Dan Florence is a photographer who loves to capture the three-dimensional world we live in and squeeze it into gifs - no 3D glasses or VR headset required! His portfolio combines traditional still photography with a love for the eye-catching motion of high-quality gifs. His experiments with vintage stereoscopes have been featured on sites like the Daily Dot, Lomography Magazine, Complex, and All Day, and exhibited at the Lucky Jotter's 6th Exhibition in Blackpool, UK.
Q. I showed to the interns at Glasshouse Images your 3D images, and they loved them even more than cinemagraphs. Why do you think 3D speaks particularly well to the younger generation?
A. 3D engages your brain in a way flat images can’t, even flat motion images, because the depth makes it somehow real. You feel as though you can reach out and touch an object, or step into a scene, and reality is temporarily suspended. I think young people have been so bombarded with stimulus their whole lives that it takes something this engaging to really grab their attention.
Q. Your work seems to offer just a bit more information than many of the 3D images I see out there. Is this a distinction created by hardware, software – how are you doing this?
A. A bit of both. A lot of what’s out there right now is shot on retro multi-lens film cameras from the 80s. They’re great for portraits and especially for freezing action, and some people are doing some really interesting things with them. There are limitations, though. They’re basically three or four cheap point-and-shoot cameras mashed into one. The lens quality is poor and the cameras have few features and limited flexibility.
I currently shoot digital with one camera, which has its own limitations but also advantages. I can achieve very good image quality, and I meticulously process each shot as a still. I can vary the linear distance between shots to adjust for different scales of my subject matter, giving a 3D effect more tailored to what I’m shooting. And I can also shoot significantly more than 2, 3 or 4 perspectives, which gives me more source images and more detail for the final gif.
Q. Share the countries you have traveled to in one sentence, and what you have learned about man kind .
A. I’ll just rattle some off: South Korea, China, Hong Kong (somehow not quite China), Canada, Denmark, Sweden, the UK, France, Germany and Austria – not nearly enough!
What I’ve learned is that people are the same; there are so many superficial differences – languages, food, clothes, traditions – but the cliché is true that we all have dreams and abilities and love and sorrows and we’re truly brothers and sisters.
Q. Your passion for vintage stereoscopes – how did it all begin?
A. When I stumbled onto a trove of old stereograms online.
Museums and collectors have been scanning these things into digital for years, but since most of us don’t have stereoscopes lying around, the options for viewing them have been limited. You can cross your eyes or create anaglyph versions, which require cyan/red 3D glasses to view, but those are not very accessible.
I wasn’t the first to make wigglegrams, as they’re sometimes called, but I hadn’t seen them yet. What I had seen was multi-camera video where a scene can be frozen, and you use the unique angles of each camera to move around a subject in three dimensions. My immediate thought on seeing the stereograms was that I needed to see them in 3D, and my next thought was to wiggle them as gifs. I downloaded a bunch of images and fired up GIMP. Minutes later I was mesmerized.
I created 29 of these images in the first month I discovered them, and kept up that pace over the next few months. Here were these places in time, some well over a hundred years old, that I felt I could almost walk into. A reverend in a Philadelphia graveyard in 1860. San Francisco burning in 1906. Victorian Christmas. Buffalo Bill posing with his rifle. Tokyo in 1904. World War I soldiers. The Alaskan Gold Rush. A Havana cigar factory in 1903. Bavarian hunters, 1898. Teddy Roosevelt. Native Americans in the West in the 1870s. These people and places and history were suddenly three-dimensional, suddenly real, and I couldn’t get enough.
Q. In my presentations, I get a lot of oohs and aaahs with our Gifs, Cinemagraphs and looping animations and illustrations, but when I come to your slide I get a lot of puzzled faces. Explain to the nice marketer reading this interview now why they need to get with the 3D program.
A. This stuff is the future, but it’s also the past. Practically as soon as photography was invented, people started shooting stereoscopically. Millions of stereo cards were printed through the 1800s and early 1900s. 3D hit another big wave with movies in the 1950s, with periodic rises punctuated by the wild success of Avatar in 2009. Now computing and capture technology is advancing to the point where full VR is about to become accessible. Augmented reality may see even bigger adoption. People crave media that presents the world as they see it. 3D gifs are a bit jarring, but that’s because they require a bit more mental engagement to process. You can’t stop staring at them, and neither can your target audience.
Q. When you are traveling and find an incredible 3Dable subject, do you feel like the first man on the moon when you complete the image in post knowing it’s probably the first time that subject has been expressed that way?
A. Absolutely, although the opposite is true too. I was recently wandering around Boston and I found myself photographing the Old North Church, you know, “One if by land, two if by sea”, and I realized I had a vintage 3D gif that was shot on the exact same street sometime around 1900. That was a cool moment.
Q. Sometimes I’m not sure if your images are meant to inspire serious introspection, examination of the space time continuum, or to simply giggle. Is that ok?
A. I hope my work is never so narrow that it elicits just one emotional response.
Q. Your transformation of vintage images into 3D can be both beautiful and haunting. What goes on inside you when you’re working on these images?
A. There’s some painstaking perfectionism involved in the creation of each image, but there’s always that magic moment when I hit play on the animation and I enter the virtual reality of the scene. If I can’t connect with the subject, if I can’t achieve “presence” with it and feel something awe-inspiring, I stop working on that image and throw it away. With the vintage stuff, I’m looking for portals into another time and place.
Q. There are fast and slow wiggles – what gets factored in to that decision when you are rendering an image?
A. I play around with it and try not to make it so fast that viewers puke.
It has to be fast enough for your mind to try to combine the images into a three-dimensional space, but not so fast that it’s disorienting. That magical frame rate varies widely depending on the depth and spacing of the objects, and the distance between each shot from the camera.
Q. The Doritos. Masterpiece. Agreed?
A. Nothing says “high culture” quite like a gif of Doritos.
Q. If you could hang out with, and live 3D shoot any historical figure, who would it be and describe the finished image.
A. I’d kick it with Darth Vader. He lived a long time ago, right? In the finished product he’d be all dark and menacing with the mask and cape, but he wouldn’t know I snuck a Hello Kitty pillow into the background behind him.
Q. You are a photographer, and 3D Gif artist. How to decide what qualifies as a good potential still, and something which you just have to wiggle?
A. I was a photographer first, so in some ways I would almost shoot more things in 3D if I could go back in time. I’ve experimented a lot with different shots and shooting techniques, and I’ve seen a lot of different vintage stereograms with varying levels of 3D effectiveness. One thing that really makes a great 3D image is a scene with objects that are varying distances from the camera, so when you wiggle it you can really sense that depth. Another factor is the separation of each still image and the dimensions of the subject you’re shooting. You have to be able to get the right difference in the perspective of each shot to effectively communicate depth in the finished product.
Q. Boise State Football. Fan of the blue grass, or not?
A. I’m not a Boise native, so I should probably tread a bit lightly here, but when I see that blue turf on TV for a night game it kind of burns my eyes out of their sockets. It’s much more pleasant in person, though.
Q. Ok, so your beautiful child is born and dad Gifs the moment. 16 years from now, dorkiest or hippest dad on the block? Could go either way…
A. If it turns out to be dorkiest, I’m just fine with that. I own the geekiness. And if it’s an opportunity to embarrass my teenage child, all the better
Q. Last question is for your wife. Isn’t Dan’s work really cool?
A (Dan's wife). It is really cool! He’s my favorite Gif artist :)