Conducting this month’s interview is Ralph Bishop, one of a handful of Product Designers at GIPHY. He had the immense privilege of subjecting Jason Clarke to a few questions in an attempt to help us all better understand how and why GIFs are born. Jason is the esteemed Sr. Animator & Producer at GIPHY. He’s also an incredible karaoke singer.
RB: Hi Jason — It’s a real honor to help shine some light on you as an artist. So tell me, how did you get involved with the dark arts of moving pictures?
JC: When I was a kid, I was really into science, and I got this weird little flipbook as a souvenir from a science museum. I flipped that thing all the time. Then I realized that instead of taking notes in school, you could use your notebooks to make your own flipbooks, so I did that to every notebook I owned. In middle school, I was lucky enough to get to take an animation class on the weekends with lightboxes and pegboards, and you got to make a really short pencil test animation and record it to VHS.
RB: Can you explain to the readers what a Peeker is and how they came to be?
JC: Yeah, so back in 2017 I think, GIPHY came out with an extension for iMessage that let you bring transparent stickers into your chats and drop them on top of the little chat bubbles. This immediately reminded me of that old cartoon “Kilroy Was Here” I think the first one I made was this dog having a great time with your chat bubble.
RB: I see your work being shared and used all the time on the internets. How does it make you feel when someone you admire uses something like say, the humping dog peeker?
JC: I really love the internet’s ability to disseminate information instantly and democratically, and I hope that one day our society will catch up and make it so that artists don’t have to be dependent on turning the thing they love into a commodity and everyone can just send stupid cartoons to each other til the end of time and be happy.
RB: Talk to me about your obsession with Jazzercising. Any connection to the Crystal Light National Aerobic Championships?
JC: I’m not sure how much I can really get into that, since there’s ongoing litigation happening against me from the CLNAC. I’ll just say, animating a character in spandex and leggings naturally lends itself to some fun movements that really accentuate the glutes (I remember when you gave me the idea to animate these glutes bouncing up and down), and it’s also really easy to animate the legs on a separate layer from the body when they’re different pieces of clothing like that.
RB: Do you think of all your GIFs as your children? If so, which one do you love the most and why?
JC: The great thing about GIFs is that they don’t eat, they don’t drink, they don’t grow old and resent you and call you names in front of their friends when you’re just trying to be nice and give them a ride home from the mall. But I’m really proud of this GIF at the moment. It was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and all the protests happening across the country this past summer.
RB: What’s your setup at home like? Any tools you couldn’t live without?
JC: This year, because of quarantine and working from home, I finally took the plunge and got an iPad with one of those pencils. You can get animation software for it for five bucks! (fun fact, this gif was the first thing I made to test out the animation features in Procreate for my iPad, and it wound up being in the top 25 most viewed gifs of the year on GIPHY! Wowee!) Unfortunately, I still have to go back to my laptop occasionally to do more fancy things like compositing and saving in certain file formats. The only tool I couldn’t live without I would have to say is “the human heart”. Literally and metaphorically. Oh, and here’s a picture of my desk, so I can show off my cool toucan lamp I just got fixed last week. And my Jules Zuckerberg dog head for holding my Wacom pen. :)
RB: Some of your characters seem to be seducing me when I look at them, can you vouch for them? (explain the flirtatious nature of your work)
JC: That’s a trick that some of us in the industry refer to as “breaking the fourth wall”. It’s when you draw a character that’s so strong, they have an innate urge to break walls. After the fourth wall is broken, they’re so proud of themselves that they can’t help but peer at the viewer with an amorous look in their eyes.
RB: Would you mind freestyling some ASCII art for us here today?
JC: I can’t get ASCII art to format correctly in this Google doc. Just imagine an expertly rendered buff warrior holding a flaming snake in her hand and crushing a bunch of cars with her boots.
RB: I know there are 12 principles already, but what would Jason Clarke’s 13th principle of animation be and why is it forbidden?
JC: Illustrations are just single-frame animations, but the people in control don’t want us to know that.
RB: Which do you prefer, animation or ani-motion?
RB: I catch myself hearing music when looking at much of your work. Are there some specific tunes/artists that drive your pieces or process?
JC: I try to bounce around and curate as eclectic a musical palette as possible, sampling artists from all over the world, not just my own country. But whenever I’m in a slump I usually listen to Dookie by Green Day.
RB: Obscure art thingy or artist we should know about that inspires you?
JC: I’ve gotten to see a bunch of animation festivals that are normally IRL do their thing online this year. If you don’t know about Malt Adult (they did two screenings during quarantine!) and/or Hellavision Television (they produced and streamed an original collaborative feature film) you should check them out!
RB: What was it like working at Nickelodeon?
JC: They never told me where the slime came from :(
RB: How do you balance the intense debilitating emotions of quarantining with the need to be creative for your job?
JC: Read a lot, watch movies and tv shows, listen to music, talk to friends online. But for real, anyone who is able to work indoors and quarantine is extreeeemely lucky, especially when their job is to make animated GIFs, so that’s kept my emotions from being debilitating. I also just fostered a dog, and that’s given me basically zero free time to sit and think for too long.
RB: What geopolitical issues keep you up at night and could a GIF save the world?
JC: There’s too many! Has anyone figured out a way for GIFs to massively redistribute wealth and put an end to hegemony? That would be rad.
RB: What snack foods do you find are best for a starving creative mind?
JC: A quick jolt of natural sugars can do wonders for the human brain, which is why I officially endorse: fresh fruit
RB: Which Real Housewives of New York character do you identify with the most?
JC: I like to think I’m a mix of Carole Radziwill’s artistic side, Heather Thomson’s fierce loyalty, and Bethenny Frankel’s wit. But I’m probably most like Jill Zarin’s mom, to be honest.
RB: I’ve known you to rip a mean karaoke sesh. What’s the first song you want to perform when we’re allowed to be outside with people again? Which spot would you go to?
JC: I’ll go wherever my friends want to go, but hopefully it’s public karaoke. I love singing in front of strangers. I’d be curious if I can still hit the high notes in “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”
RB: Would you mind doing a quick compare and contrast on the themes of Star Trek the Next Generation and Deep Space 9? Jk, nobody got time for that, but seriously, why can’t Quark and Odo just get along?
JC: Quark is the embodiment of unchecked capitalism, much like those involved in the westward expansion of the United States a la the Gold Rush. Using this analogy, Odo takes on the role of the frontier Sheriff, albeit an idealized one who believes in a strict definition of “justice” and upholding such. By the end of the series though, just as in life, we see that law enforcement and capitalism actually get along just fine.
RB: New Years is just around the corner, what can we expect from Jason Clarke in 2021?
JC: I just bought the game Hades for the Switch, so expect me to play a lot of that. And I’ll probably keep making animated GIFs, hopefully.
RB: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
JC: Anytime, my friend!