The GIFs that keep on giving

Takeaways and resources from an introduction to visual journalism assignment

By William Love, Sandpoint High School

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Grantland won my attention.

During a recent visit to the sports and pop culture site, I had to pause for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only about 30 seconds. What caught my eye? Two beautiful GIFs that were the thumbnail images for stories.

The first story was about Steve Prefontaine. The second dealt with The Rock’s (or is it Dwayne Johnson?) latest action movie San Andreas.

I especially liked the Prefountaine GIF, with an illustrated version of  the icon running past a variety of scenes. The piece is the work of David Antonio Perezcassar, who has a collection of whimsical and instructional GIFs on his website that are worth checking out. (Teachers, I recommend you visit the site before scrolling through it in class.)

Discovering Grantland’s GIFs occurred a couple of day after I spent some time on GIFs with my Journalism II class. Their assignment was inspired by a Wired article about a 9 Squares challenge to design a GIF that consisted of just four colors and could not exceed 3 seconds.

My students used Photoshop to create their GIFs, and they followed a tutorial by Brian D’Alessandro that I have used before in class. I also provided them a palette of eight colors that they could select four colors from to use. (Side note: We talked for 5-10 minutes about color palettes and I showed them the Adobe Kuler app. They also learned how to save a new color swatch in Photoshop.) Finally, I had them use the 3-second rule for their final product.

This was the first time the students have really used Photoshop in this particular class, so I wasn’t expecting much. As they always do, though, the students managed to create some amazing media — especially when you consider they were learning on the fly and basically had less than an hour to create their GIF.

Here are some examples:

GIFBird_55661d046bc27Flowers

PaintballFlowerArrow

TAKEAWAYS

  • Producing a GIF is not as hard as it might seem, so give it a try. One thing I love about being a journalism teacher is that I’m always learning and have the opportunity to try forms of media I never worked with as a newspaper reporter. Unfortunately, my GIF is not nearly as good as those produced by the students.
  • If you already do some GIF lessons or want to add a lesson for the first time, you should consider reading “GIFs in News: More than just LOL” from the American Journalism Review and “Illustrated Journalism” from ColumbiaVisuals.com. I found these resources after doing this activity in my class. Next year, I will drive home the point that GIFs are a storytelling devices that can enhance an article. As the reporter points out in the second article, there are some stories that you can’t get photos or video for.
  • Last week, SNO (@schoolnewspaper) tweeted a link to a terrific resource from Sarah Niles on the state of animated GIFs in visual journalism.  I can’t wait to spend some more time checking this out.
  • I am very lucky to get to work with several talented artists next year on the Cedar Post staff. My challenge to them is to produce GIFs at the level of Perezcassar’s work for SHSCedarPost.com. They might reach that. They might not. But at least they have a challenge.
  • I realized in preparing the Journalism II students for this assignment that I didn’t mention that they need to save each “frame” in Photoshop. Several students were confused in the beginning until I showed them that they need to save a file for each new action.
  • I loved the storytelling I saw in most of the GIFs. While they were simple stories, the students still managed to convey it in 3 seconds or less.

EDITOR’S NOTE: William Love is a journalism teacher and the adviser of the Cedar Post at Sandpoint High School. Give him a follow on Twitter or Instagram (@welove3).

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