October 2nd, 2014

“How Come This Stuff Isn’t Animated?” The Story of Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott's S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott’s S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF for Milk Made

Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?

The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.

Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”

So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”

“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”

As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.

Marc Ecko, founder of Eckō Enterprises, Mr. GIF’s first big client. © Mr. GIF

They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”

“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.

The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to www.transformtomorrow.com, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.

One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.

August 12th, 2013

PDN Video Pick: The Art of Portrait Photography

“The Art of Portrait Photography” is the latest episode for the PBS online video series Off Book, which focuses on people who contribute to different artistic mediums as well as Internet culture. In the eight-minute episode, four photographers talk about different aspects of shooting portrait photography: Matt Hoyle discusses The History of Portraiture; Bex Finch discusses Personal Storytelling; Jamie Diamond discusses Challenging the Language of Portraits; and Ethan Levitas discusses the Relationship of Photographer and Subject.

July 19th, 2013

MōVi Stabilizers To Ship August 15th, Freefly Announces

movi-rig-in-action-videoIn April, when  photographer Vincent Laforet unveiled a new, handheld camera stabilization system at NAB, it created lots of buzz. Called MōVi and produced by Freefly Systems, the device is a “digital 3-axis gyro-stabilized handheld camera gimbal,” which Laforet promised would revolutionize “your way of thinking about camera movement.” We saw what the handheld rig could do for tracking shots through some pretty outstanding videos Laforet filmed with the MōVi.

Now, Freefly has announced that the MōVI M10 will start shipping on August 15th, 2013 on a first-come-first-served basis to customers who have pre-ordered units.  New customers can visit www.freeflysystems.com for more information and place their MōVI M10 pre­orders now at www.movirig.com (and in the near future via select dealers worldwide). The M10 will set you back $15,000 and a $2,500 deposit is required upon pre-ordering. However, in some good news, the smaller DSLR sized MōVi M5 has been priced at $5,000. This is well under the $7,500 estimate that was announced at NAB and will be welcome news to professional photographers, videographers, and small budget filmmakers. The MōVi M5 will ship in Q4 of 2013 and you can pre-order it with a $500 deposit.

In case you haven’t seen it, below is a “behind the scenes” video of Vincent Laforet’s “MōVi” film that made everyone so excited. Take special note of the taxi shot that they show at 2:50 or so and how it is done by a cameraman on rollerblades. You can see more of these videos and read about their creation on Vincent’s blog, blog.vincentlaforet.com. The post where he announces the MōVi and posts the first films can be found right here.

Price: $15,000/$5000

http://www.movirig.com/

June 20th, 2013

Instagram Demonstrates Powerful Video Stabilization – on a Smartphone

shaky-videoProfessional photographers don’t often turn to a smartphone to shoot video. But in the new video offering announced by Instagram today is technology that could eventually be a great addition to the toolkit.

A new video option for the photo sharing site can literally take jumpy, hand-held video and turn it into something watchable. Technology like that could someday be used to help rescue video footage that might otherwise be given up for loss because of a shaky hand.

Here’s a clip of the announcement about the new technology, taken from today’s live stream of the Instagram press event.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rB5WrX3NLBU

To watch the replay of the live streaming of the whole Facebook/Instagram event, beginning to end, go this Live Stream page.

–Erik Sherman

June 10th, 2013

PDN Video Pick: Miller Mobley’s Tips for Landing Clients

Photographer Miller Mobley: How to Build Relationships with Clients from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Miller Mobley built a successful business as an editorial and commercial photographer in his native Alabama, then gave it up to start all over again in New York City. In this video produced by PDN, he discusses how he landed jobs in both places, and the importance of showing new work to potential clients every time he approaches them. To learn more about how Mobley launched and then re-launched his career, see our story, “Miller Mobley’s Transition,” at PDNonline.com.

July 6th, 2012

Video Pick: Making a Leica M9-P ‘Edition Hermès’ Camera

This summer, as part of its ongoing collaboration with the French fashion house Hermès, Leica announced a special “Hermès Edition” of the M9-P camera. Above is a video that shows the care and attention to detail that goes into making one of the limited-edition cameras.

The calfskin leather that’s wrapped around the camera’s body was supplied by Hermès and various details of the camera, including the top and base plates, the shutter speed dial, the multifunction wheel and the shutter release, were redesigned by Walter de’Silva. The camera comes in two sets: the first includes a Leica Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH. lens; the second includes Leica Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH., Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 ASPH. and APO-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH. lenses as well as an Hermès camera bag and a book of photos by Jean-Louis Dumas.

Dumas, the chairman and artistic director of Hermès from 1978 to 2006, was a well-known photography buff who was rarely without his Leica camera. He invested in the camera maker and decided that the Madison Avenue Hermès store in New York City should have a photo gallery on its top floor. To learn more about the retailer’s unique exhibition space, read our interview with curator Cory Jacobs.

April 6th, 2012

PDN Video Pick: Craig Cutler’s “Words”

This week, commercial photographer Craig Cutler finished his CC52 project. Cutler, who we profiled in our May issue (see “Craig Cutler Just Keeps Shooting“), committed to creating one new personal work a week for an entire year. The resulting CC52 project has a mix of still life, portrait and motion work featuring everything from pickled eggs and crackers to famous people’s shoes and nude models wearing team mascot costume heads. Go to craigcutler.com to see all 52 works and click on the video below to watch “Words,” his final work from the project.

February 16th, 2011

PDN Video Pick: Bugs

Looking through the latest entries to the PDN Photo Annual, we came across this colorful and amusing video. Titled simply, “Bugs!,” it was directed, produced and colored by Ryan Enn Hughes.  Watch that caterpillar go.

This is the first year that the PDN Photo Annual has included a video category; the deadline to enter is midnight, February 17.

You can see more of Hughes’s videos on his Vimeo page.

October 11th, 2010

“Last Minutes With Oden” Documentary Wins $25,000 Vimeo Award

Eliot Rausch accepts $25,000 Best Video prize at Vimeo ceremony.

The online documentary “Last Minutes With Oden” won the award for Best Video and its director, Eliot Rausch, won a $25,000 filmmaking grant at the first Vimeo Festival + Awards.

The ceremony, held October 9 in New York City, ended a weekend of video workshops, lectures and slide shows sponsored by Vimeo, the online video sharing site.
“Last Minutes with Oden” also won the Best Documentary category. It documents a former drug addict, Jason, having to put his dog, Oden, to sleep. In accepting the award, Rausch said, “I think Jason’s transparency and brutal honesty in Oden’s last moments are what made [the film] so successful.” He noted that he had asked Jason, to attend the ceremony, but “he’s flat broke.” When he accepted the grant, Rausch said Jason had asked for help getting his teeth fixed if Rausch won the grant “because his teeth are rotting.” Rausch didn’t say how he responded, but said, “I feel this is as much his film as mine.”

Among the other winners in the nine categories was “Thrush,” a series of still photos edited together to depict a couple’s six-month relationship, which won for Best Narrative. In a videotaped acceptance speech, filmmaker Gabriel Bisset-Smith said, “People are disappointed when they find out [the man and woman] aren’t real.”

The awards ceremony, which honored video creators who use the web to reach a wide audience,  struck a poignant note when the award for Best Motion Graphics was given to the Turkish-born Onur Senturk. In accepting Senturk’s award, a friend and fellow Turk noted that the award was encouraging to video artists in Turkey, where Vimeo was banned two weeks ago. Three years ago, the Turkish government banned access to YouTube.

Two honorary awards were also given. The Digital Maverick Award was given to the Neistat Brothers, who have made hundreds of online videos since 2000 and recently launched a series for HBO. The Feature Presentation award went to “Star Wars Uncut,” a retelling of Star Wars made up of hundreds of short clips created by Star Wars fans –using everything from Claymation figures to amateur actors in costume —and then edited together.

Award winners were selected by judges in nine categories:
Best Remix: Breakdown, by Kasumi
Best Original Series: Break-Ups, The Series, by Ted Tremper
Best Music Video: Liars’ “Scissors” by Andy Brunel
Best Documentary: Last Minutes with Oden, by Eliot Rausch
Best Experimental Video: oops, by Chris Beckman
Best Captured (given to a video that documents a performance or work of art): Fluid Sculpture by Charlie Bucket
Best Motion Graphics: TRIANGLE, by Onur Senturk

The winning videos and all the finalists can be viewed on the Vimeo Festival +Awards page at vimeo.com/awards/finalists