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An animated gif (or simply "gif") is a sequence of images stored in a single graphics file in GIF format.[note 1] 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.
Fannish gif usage dates back to the 1990s and the days of Geocities fansites; in the mid-2000s, gifs were popular as icons in journal fandom, before achieving a new prominence as a form of fanwork and fannish interaction with media in the 2010s with the rise of Tumblr.
First GIF and Pronunciation
The first GIF was of an airplane, created by Steve Wilhite in 1987. "The animation feature was added in an updated version of the GIF file format." 
According to its creator it is pronounced "JIF." 
Animated Gifs in Fandom
Fans create and use gifs for several different purposes. Gif use has changed over time, partly determined by evolving technology. For example, small low resolution gifs and animated banners were common decorations for GeoCities fansites in the 1990s, whereas in the 2010s, broadband internet connections and platforms like Tumblr allowed for the posting and viewing of many high-resolution gifs at once. This made gif and gifset creation a much more common and popular form of interaction with visual media fandoms (TV shows, anime, movies, etc.).
Gifs are typically created by taking a short section of a video and animating it into a gif, adding animated effects to an otherwise still image, or by stringing a sequence of images together to make an animation. Gifs typically use or adapt an existing image or video (e.g. a photo of a celebrity or a section of film footage) but can also be fan-created "original" (i.e. non-repurposed) animations or animated from fanart.
"Reaction gifs" are the most ubiquitous gif type on the internet. According to Reddit, "A reaction gif is a physical or emotional response that is captured in a gif which you can link in response to someone or something on the Internet." Reaction images have been around since at least 2004 on image boards like 4chan, and using animated images as reactions may have started in 2007.[note 2] When fandom adopted the reaction gif is also unclear and probably depends on the platform. ONTD, where users had previously deployed YouTube videos and still images, may have popularized the reaction gif on LiveJournal in early 2008.[note 3]
Michael Jackson eating popcorn in a theater is a classic reaction gif that can mean, "This has the potential to be excellent wank." In forums like Fail_fandomanon where images are not allowed, simply typing "popcorn.gif" is intended to convey the same meaning.
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 gifs in the real world 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. (See examples below.) AU gifsets are similar to constructed reality in vidding, in that they create gifs from the source material, or other sources, and use it to tell story that did not occur in canon. In historical, fantasy and science fiction fandoms, fan creators might create gifs from sources where the same actors have appeared in films or television series set within our current time period and compile the gifs into a set to tell a story set in a Modern AU, similar to fanfiction writers placing characters in a modern day setting.
Fan 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.
Animated icon by original_beany, featuring the pairing of Kara Kent/Wally West (2006)
Animated icon for the swslash LiveJournal community (2005)
Animated icon used by Supernatural Slash (2006)
An animated icon depicting the "orgasmic" facial expressions of Tuomas Holopainen, songwriter and frontman for the band Nightwish
An animated gif using stills from the Harry Potter fan animation Potter Puppet Pals (2007?)
Animated Website Banners
Blended or Overlay Gifs
May require a slightly more advanced editor to create, because they are overlaying one image over another combining them into one
Blended gif by itwasdraco that was created for the fic Beautiful World
Gif created for The Last Love Song of Anthony E. Stark, this example combing two gifs to make it look like one continuous scene, and overlayed with an animated snow effect
Fanart Animation Gifs
Thumbs up reaction gif featuring the McDanno pairing
Reaction gif that is often used to express a decision between two things and the user choosing both, featuring Miguel and Tulio from The Road to El Dorado
Various Other Gifs
Ye Olde Web Design: running black cat seen on nearly every Sentinel fan site during the late 1990s.
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 by blamestyles 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.
I read daily about robustness tumblr culture and how it’s impossible to monetize etc. blah blah blah
but no one ever talks about the life’s blood of tumblr: GIFSETS.
Tumblr has longevity because it is the gifset website. A movie trailer drops and within an hour there are already multiple gifsets. Just there reminding us this movie is coming out it looks pretty good. A tumblr user thinks: I wish I had memory box containing every facial expression and movement made by Colin Firth in that 5 hour mini series of Pride and prejudice and some other tumblr user devotes their life to making that happen. Some dead guy has a birthday and a tumblr user gifs every single one of his dozens of films and puts them in a single gifset just because it makes fans of the dead guy happy.Gifsets are amazing because gifsets are silent and they ask nothing but that you look at their pretty dancing images and smile fondly and click the like and reblog. A gifset didn’t elect trump. A gifset didn’t gaslight your grandma into believing that covid is an alien plot. A gifset just went floating by with no other thought than to look pretty and be appreciated.
Some gif sets are just a collection of gifs usually of a certain scene or parallel scenes highlighting a particular character, ship, or moment in canon. However, a popular trend is to overlay the gift set with representative text to fit the character, ship, mood, or images shown. The choice of material for the text varies, but popular choices are song lyrics, sometimes referred to as "lyric gif sets", or poems, see We deserve a soft epilogue, my love as an example.
More gifset examples:
- 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 briandeneeve 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, highlighting the subtext of the film's dialogue. Loki's speech 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)
- Hanson: Middle of Nowhere by somebodystolemysoul, depicting Hanson's first four music videos playing on iPod screens.
- 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.
- MISSING SCENE ▬ What if Kate Bishop started going to Peter Parker’s High School? ft. Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop: a "constructed reality" gifset by spectralarchers that uses clips from Spider-Man: Homecoming and footage of Hailee Steinfeld (a fancast for Kate Bishop) to have Peter Parker "meet" Kate Bishop in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Aug 2019)
- Music in Film: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) dir. Cathy Yan by sybbie-crawley: a Birds of Prey gifset highlighting the songs and artists featured in the film (March 2020)
- The starter pack for ‘how to deal with villain apologists', a popular gifset by tytandys that comments on how fandom treats fictional villains.
Set by culturethatcounts, created for the fic series Down to Agincourt, combining gifs and still images
- Beloved creator of the GIF dies following complications from COVID, wife confirms (March 24, 2022)
- "In 2013, the Webby Awards honored Wilhite with a lifetime achievement award. He played a GIF as his acceptance speech, which iterated the pronunciation as "jif," not "gif." -- Beloved creator of the GIF dies following complications from COVID, wife confirms (March 24, 2022)
- Reaction GIFs, Archived version
- Reaction Images, Archived version
- archived reblog, original post deleted. Tumblr post had 365,074 notes as of 2 December 2015.
- archived. Tumblr post had 24029 notes as of 2 December 2015.
- "archived". Archived from the original on 2015-10-25.
- "November 27, 2023 Tumblr post". Archived from the original on 2023-12-03.
- reblog with 200K notes, Archived version
- 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.
- The Citizen Kane clapping gif has been dated to December 2007, according to Know Your Meme.
- Early use of the popcorn gif in a February 17, 2008 comment: . Another use the night before of an Orthodox Jewish motorcyclist: Oh No They Didn't! - PHOTO POST: Sexy and/or talented Jewish men., Archived version. Given the high volume of posts and comments on ONTD, it is difficult to pinpoint the "first" use of a reaction gif.