I’ve written a lot about gifs in the past and how they throw a comical light on old forms of art, when remixed with renaissance art and also discussed what makes a gif become a piece of art. I’ve looked at the intricate moving world of Paperholme, gif art which shows the whimsy of a paper-bound world of buildings. Here in this article I explore the mathematical perfection of geometric art as gifs. Which bears a lot of similarity to Op-Art, another favourite kind of art from the 1960’s.
Bees and Bombs: Geometry in motion
Dave Whyte aka Bees and Bombs creates fluid geometry in motion. These gifs elevate the humble gif from a fun meme towards an intricate structural complexity and their minimal aesthetics.
Dave started Bees and Bombs in 2011 along with a friend Brian. Originally it was created as a selection of ‘idiotic joke pictures’. “About a month later I saw that there were people on Tumblr making cool abstract animations and so I started shamelessly imitating them and uploading my modest contributions to Bees and Bombs,” says Dave.
Starting with geometric art his work evolved out of the earlier simpler memes and satisfyingly minimalistic gifs.
“The reason I started out with the gif as a medium instead of full proper videos was simply because I didn’t have any software that could create videos. But I can see why it’s an appealing format in general. They’re short and small, they play automatically usually, they don’t have distracting sound. The format certainly has its flaws but for the kind of thing I do it’s a good match: they require a fairly limited colour palette. Also I think that there’s the expectation that a gif should loop smoothly, which forces me to think more about how any particular motion works,” Dave says.
Dave has a background in Theoretical Physics but insists that his deep understanding of the mathematical possibilities of shape and motion has no bearing on his animation work.
“I have always had a knack for maths as far as I can remember. I think my background in physics helps me in that I’m very comfortable with the basics of trigonometry. But my physics work is generally completely unrelated to my animation work.”
Looking under the hood at gif-making
As far as I can remember, I vaguely recall playing with ‘Paintbrush’ which was what Paint was called before Windows 95. So that must have been quite a while ago.
Processing is the main piece of software I use. It’s basically a programming environment aimed at design. It’s free and there’s a lovely interactive video introduction at hello.processing.org. Before I heard about Processing I used Mathematica, which was software we were taught at college, which I realised had some quite nice graphics functions.
The gif-making process is simple enough
- I set up a sketch in Processing and it spits out a load of individual frames as images.
- I use a weird little program called Gifsicle to assemble them into a gif.
- Typically the file size ends up bigger than Tumblr or anywhere will accept, so I have to use Photoshop (the only non-open-source link in the chain) to compress it down.
- Sometimes I’ll do some last-minute tweaks on the colour in Photoshop as well.
Big Blue Boo aka Charlie Deck
Charlie Deck is a friend of Daves who makes incredible geometric gifs in his own right. In 2013, Charlie discovered that there was a whole community of people who are passionate about the intersection and collusion of arts and technology.
“Turns out creative coding is a thing; generative design is a thing; media arts are a thing. Very exciting. I’d like to connect with more people interested in such things”, he says.
Charlie created Mode of Expression a few years ago. An independent studio that creates creative apps, cutting-edge web experiences, and unique games.
“I founded Mode of Expression in 2008 in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve written educational apps, musical instruments, music composition toys, WebGL things, and, most recently, games,” says Charlie.
“In late 2013, I began a gif-a-day project where I created a new animation daily as a way to focus on improving my design skills. After nearly two years, I’ve made more than 600 gifs, some obscure, some topping Reddit and earning 100,000s of likes. In late 2014, I moved to New York. With my developing design skills, and a pack of apps under my belt, I shifted my focus to game development.
He remains committed to being creatively weird. “I’m going to focus on the impractical, weird, serendipitous, and fun. I’ll be trying out new technologies and brushing up on old ones. I’ll throw in some of the old stuff, too—the best of my abandoned projects. Things I still wish I could work on, but can’t justify or imagine anyone actually using,” he says.