Davidope Creates a Loop Life with His Animated Gifs

By Christian J Petersen

Davidope (David Szakaly) is the undisputed king of animated gifs. His simple, mesmerizing loops quickly became wildly popular when he started posting them on Tumblr in 2008. His work helped promote the medium to a viable art form and has lead to a whole movement of animated gif artists. Many have tried to emulate his style but very few have succeeded in capturing the organic, hypnotic alchemy of his animations. Amazingly, if you search for ‘animated gifs’ on Google images many of the top suggestions are Davidope originals. From his home in Budapest, Hungary, his universally accessible work has lead to a well deserved global appreciation. He spoke to us about his history and relationship with animated gifs.

How and why did you start creating animated gifs?
Davidope: Around 1999 I got excited about the vector animation software Macromedia Flash (today a dying multimedia platform, called Adobe Flash) so I got deeper into it. After a lot of playing around (just for fun) I started creating microsites, presentations and banners (in flash) for clients — from small bands to global brands. A few years later me and a friend founded a little digital agency with seven employees. If we had to produce banners for an online campaign in flash, we also had to create alternate gif versions for the cases when flash was not supported by the visitor’s browser. So I soon got familiar with the advantages and limitations of the format ‘animated gif.’

I only started to create my own gifs for fun in 2008, when I was simultaneously sufferring the effects of global recession, a chain of unfortunate events in my private life, and classical symptoms of a midlife-crisis. So after ten years of hustling I finally found a little peace and time to create my own things. Things I would love to find on the net. At that time one of my best friends already used the microbloging platform Tumblr to share his illustrations and follow similar blogs. He suggested it to me and he was very right. I found a lovely, very colorful place with a lots of eyes looking for candies.

I realized that, on Tumblr, even if I shared the greatest video of all time most people wouldn’t see it because they are too lazy to start/check a video — there is tons of other content (images) next to it, that they can immediately see what it is about. I thought it would be a good idea to show animations in the good old gif format so visitors wouldn’t have to push a play button for it to start and they can play it even on an older smart phone.

What appeals to you about working in this medium?
Gifs are widely supported, you can enjoy them on nearly all platforms and with the right tricks they are also small in file-size. I’m not obsessed with the medium gif. Much more with loops in general. Everything has it’s end, but a looped linear animation has no beginning and no end — it is infinite. Like a fire, a fountain or a waterfall, it’s endless, repeating patterns and motion can make me forget get about time for a while.

Were you interested in optical illusions as a kid?
As with most kids, I was interested in nearly everything (at the beginning at least). Exceptions to the rules, oddities, things that differ from objective reality are always especially interesting and welcome to a kid. I think as we grow up and are more able to differentiate between “reality” and “fantasy”, we become more hungry for little “miracles” or “wonders,” especially in a boring, predictable life. Optical illusions can give something like that little “wonder.” They are attractive oddities of perception.

Your gifs are primarily black and white, is that a technical or artistic decision (or both)?
For me black and white is the most fair choice of colors. Everything else is between these two extremes. With high contrast patterns space and motion direction become easier to perceive. It’s also a good metaphor for all opposites in life (e.g. existing vs. not existing, day vs. night, good vs. evil) and finally it also ensures a small file size.

Tell us a bit about your creative life outside of making gifs?
After leading two companies to bankruptcy, I now work as a freelance designer, doing mostly websites and corporate identities. But I’m also doing more and more animation tasks for different online projects (gif, canvas, svg animation). A lot of people have asked for prints of static versions of my gifs to buy, so  I am currently working on an online-shop.

You have recently started working in rainbow colors, were you starting to feel restricted by black and white or does it reflect a mood change (creative or personal)?
I did some at the beginning too — but I might have already deleted most of them. The full color-spectrum is also a very fair choice (similar to black and white) but it is impossible to display all the colors in the gif format. I use a minimalistic interpretation of the full color-spectrum: the ‘rainbow’ colors. It does reflect different moods and gives a larger pattern moving on the surface than is possible with just 2 colors. In some gifs these colors are interacting with each-other or helping to separate different shapes within the animation.

How long does it generally take to create each gif.
They are mostly one-night-stands (2 to 6 hours), and never more then 2 to 3 days.

Your work often plays with visual perceptions and altered states are you interested in psychedelia?
I’m interested in psychology in general. How we sense things around us, what makes us calm or what energizes us. Psychedelia is often associated with drugs, but psychedelic states may be elicited by various techniques, such as meditation, sensory stimulation or deprivation or just because of a simple migraine. I was very experimental in my teenage years and tried a lot of things, which may have an effect on my work today.

I see your work as ‘minimalist graphic psychedelia?’ How would you describe your aesthetic?
I think it’s an absolutely relevant description of what I do.

You (pretty much single-handedly) changed the perception of the animated gif and showed people it’s possibilities as a artistic medium, that must be very satisfying?
That sounds very good, but I’m detecting  nothing of that in my room at home. And even if I did, it’s just for a short period of time. There is a big hype around gifs at the moment, but who knows where gifs will be in few years.

A lot of people have tried (and mostly failed) to copy your style, do you see that as a compliment?
Sure I do. For somebody who works in the creative field (it doesn’t matter if it’s fine art or industrial design) it’s the biggest thing if you see that you are inspiring others. But I’m sad when I see people who are only copying without adding any additional value/ideas.

If you search ‘animated gifs’ in Google Images , a lot of your work appears. How does it feel to be so closely associated with a single format?
It’s good to be associated with something at all, but don’t want to be “that gif-guy”. I’m a designer, a digital artist and I want to keep my freedom to use any medium that i want.

Have you received other opportunities through the popularity of your animated gifs?
Yes, there have already been several art-projects in the last few years, and commercial commissions as well. In Japan, for example, you can download my animations as a loader-screen or background-animation for your smart-phone at the three largest mobile communication providers. Thing like that make me happy.

Have you ever considered doing a longer animation?
No, not yet. I love short little loops so much and the task has become perspicuous. I can’t get lost in the process of direction. There is also such a short distance from the idea to the realisation, I would miss that.

What are the best things about Budapest?
I don’t really know. For me the best thing is my friends and family. If I could have left them I would have already. I think the differences between the bigger cities in Europe have faded away. Berlin, Paris, Budapest, Vienna are pretty similar. Dimensions
are different, but the attitude is nearly the same

Can you explain the name Davidope?
I created this name for about 15 years. It stands for my forename ‘David’ and for one of my hobbies at that time, which was ‘dope,’ and it can be an abbreviation of “DA VIsual DOPE” too.

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