The year was 2013 and Tyra Banks’ investment arm Fierce Capital was pumping money and ANTM publicity into animated-picture app Flixel. They were slated to be the next big thing. Fast forward 5 years later, and we’re still waiting for animated-pictures, also known as cinemagraphs, to become a “thing” at all really.
According to Wikipedia, the term “Cinemagraph” was coined by U.S. photographers Kevin Burg and James Beck to animate their fashion and news photographs in 2011. The simple definition is a still photograph in which a minor and repeated movement occurs, forming a video clip. They can be created from compositing a collection of photographs or freeze framing a video clip into a seamless loop of sequential frames, so that one components moving while the rest of the video is still. In the example above, the bird and moving water are moving, but the hands are completely still.
While cinemagraphs are certainly interesting to look at from an aesthetic perspective, the lack of interest in user-generated cinemagraphs is evident in their limited use throughout the web and social media. Theres a number of factors stacked against them that I’m going to explore.
First, cinemagraphs would be regarded by many non-professionals as far too complicated. Many social media users will post either a picture or a video, neither of which require the use of a third party app. Even if the App is fairly easy, it’s still an extra step that I just cant see people like my mom taking to post pictures of her grandkids. When considering Pew Research Center’s statistic that 72% of Facebook Users in 2016 fall between the ages of 50 and 64, apps like Flixel are simply asking too much of the user.
Second, this picture-video morphed format falls right through the cracks of standard content platforms because it isn’t optimized for either. Not on photo galleries nor Youtube or most video players would these nifty little moving pictures play well. Furthermore, I don’t believe they are effective for illustrating articles or blogs because they pull too much focus away from the content. Editorially speaking, imagery of any kind is paired with an article to complement content, not to outshine it. I also don’t believe billboards are a great option because displaying a moving picture would require a digital face, which most don’t outside major cities. I believe the best home for cinemagraphs is the GIF feature in chat applications like iChat and Facebook Chat, which often takes the place of a words.For example, if a friend asked me if I would like to meet for happy hour on Friday,
I might reply with this Gif of Alec Baldwin pouring liquor. The entire image has been frozen except for the liquor, so it seems to never finish pouring as the video component loops but everything else remains still.
Renowned media scholar Marshall McLuhan theorized two types of media (as in the chart below), which I believe is relevant in explaining the limited success of the cinemagraph format.
Hot Media which requires minimal participation by the user because information is being spoon fed to them including movies, reading and lectures.
Cool Media uses low definition media and demands more interaction of the part of the audience for example, TV, dialogue, seminars, comic books.
Though McLuhan theorized long before the advent of smart phones, he might have found the devices to be both hot and cool at the same time, since phones have come to play so many roles. For instance, a FaceTime conversation would have been much cooler, but watching a movie movie would require minimal, so hot.
I suspect if McLuhan were around today, he would define the cinemagraph as a warm media, but not quite hot. Cinemagraphs have all the qualities of a photograph, but then spoon-feed key information which would have otherwise been up to the viewer to decipher. By animating just the air coming out of the girls mouth in the picture above, the viewer no longer has to study the otherwise still image enough to learn that. Instead, its as if there is a big arrow that points “Look here!” In fact, I believe its just too hot a medium to challenge any viewer on platforms that otherwise thrive on dialogue and interactivity. No one posts entire movies in their social media status because its intended for cool media. Interactivity, dialogue and participation and reactions of short-form content is what drives the success of social media.