The Art of the ‘Cinemagraph’: GIFs Are Finally Growing Up

You know those tiny animated pictures we come across every so often on the interweb – the ones that show us about two seconds of moving imagery and then repeat it over and over on an endless loop? Well, they’re called GIFs, and until just a few days ago, I had basically written them off as cheap, online parlor tricks. Gimmicks, if you will.

Then I came across this:

Looks like a video clip, doesn’t it? Well, guess what – it’s a GIF! Specifically, it’s a type of GIF known as a “cinemagraph,” a term coined by the image’s creators.

The moment I realized what I was looking at in the above image, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. I mean, how often do we see artists breathe new life into outdated forms of web-based media?

The artists in this case are Jamie Beck (a New York-based photographer) and Kevin Burg (a web designer and graphic artist), who describe their work to Fast Company as “something more than a photo but less than a video.” Apparently, they “wanted to tell more of a story than a single still frame photograph but didn’t want the high maintenance aspect of a video.” It appears they’ve succeeded in delivering a happy medium.

While mimicking movement in still life isn’t exactly a low-maintenance task (the effect can take hours or even days to achieve using editing software), the duo have managed to pull it off with flying colors. In doing so, they’ve simultaneously raised the bar for GIF creators everywhere.

You can view their many fascinating, collaborative works in full detail at their Cinemagraph site, but here are a few quick standouts:

Of course, the cinemagraph represents more than just the evolution of the common GIF. It’s an inherently more artful approach to the creation of still imagery for the web – or should I say “not-so-still” imagery?

Personally, when I look at these kinds of images, I can’t help but think of the animated front-page headlines on the newspapers in the Harry Potter films or the ultramodern concepts on display in the promotional video for Corning specialty glass.

An interesting question would be whether there’s a practical place for cinemagraphs in the arena of modern marketing. Then again, that question may have already been answered, as just this year, Beck and Burg partnered with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery to document the process of creating a new, organic, “strawberry-and-honey-flavored” beer for the company’s growing line of specialty brews. The team used the same technique in capturing the beer-making process, this time with the goal of promoting the Dogfish Head brand.

The results are mouthwatering to say the least:

They may not be reinventing the wheel, but if nothing else, cinemagraphs are a reminder that if there’s still artistic merit in GIFs, maybe there’s hope for the internet yet. Maybe this is the beginning of a more refined era of the web as we know it.

It goes without saying that it’s increasingly difficult for brands to reach out to web-savvy consumers. Perhaps the cinemagraph is just the kind of presentational technique needed to boost brand awareness.

One thing is certain: GIFs are finally growing up. Let’s just hope that there will always be a place for JCVD among them:

What do you think? Is this the evolution of the GIF? Is this the beginning of refined web-based media? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Main image available here.

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. JPorretto

    Gotta be honest…. not a big fan of these in general. But I’ve seen far too many where the motion is delayed so long as so you have to stare at the thing forever, then when it finally happens it’s entirely underwhelming.

    Now, like most things I don’t typically enjoy, if done really well I can get into it (like rap). For example, I could watch that first one all day…For a multitude of reasons =)

  2. JPorretto

    And for the love of Santa, are these pronounced Gif (with a hard G) or like Jiff? Someone please tell me!

  3. Jenna Markowski

    Great post, Joe! I think it is really interesting that artists are creating more aesthetically pleasing GIFs. Until now, the only ones that I have seen are the awkward ones like that last one you posted. People use those on Tumblr constantly. I am guilty of having an entire folder dedicated to GIFs on my laptop at home. This one is my favorite:

    While this could be the beginning of refined web-based media…something tells me that the tacky, silly GIFs will always outnumber the artistic ones! I think I’m okay with that, though. 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      To an extent, I suppose I’m okay with an abundance of wacky GIFs on the web. They’re always good for a laugh. I’d love to see more artistic ones in the years to come though.

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    I never thought I’d see the day when gifs graduated from Tumblr and Livejournal. These are actually sophisticated. I’m awestruck by the cinemagraph. I really hope that these catch on in marketing campaigns.

    That being said, though, I never want the “pure” gifs of utter silly to die. I don’t care how low brow they might be, they never fail to amuse me.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Very true. Traditional GIFs are fun to have around. I’d love to see the cinemagraph concept take off, but I’d hate to lose some of the ridiculously funny GIFs currently out there.

  5. amy

    I had no idea these even existed before Joe, thanks for the head’s up! I think it’s really cool that they’re like a video, but not really. They seem like a good thing for marketers to explore and put their personal spin on them. Great post!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Yeah, I’d love to see brands start taking advantage of the cinemagraph technique. Just imagine the possibilities!

    • Amanda

      Same here Amy–these are new to me too. But they are soo awesome! I think the first is the best, it looks like a video at first.

      Great post Joe! =)

  6. Cybernetic SAM

    I love it! The fancy ones at the top remind me of the newspapers in Harry Potter! I think that this adds depth to advertising. Not only does it make it interesting I think it draws the eye in a with a little bit more concentration, so instead of just glancing at an ad you will probably look at it for a few more seconds than you normally would (to see how elaborate the gif really is). So if you are the advertiser your goal is to hold the consumer’s attention, so every second counts! Very clever indeed!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Exactly! If brands used images like these in promotional ads or in email send-outs, I’d be much more apt to pay close attention.

  7. Jen

    Very cool post! However I can not stop watching the last GIF with Jean Claude Van Damme. Thanks Joe.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      No one busts a move like JCVD — that’s for sure!

    • Amanda

      I agree Jen! These things are so cool!

  8. Eric

    Totally dig the subtlety, especially in the picture with the woman on an observatory deck in NYC. Never heard of these before you mentioned them in your post, Joe, so serious kudos to you for that. And – hate to say it – but that JCVD .gif never gets any less amusing.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “Subtlety” is a good way to put it. The movements are very understated and purposeful in cinemagraphs, which I think is a big part of their draw.

  9. Jill Tooley

    I think I’m in love with cinemagraphs. I can’t stop watching them! 🙂 How cool would it be to have one of these on your wall?

    Awesome post, Joe. It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, advertisers decide to do with them. Hopefully there won’t be any creepy-ass Ronald McDonald cinemagraphs anytime soon! Have you heard of any other brands using these in ads? We should use Bubba in one!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Apart from Dogfish Head brewery, I haven’t heard of any other brands using cinemagraphs as part of a campaign. Hopefully it’ll catch on.

      And yes, I’m definitely looking into creating one with Bubba! 😉

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