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New Talent: GIF artist Kate Bones on combining analogue and digital technology

One of a series of portraits of performers at Glastonbury nightclub NYC Downlow. Bones was commissioned by the club's designers Block9 and GIFs were published by Hunger magazine
One of a series of portraits of performers at Glastonbury nightclub NYC Downlow. Bones was commissioned by the club’s designers Block9 and GIFs were published by Hunger magazine

Kate Bones combines digital and analogue techniques to brilliant effect. Photographs shot on film are transformed into animated portraits and looping GIFs with hand-drawn elements. She has created GIF portraits of performers at Glastonbury’s gay nightclub NYC Downlow and a GIF campaign for fashion brand Missguided featuring 88-year-old fashion icon Baddie Winkle. She has also worked on projects for Nike, Rimmel, ASOS and the Globe theatre.

Bones studied fine art and sculpture at Wimbledon College of Art. “I ended up specialising in video. My degree show was a very large, portrait-based installation which, when I think about it now, was a little bit GIF-like,” she says. She began experimenting with 3D GIFs after seeing photographer Jaime Martinez‘s animated portraits of musician M.I.A. online.

“I just thought they were amazing, they really grabbed my attention. I spent a long time trying to figure out how [Martinez and other 3D GIF artists] did it and once I’d worked that out, how to own [the format] and make it my own,” she says. She had previously been posting photographs on her blog, but says: “At the time, I didn’t feel very confident and GIFs felt like unchartered territory where I could make my own mark.”

Campaign for online fashion brand Missguided featuring octogenarian Baddie Winkle
From a campaign for fashion brand Missguided featuring octogenarian Baddie Winkle

She created her first set of 3D portraits at In the Woods festival in 2013 using a pair of disposable cameras taped together. After seeing her work, the festival invited her back the following year to create GIF portraits of performing musicians. 

The project led to commissions from music magazines Crack and The 405. Online GIF library Giphy also gave Bones a dedicated artist page, which led to a commission for Converse’s Made by You campaign, followed by work for Red Bull Music Academy and fashion designer Liam Hodges.

Bones' Charge the city GIF series for Nike Sportswear, made in collaboration with photographer Eric T. White.
Bones’ Charge the city GIF series for Nike Sportswear, made in collaboration with photographer Eric T. White.

Alongside working with musicians and fashion brands, Bones has been doing some innovative work with the Globe, creating GIFs for their websites, newsletters and social media. She shot 3D GIFs of rehearsals of Imogen (a production based on Shakespeare’s Cymbeline) and used hand drawn animation to make video GIFs promoting Annie Ryan’s production of The White Devil.

GIF by Kate Bones. Taken during a rehearsal of Imogen at the Globe theatre
GIFs promoting Imogen, a play based on Shakespear’s Cymbeline, at the Globe theatre

Creating each 3D GIF is a time consuming process: Bones shoots on film then develops, hand scans and grades, retouches the images before creating the GIF animations. Another technique involves looping movements shot with video and adding hand drawn elements frame by frame to create a smooth continuous animation.

“I enjoy the mix [of digital and analogue]. I feel like there’s a craft to it. The 3D GIFs are shot on film and once developed they need to be hand scanned and animated. The rotoscope gifs require me to film a movement I think will loop well. I then need to work out how to integrate the hand-drawn animation to make it work as a whole piece. Both processes really appeal to me. It’s nice to feel that I’m making,” she says.

GIF promoting Annie Ryan's production of The White Devil at the Globe theatre
GIF promoting Annie Ryan’s production of The White Devil at the Globe theatre

One of the things Bones finds most exciting about working with GIFs is the ability to create something distinctive. “I do sometimes think that with [digital photography], it can be a bit homogenised and hard to differentiate between people’s work,” she says.

“With GIFs, you see mine, and you know it’s by me, and that’s kind of exciting. I also like that I can use my fine art brain. I can be really conceptual and push things out of the box by utilising different animation techniques.”

Many of Bones’ commissions have come through Instagram. She regularly posts new work on the platform and lat year, did an Instagram takeover for ad agency Mother London. “It’s a really good way to connect with other creatives as well. I’ve formed a couple of friendships with people who make GIFs in the states, and its nice to support each other and share advice.”

Polly & Annie, performers at NYC Downlow
Polly & Annie, performers at NYC Downlow
Emma, a performer at NYC Downlow

While GIFs are often considered a throwaway art form, Bones is one of a growing group of digital artists demonstrating how they can be used to create dynamic portraits of people, places and events. Her GIFs from NYC Downlow offer a vibrant snapshot of the event, with grainy close-ups of performers in sequins, glitter and colourful costumes.

“That has definitely been my favourite experience. It felt like such a special place and I really wanted to do it justice, being among these huge characters with huge hair and makeup and heels. I’d love to go back there,” she adds.

Bones commissioned by Red Bull Music Academy to make a series of GIF portraits for Awful Records London show at St Johns Church in Hackney. GIFs were also projected as a large installation at the show.
Bones commissioned by Red Bull Music Academy to make a series of GIF portraits for Awful Records London show at St Johns Church in Hackney. GIFs were also projected as a large installation at the show.
GIF commissioned by the Globe for the theatre's Playing Shakespeare season in association with Deutsche Bank. Productions are created specifically for young people to experience Shakespeare for the first time
GIF commissioned by the Globe for the theatre’s Playing Shakespeare season in association with Deutsche Bank. Productions are created for young people to experience Shakespeare for the first time

Her dream commission would be working with a musician on a visual campaign for an album, including GIFs, music videos and artwork. She has already directed films for We Have Band and Charlotte OC: a video for Charlotte OC’s track Blackout shows the musician performing in darkness while another for We Have Band offers a snapshot of the group’s life on tour.

“I love artists like Björk and PJ Harvey, who collaborate with filmmakers and creatives across a whole album … and I’d definitely like to do more film-based work,” she adds.

New Talent is part of Inspire, a year-long partnership between Creative Review, Facebook and Instagram showcasing outstanding creative work across both platforms. More advice and inspiration is available at www.facebook.com/ads/creativehub. You can see more of Kate Bones’ work at katebones.com or follow her on Instagram (@katebones)

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