⚠️ Some GIF mentioned in the text have a limited number of loops.
Consider hard refresh to see them in action again.
MetaTools web team Christmas party, 1995. Front row, left to right: Audrey Witters, Julie Sigwart, Rena Tom.
Back row, left to right: Michael Mogitz, Scott Fegette (Audrey Witters’ personal archive)
“Assorted Tip and Tricks”, chapter 6 of Richard Koman’s GIF Animation Studio manual, published by O’Reilly in 1996 starts with the wise remark “Your Web page can be a lot more fun if it’s not always crystal clear exactly what is going on” (p.69).
Meaning that animated GIFs can be used for more than just motion. They are the element that can bring surprise and suspense. To realize GIFs’full potential one could play with interframe delays and numbers of loops. Two essential properties in the mid 90’s; two more decisions early GIF makers could make, apart from transparency (or not) in the background of the animation and the amount of frames used in the animation.
As an example of the best practice Koman brings the Blinking Alien, attributing the authorship to Audrey Witters from MetaTools.
Today Audrey is a Managing Director of Online Executive Education at Stanford and she was very surprised that I wanted to talk with her about her alien.gif. The conversation started on Whereby on June 29, 2021; continued in Google docs the following days and concluded with the short video call on July 12.
Olia Lialina: Audrey, did you know that you are famous? That your GIFs and tips on how to make them were celebrated on the pages of GIF Animation Studio? Actually did you know at all that you were in the book and on the CD?
Audrey Witters: I did! And we have the book at home. I just have to find it!
Back in 1995, I began to work for MetaCreations (back then called MetaTools). We produced graphic arts software — Kai’s Power Tools was our big title then! And so, myself as well as three other folks at MetaTools were working on the website, we did everything together: design and coding, these weren’t separate jobs back in 1995. You didn’t have it segmented yet. One of the things we did to support the community and to promote the software was publishing web tips, I think they had a cute name, I can’t remember now.
AW: Yes! And so, I had published a tutorial on doing animated GIFs using Kai’s Power Tools.
OL: <title>Animation Rocks</title>
AW: And then the author of that book sent me a note saying “hey, I’m publishing this book on animated GIFs, can I use your stuff in it?” I checked with my boss, and we were like, yeah, it’d be free publicity for our software as well as our website. Let’s go! So, I guess that’s the story.