Matt Dunne GIFed a Movie a Week in 2017 and Learned a Lot About Creativity

The LEGO Ninjago Movie and Dunkirk as seen by Matt Dunne.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie and Dunkirk as seen by Matt Dunne. @matt_dunne
Ideas for a creative project are all good and well, but in the end it's about sitting down and creating the damn thing. Taking this to heart, last year Denver-based artist and illustrator Matt Dunne gave himself a task: He decided to watch a new movie in theaters every week and create a GIF — a short animated picture — to explain it. He posted every GIF on his Instagram.

Dunne, 25, admits that some films were harder than others to animate in a two- to three-second picture; highly conceptual movies with less imagery than, say, Star Wars, gave him the most trouble. But the challenge was part of the reward. Dunne spoke to Westword about his inspiration, his motivation, what he learned about creativity, and the time he almost quit. This conversation has been edited for brevity.

Westword: What inspired your idea?

Matt Dunne: I started taking a class a little over a year ago (taught by illustrator Andy J. Miller) that was basically about taking our career and pushing it into the stuff you actually want to be doing....taking yourself to the next level. The whole thing went toward a project you had to come up with at the end that you could work on when class was over. I decided on doing a project where I would go to a movie every week and make animations about each. I wanted to do something on a schedule and get a specific style. That way I would have a lot of samples to send as editorial illustrations or social-media images.

Did such a rigorous schedule change your creative output?

What I liked about it was I always had something I was working on. The restrictions on it at times were frustrating because I had to make something. There were times where I thought, I shouldn't even finish this, especially once we got to that June point where I said, I could at least say I did six months and be done with it. But it got to the point where I was like, well, I want to keep doing this.

Trying to do something so quickly, I didn't want to be so much of a perfectionist about it, where I had to spend days working on it. I wanted to sketch something out and make it simple, so the idea could come across about what was happening in the movie but still make the GIF enjoyable to watch. I tried to make them no longer than five seconds; I wanted them to be easy to grasp. It was good for me to get practice on how to develop concepts quickly and deliver on make something that people can react to.

Did the schedule make conceptualizing easier or faster?

I think so. It depended on the movie. Things like Star Wars, where there's a lot more visual elements, were obviously easier. Some movies I saw were tougher to figure out. But that was part of the fun, too. I think I did get better as I went along. I got into a better flow with it.

Are you a cinephile?

A little. I like going to the movies, but I have a very basic knowledge about them. That's what I liked — I tried to take a very approachable angle. There was probably a lot of stuff I wouldn't have seen this year that I didn't know about had it not been for this project. People would respond to these, too; they were excited about what I posted! It helped them know what was out. That was one thing I had in mind with this project: What can other people take out of it? It's not just me posting this thing that I think is cool. How can I bring other people into it?

You posted your GIFs on Instagram, adding another potentially very nerve-racking element to your project. Why did you make that choice?

It kept me accountable. In the beginning of last year, I posted the introductory video, like, hey, I'm doing this thing. Once I put it out there I thought, now I have to do it. I think that kept me going. I got past a certain point, where I was at, like, thirty movies and thought, now I have to finish it. It just kept me wanting to keep finishing and chipping away at it one at a time, especially around the holidays. They got kind of crazy.

What are your career aspirations?

Good question! I don't know. An idea I had going into this project was I wanted to do these things for Entertainment Weekly or the New York Times where I could create GIFs or illustrations using a similar thought process. I think that was my inspiration going into it, but I don't know. The social-media aspect was cool, too; I enjoyed making little things I could post online. There are a lot of different ways to go.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ana Campbell has been Westword's managing editor since 2016. She has worked at magazines and newspapers around the country, picking up a few awards along the way for her writing and editing. She grew up in south Texas.
Contact: Ana Campbell