The Beatles play Ed Sullivan. Michael Jackson debuts the moonwalk. They were big moments in music, but now that they’ve been immortalized in animated GIF, Ringo can breathe a sigh of relief that his legacy is cemented.
Music History In Gifs is a collection by Joshua Carrafa that celebrates music’s biggest moments as 8-bit animations. Hosted on a Tumblr that went live about six months ago, Carrafa, who is a musician himself, renders everyone from MC Hammer to Bret McKenzie with the charming pixel aesthetic of a 1980s Sierra game.
“I love this resurgence of the GIF that’s going on right now. I think it’s amazing to see what you can come up with when you are forced to be creative in a restrictive environment,” Carrafa tells Co.Design. “This is true for all creative endeavors: If you remove some of the tools that are available to you, it forces you to be extra creative with the tools that remain.”
Carrafa sees his project, for as amusingly creative as it may be, as the product of several layers of restrictions. The GIF format means he has to build a short, moving image that should probably loop. Then he filtered this idea GIF through the 8-bit aesthetic, meaning a low-resolution GIF dropped significantly lower in its resolution, forcing him to convey complex objects with just a few blocks of color. Finally, he opted to explore music history as his topic, meaning his scenes would need to be highly specific and ever-so limited in scope.
Ultimately, while we’ve all seen The Beatles on Ed Sullivan 100 times by now, and while we’ve all seen a hundred times that many animated GIFs, when you mix the two concepts and top them off with a very specific aesthetic, all of the sudden, the art is born anew.
So I ask Carrafa, then, not what makes his work creative, but what makes a good animated GIF.
“It’s like asking: What makes a good hook in a pop song?” he responds. “It has to draw you in and stay with you, but there are many ways to do it. For GIFs, comedy is obviously a huge part. But it doesn’t have to be just laugh-out-loud funny, some great GIFs just make you smile and feel good.”