The Art and Science of Hacking GIFs

I present to you the humble GIF. Often fought over in terms of pronunciation (“giff” vs “jiff”), frequently used in grainy meme animation loops, and often disregarded as the lower-quality sibling to JPEG, PNG and other image formats.

A better question might be, “How do you improve the GIF?” But to start with, what are they? According to GIF’s Wikipedia entry, “The format supports up to 8 bits per pixel for each image, allowing a single image to reference its own palette of up to 256 different colors chosen from the 24-bit RGB color space. It also supports animations and allows a separate palette of up to 256 colors for each frame. These palette limitations make the GIF format less suitable for reproducing color photographs and other images with continuous color, but it is well-suited for simpler images such as graphics or logos with solid areas of color.” While animated GIFs are not commonly used in game development, the distinctive animations are sometimes used for promoting games.

One startup company that could make an impact in GIFs and gaming is the Silicon Valley-based startup, Gfycat. The company offers a service and storage capability that allows for creating and streaming traditional animated GIFs or a hybridized format which allows for more interactivity and higher compression and higher visual quality with sixteen million colors. On the top of the fold of their site, for example, slick-looking animated loops of Mass Effect Andromeda, Battlefield One and other games are featured. Below is example Gfycat media featuring Razer’s Project Ariana 4K projector from CES 2017:

–which brings us to Gfycat’s first hackathon they hosted this weekend at one of their venture capital backers, Pear VC. In a smallish loft-like space with a few adjecent roundtable rooms, a few dozen hackers showed up for the twenty-four hour-plus hackathon that carried through Saturday night into Sunday afternoon. From this number emerged  X teams to work on GIF-related projects. From the start, it was clear at least one hacker (equipped with goggles, revealing their aim) was going to push a thirty-year old format into 2017, with augmented reality and virtual reality hacks.

In fact, Richard Rabbat, CEO and co-founder of Gfycat noted that GIFs “created on Gfycat can be used in any VR world or as part of AR experiences created in an app. With the rise of AR, for example, the creator of the app can introduce GIFs into the content.” A team at the hackathon (Giffiti) built a really cool AR experience with Gfycat.”

While the VR hack did not take first place, although a game did take the top spot, the hackathon did demonstrate the potential for GIFs in game development, and further out, in AR and VR applications.

Leave a Reply