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J.K. Benton reinvents an antiquated web technique

Sometimes the old is new again, and cartoonist Jim Benton is making the most of this theory with the Animated Gif. Benton has found a modern application for this outdated web technology within the realm of Internet animation-six to 10 frames...
May 1, 2001

Sometimes the old is new again, and cartoonist Jim Benton is making the most of this theory with the Animated Gif. Benton has found a modern application for this outdated web technology within the realm of Internet animation-six to 10 frames at a time.

Benton is using Gifs in a flipbook rendering style to create a daily cartoon on Nick.com that explores what kids think life will be like when the next millennium rolls around. Kid 3000 debuted on the Nickelodeon site in January, and the addition of the one-panel comic has resulted in a remarkable uptick in traffic for the Nick.com’s Web Lab section. Not only that, but kids are staying on the page for about three minutes each visit (well beyond the 10 seconds it takes to view the daily cartoon) to check out the Kid 3000 archives. ‘They’re actually turning out to be pretty sticky,’ says Jason Root, Nick.com’s VP and executive producer.

Just about every flat image you see on the web is a Gif, but Benton’s technique loops six to 10 of them together to run as an animated sequence that bridges the gap between a still comic image and a cartoon. The benefits to using such a primitive webtoon tool are simplicity and a potentially greater reach.

Although they deliver a lot more content and allow for higher-tech animation, the ubiquitous Flash and Shockwave programs require the retrieval of off-site software plug-ins and have frustratingly large files and long downloads-characteristics that exclude wee users who don’t have the latest and greatest hardware, as well as clashing with kids’ ‘gotta have it now’ approach to entertainment. With Animated Gifs, the software is universal and stable. ‘Every kid out there can get this,’ says Benton, adding that the technique is also comparatively cheap and fast. In fact, he can generally create and render a week’s worth of Kid 3000 cartoons in a day. One disadvantage to using Animated Gifs is the lack of sound, but Benton turned this around by employing a text-based punchline.

According to Root, Nickelodeon isn’t interested in making Kid 3000 into a full-blown Flash webisode because kids find the simplicity of the toon’s Gif style refreshing in a web world dominated by superslick Flash and Shockwave images. ‘Its simplicity and navigation are very important for our audience,’ says Root. ‘It’s basic, but it’s also kind of a breath of fresh air.’

Benton is currently working on three other Animated Gif series, one targeting kids. His Kid 3000 series is in broadcast development using traditional cel and paint animation, and licensing opportunities are being explored.

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