When someone mentions GIFs, it usually calls to mind one of two things; funny TV show clips posted as responses on forum threads, or a burning desire to assert to anyone and everyone that it’s definitely g-if and not j-if, no matter what the creator says.
However, despite their usual inanity, these sputtering animations can actually be mini works of art in their own right. One Japanese ‘gif artist’ has used modern-day computer wizardry to bring to life traditional ukiyo-e scenes in humorous and entrancing ways.
The animated GIFs below are the creations of Atsuki Segawa, a freelance GIF artist and shogi enthusiast. He was inspired to create them when Twitter introduced auto-play GIFs, and entered some of them into a contest sponsored by Adobe, the company behind the widely used graphics software Photoshop.
Segawa uses Photoshop to digitally cut out the parts of the image, much like you would do with paper and scissors, then put them together in an animation sequence to breathe life into these traditionally flat images.
Many of them have humorous and playful theme, mixing the traditional and the modern or even futuristic. Others simply embellish on the original work, adding glowing lights or sparkling fireworks. And as with most GIFs, the animation loops so that you could find yourself stuck watching them for hours.
▼ Hokusai’s famous The Great Wave off Kanagawa comes to life.
▼ In another one of Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series the characters are no longer gazing out at the mountain, but shooting down a fighter plane with a powerful laser.
▼ An alien spacecraft visits Edo-period Japan to make off with the country’s most famous landmark. Hokusai’s career would have been ruined!
▼ Night Scene in the Yoshiwara, by Katsushika Oei, was notable for its use of light and shadow. Here Segawa subtly enhances it in a way that was still unimaginable at the time this piece was created.
▼ This one combines two different ukiyo-e into one, with the background coming from Utagawa Kunimasa who was famed for his kabuki prints, and the figures from a piece by Chōbunsai Eishi. Throw in some glow sticks and you’ve got a modern-day J-pop gig with an old-school feel.
▼ In yet another Hokusai print, the boat finally reaches the other side of the Tama River.
▼ This print by Kobayashi Kiyochika, who often focused on nighttime scenes, is now lit up by glittering fireworks.
This old style of Japanese art has enjoyed a resurgence in the modern era, with wood-block print style art being created for everything from Star Wars to sexy superheroes, but these animated versions take the medium a step further, bringing the floating world into the digital era. You can check out Segawa’s page over at GIF magazine for more of his animated ukiyo-e art.