GIPHY Arts Talk Shop: Transdimensional GIF Art with Artist Erma Fiend
GIPHY Arts commissions hundreds of artists a year, all of whom do impeccable work. Today, we are happy to spotlight GIPHY Artist Erma Fiend and share a Q&A that dives deeper into his creative process.
Lee is a stop motion & special effects animator creating transdimensional GIF art under the name Erma Fiend. The alias Erma Fiend is both an extension of himself as well as the style and world he creates. Fiend’s work honors the fluidity of embodiment, nonlinear time, and the ambiguous states that exist between past / present selves and the external world. Fiend is known for documenting his gender transition over the years in hundreds of Escheresque stop motion self portrait loops, which play like Möbius strips in GIF form.
Talk to us a little about your background, and how you first started making GIFs.
My background in animation started while working on educational web games for children’s television shows, most notably The Electric Company for Sesame Workshop on PBS Kids. As a production assistant I studied the animators’ Flash and After Effects files and eventually, my boss let me try making stickers when there wasn’t the budget to hire a design company. Years later, I was working at the New York Public Library and got to pitch a project using stop motion to showcase how to use the Picture Collection. It reminded me how much I used to love stop motion animation but I’d never really committed to pursuing it. I was also really struggling with my identity around this time, and I was spending a lot of time doing makeup looks alone in my apartment. That same year, GIPHY put out a call for a Halloween GIF contest. I got so into it, I think I submitted 18 different GIFs, many of which featured myself on camera for different animated horror effects. That contest was the birth of my signature style that combines stop motion self portraits, claymation, special effects, and hand drawn overlays to create ethereal looping scenes.
You recently made some beautiful new stickers for GIPHY in celebration of Non-Binary Peoples Day. Can you walk us through your process?
Thank you! Some are a mix of frame by frame drawing in Adobe Animate combined with expressions and motion in After Effects. Some are stop motion shot in separate sequences with Dragon Frame with the background keyed out, layered, and composited together in After Effects. I use a mix of clay, other tactile materials, and miniatures. Some items featured include a collection of Barbie accessories, bendable butterflies, a cake topper bicycle — and of course the vintage McDonalds Happy Meal chicken McNugget Buddies. Though I collage the layers of image sequences together digitally, I try to keep the seamless tactile feel of claymation and in camera stop motion.
In your opinion, what is different about making GIFs vs. other art mediums?
GIFs depict ongoing change as a constant state. Like gerunds, they turn verbs into nouns — capturing the essence of a perpetually shifting form. GIF animations (especially in the form of stickers that are removed from an environment) hold together contradictions of time and space. They’re contained, but at the same time boundless; brief but simultaneously infinite. It’s a powerful medium for self portraiture because you can capture all of the shifting states of self in a form that feels whole and contained.
What do you hope your audience takes away from your work?
I find GIF loops to be very meditative. It’s cathartic to watch things fall apart and come together. I hope that people find a sense of comfort in seeing destruction as a passing state of change, and finding connectedness amidst the fragmentation of self in an oppressively linear and prescriptive world.
Describe yourself with one GIF/Clip
What’s next for Erma Fiend?
Right now I’m working on a beautifully deranged animation for Adult Swim that will air this fall! I just did a title sequence for a show that features some gay & trans characters which will be exciting to share when it comes out.
In the meantime, you can find me performing as my drag king alter ego Sweaty Eddie (IG @SweatyEddie.TV) with The Cakeboys, an NYC drag king & thing collective (IG @The_Cakeboys). All my other animation work can be found on IG @Erma.Fiend and ErmaFiend.com, and of course on GIPHY @Erma_Fiend !