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Gifpop Kickstarter Turns GIFs into Animated Lenticular Cards

By Wesley Fenlon

Feel the power of GIF in your hand.

Physical animation has taken many forms over the past 200 years. The Phenakistoscope, a disc showing several frames of animation that blended together when it was spinning, was invented in the early 1800s. Flipbooks gave bored students ways to make use of their 200 page spiral bound notebooks, and we loved the mechanical counterpart we picked up at Maker Faire. Today, the most popular forms of animation are digital--high-tech computer generated films and low-tech animated GIFs. Physical animation is cool, digital animation is cool, but when the two cross over? Even better.

For example, the Richard Balzer collection has turned 180-year-old Phenakistoscopes into animated GIFs. On the other side of the equation there's Gifpop, a Kickstarter that has already hit its funding goal with 25 days to go. The Atlantic explains that Gifpop is using lenticular plastic to make GIFs physical.

"You’re likely familiar with lenticular film: It’s the pitted, prismatic plastic pictures often on postcards or packaging," The Atlantic writes. "A lenticular image appears to move as the viewer moves, its animation looping within a short number of frames. Lenticular film has been around for generations: According to a 1999 New York Times story, the technology dates back to World War II, 'when developments in plastics made it possible to create the ribbed sheet that sits on top of every motion-image card and autostereo image.' "

So lenticular technology isn't new. Gifpop's plan to use it is, however. They plan to set up a set up a website to convert GIFs to usable animations, which will be applied to lenticular plastic printed onto a variety of card options: 3x3 inches, 5x5, business card, and postcard. Unfortunately, the animations can only be about 10 frames to fit on the cards, but the Gifpop site will let you upload a gif and choose which frames you want to use.

The GIF has always been a medium of limitations, but recently tools and faster broadband connections have allowed for longer animations and larger GIFs. The simplest memes, however, will be perfectly translatable to physical form. And Gifpop is a good reminder of how cool lenticular printing is, though it's most often used for simple kids toys. To print a 10 frame GIF, Gifpop will have to slice an image into strips, which are printed on paper or a plastic backing.

LenticularBlog offers a good description of how those slices are transformed into an animated image:

"The lenticular lens is composed of multiple parallel lens strips with the same optical characteristics. Each strip magnify and project a micro image strip printed on the back of the lenticular lens, in a way that all strips can be sequentially seen for each vision angle of the lens. When using vertical lens, it is possible to project stereoscopic (relief/3D) images for each eye. When using horizontal lens, it is also possible to project changing images, the image seen by the eyes depend of the vision angle."

Higher DPI prints could offer more frames of animation, but Gifpop is keeping things simple for now. A $12 pledge to the Kickstarter will net you a custom GIF card of your choice. $30 will get you three.

We'd love to see the custom production grow enough to facilitate cards with more or fewer frames and a price tag to match. It seems inevitable that someone's going to design a killer card game with lenticular playing cards.