the composition of the gif is shot-countershot; footage of the actor Dylan O'Brien from a Teen Wolf episode glancing to the right is followed by footage of the same actor in the film The Internship looking to the left, creating the illusion that there are two separate people looking at each other.
A less common style of gifset is one that is not meant to be read in order, but is carefully timed to be viewed as a whole, one image shown across multiple screens so to speak. For example, see this three-by-three gifset created on the occasion of Harry Styles's 20th birthday. Each gif in the set contains an alternating sequence of black frames, screencapped video footage of One Direction, and text on a black background, all perfectly synchronized to create a visually appealing whole. It even includes quotes from interviews, so is a bit like a documentary film.
- Lord of the Rings: I have watched the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy just focusing on Legolas. And it is pure gold. by the-time-lord-of-the-rings (original post deleted). Lo-res captioned gifs of a tv interview of Orlando Bloom talking about how his role as Legolas involved a lot of standing in the background reacting to other people's dialogue, followed by gifs from the movies zooming in on some of the funnier background Legolas reactions.
- Pacific Rim: untitled gifset by gipsydangrr, showing an artistically shot scene from the film that introduces the character Mako Mori. Tumblr user vrabia tagged their reblog with commentary on the way in which the introduction of Mako Mori positions her as the protagonist of the film; apfelgranate copy-pasted vrabia's tags into the body of their reblog post (typical tumblr mark of respect for someone else's tag comments).
- Star Trek: The Original Series: untitled gifset by piperelizabeths, showing a scene from the show in which Uhura tries to flirt with Spock. The colors are adjusted, and captions showing the dialogue have been added.
- Danisnotonfire: gifset by nicedynameat made from a YouTube video in which Dan acts out both sides of a hypothetical conversation where one friend tells another friend that he's reading Avengers mpreg fanfiction.
- The Avengers: gifset by zorya. Loki's dialogue criticizing Natasha Romanov's motives is used as captions for gifs of Loki from the 2012 Avengers film and from Thor; this juxtaposition is meant to show that Loki's words are more applicable to Loki himself.
- Harry Potter: Dean and Seamus through the years by dehaanradcliffe, depicting scenes from different HP films with Dean/Seamus interaction in the foreground or background; other characters on camera are desaturated to highlight the importance of Dean/Seamus. (July 2012)
- untitled pair of gifs by iriluu. A boy looks over a girl's shoulder and is horrified to realise that she is reading yaoi manga.
- The Graphics Interchange Format (or GIF) is a method of transmitting images online. The file containing the image is given the extension ".gif"; and such images are frequently just referred to as "gifs". Because it is supported by all web browsers, the GIF format is very popular. Gifs have the disadvantage that they have a limited palette of colours, making the format most useful for black-and-white drawings, or images with large blocks of solid colors, since there can be a loss of colour detail when the format is used for photographs or complex artwork. However, the GIF format allows areas of the image to be "transparent", allowing an underlying background to be visible; and it is popular for webart. The GIF format is also typically used in making animations.