Whether you pronounce it with a hard or soft “g,” there’s one thing we can all agree on: GIFs are pretty great. From communicating complex emotions at the speed of an image search or just provoking a quick laugh to the popular editorial format of the listicle, GIFs have revolutionized the way that people communicate with each other in their daily lives. And now, you can surround yourself in technicolor dreamscape of animated clips like never before with the launch of GIPHY World on Rift!
Developed by Planeta, the studio behind Drops, GIPHY World lets you populate your virtual space with any number of GIFs—and then record a GIF of your handiwork to share with friends. We sat down with GIPHY Design Director Ralph Bishop for the inside scoop on this brave new world.
Ralph Bishop: To be perfectly honest, we never actually meant to bring GIPHY World to VR—it was sort of a mistake! GIPHY World for VR first started as a tool that we used internally in the making of an art piece called Sticker Time, and it was designed to showcase the amazing artist commissions for Time Frame, GIPHY’s art exhibition celebrating the 30th birthday of the GIF. Some really incredible artists including Kans, Clara Terne, and Sam Lyon created beautiful stickers for us, but to showcase them we needed a tool to draw and paint with GIFs in VR. The tool turned out to be so much fun, we knew we had to release it to the world.
It seems sort of obvious now, but it wasn’t until we refined the tool that we realized we had something very similar to GIPHY World for iOS, which lets you invite GIFs into your every day life. GIPHY World for VR is the opposite. In VR, you visit a world where GIFs run wild, and you fly through them in glorious 3D.
Fast forward to today, and I think we’re starting to see how AR and VR overlap in really compelling ways. Both are physical ways of interacting with GIFs, and it makes perfect sense to bring both under one brand: GIPHY World.
What’s your best demo story so far?
RB: Last week my mom was visiting me in NYC, and I knew I wanted her to come by the office to see what GIPHY was up to. I asked her if she’d like to try VR, and, before she could really answer, I handed her the Touch controllers and told her, “Just pull the trigger to fly.” She gave me a really puzzled look and, once she was in, well, it was one of those moments where you kinda hold your breath. She gently pulled the trigger, just gasped, and said, “Oh, wow.” Sometimes it’s hard to share tech work beyond shared age ranges, and if we’ve built something that works across generations, then I think we’re onto something special.
How did your partnership with Planeta come about? What was that collaborative experience like?
RB: Working with Planeta is so incredible and inspiring. We started working with them years ago after seeing the camera effects they built for Facebook’s F8 in 2014. We approached them shortly after to help us build GIPHY Cam for mobile and never looked back. Since then, we’ve been working together to think about the VR space and how we can contribute to a different kind of experience that’s playful but not quite a game. The Museum of GIF Art or MoGA is one such example. Collaborating with them really feels like sitting down with family. There’s never a shortage of ideas and concepts and an openness in the air. The hard part is picking one.
The lead artist and engineer, Laura JuoHsin Chen, really makes magic happen. Her beautiful style influenced almost everything you see in the app including your ghost body that’s visible when you take a selfie and her ingenious use of the rockets as self propulsion. I seriously want a pair of those in real life. She also worked closely with the very talented Jason Clarke to build the environments meant to inspire but not distract your creativity.
If people take one thing away from GIPHY World, what do you hope it would be and why?
RB: At its heart, GIPHY World is a creation tool, but the largest hurdle to any creation tool is the infamous blank canvas paralysis—sort of like writer’s block but visual, and it can prevent any creative individual from reaching a flow state where their ideas just pour out. GIPHY World strives to create an oasis for creativity while also providing a fun jumping off point. Placing visitors into strange new environments and using GIPHY’s search results as the ink in your pen inherently spurs us into making connections and relationships that we wouldn’t normally make. So, use it as inspiration, exploration, or just for fun, but I hope people walk away feeling they have a place they can go to be animated and free with their ideas.
Can you briefly walk us through the workflow for players to record and share a GIF?
RB: Sure! What good is a GIF unless it’s, shareable right? Does a GIF animate if it’s alone in the woods? How many Chuck Norris GIFs could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could fight Chuck Norris? All valid questions of our age, but I think we only have time to tackle the first one. Inside of GIPHY World, your co-conspirator is a floating version of the GIPHY logo brought to life. Depending on where you touch him, he’ll either puke up GIFs or record them for you. In this case, you’ll want to tap the “Camera” button, and it will spin into landscape view and transform into a virtual GIPHY Camera. From there you can grab the camera to record a six-second GIF of your wonderful creation, a vista of the land, or even a selfie. Automatically, your recording is uploaded to the GIPHY World Community Channel Page ready to be shared. You’ll need to visit the page from another device to share it to Facebook or other social platforms, but we’re exploring ways we might be able to share directly!
How do you think VR and AR will continue to change the cultural landscape over the next five to 10 years?
RB: Lots of people are still talking about the tipping point of when AR or VR will truly come into the spotlight and become mainstream. That’s a worthy goal if all we’re concerned about is market share, but the driving force behind that tends to be the artists and creatives. They’re the ones who are unafraid to pick up new media and imagine what’s possible, plus they don’t care about looking silly wearing headsets and moving around the room interacting with virtual GIFs. In other words, it’s time to think about computing a little bit differently. We aren’t stuck behind monitors at desks anymore, and I think people are starting to realize that’s not good for us anyway. If I had to guess, I’d say that AR and VR will continue to grow where they overlap, and large audiences will gather to share those experiences. Right now, we just happen to be in the creative phase, which is a wonderful place to be if you can dream what’s possible. I like to think humanity is on a journey, and we’re just packing our bags to the future. So, over the next 10 years, the conversation will be less about market size and more about how we navigate this wild new world we’ve created.
What’s next for you? Any exciting projects in the works?
RB: Hey, that’s top secret! But I can say that creation tools and AR are still very interesting, so maybe it’s time to work in that overlap space.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Ralph—we can’t wait to see how the Rift community reacts.
— The Oculus Team