A little over a year ago, Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck mashed up fine-art photography with animated GIFs, and the "cinemagraph" was born. Since then, a cottage app-industry has sprung up around this ingenious digital art form, offering everyday folks easy tools for creating artsy animated GIFs of their own. Now a new iPad-only app called Echograph is targeting professional and "prosumer" imagemakers who want to get into the cinemagraph-making game.
If apps like Flixel are trying to be the Instagram of animated GIFs, Echograph is more like Photoshop Elements. It’s pitched as a creative tool, not a social network or a digital-hipster fad. That’s why it’s designed for the iPad, which can display higher-resolution imagery and offer users enough screen space to subtly finesse the details of their animated compositions. "We saw an opportunity to harness Echograph as a more professional medium that takes full advantage of DSLR and higher resolution videography," Echograph CEO Nick Alt tells Co.Design.
Users can import this high-res imagery into Echograph via a custom dongle, which lets the iPad accept CF cards (which most high-end DSLRs shoot onto). Echograph can also make images using the iPad’s own much-crappier camera, but that seems to be missing the point of a higher-end tool. So if Echograph is all about putting pro-quality touches on animated GIFs using media from external sources, why even make it an iPad app at all? Why not just a full-on desktop app like Photoshop?
"Two main ingredients would be missing from a desktop app," says Alt. "The first is immediacy while working in the field. The ability to test an idea and have an opportunity to reshoot allows for built-in course correction to make a better Echograph while you’re in the moment. Second, the physical act of creating an Echograph is inherently tactile when using the iPad. When we were first building the product, we were creating images manually using Final Cut, After Effects, and Photoshop. The minute we were playing around with Echograph as a touch-based app, it changed our perception of not only how professional it could be, but also how much fun it is to create in this way."
Seems logical enough. But there’s a bigger issue with Echograph, and the "cinemagraph" medium as a whole. What if it’s just a fad—the Sillybands of digital photography? By aiming their app at professionals interested in creating high-quality animated GIFs, Echograph is betting on a niche within a niche. Is that a smart move?
"At the end of the day, a GIF can only do so much, and there’s definitely a stigma associated with that file format," Alt admits. "But what we’ve never seen before is this widespread use of the medium by professionals and artists. Our team is actually being commissioned to create Echographs for use in everything from editorial content, to gallery installations, and marketing campaigns. When you start seeing professionals gravitate to a format, like we’re seeing with Echograph, it starts becoming less a fad and more about evolving a new storytelling medium."
Personally, I hope Alt is right. Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg have already created some uniquely immersive editorial content using cinemagraphs, and tools like Echograph will make it easier for others (like, ahem, yours truly) to introduce the creative possibilities of this format to even more clients. It’s worth remembering that photography and cinema themselves were "just fads" at first, too.