A static black-and-white photo of Thomas Edison hard at work in his laboratory suddenly comes to life, the experiment on which he’s working spewing up a cloud of smoke. Elsewhere, the impossibly ungainly Cybernetic Anthropomorphous Machine – or Walking Truck – developed by General Electric in the 1960s scrambles across the floor while controlled by a man seated inside. These images and others like them have been seen before, but never like this and rarely in motion. Indeed, it seems that artists Nicolas Monterrat, Kevin Weir and a small group of kindred spirits have found a way of giving vintage technology a new lease of life – through the medium of bizarre animated GIFs. Nicolas Monterrat runs a Tumblr called “Un gif dans ta gueule” where he posts a variety of funny GIFs created from vintage photos, movie stills, paintings and more. This first image is a case in point. Released in 1972, the Magnavox Odyssey was the planet’s earliest games console available for home use. It included several games, including a ping-pong offering that would inspire the legendary Pong. Monterrat’s simple animation technique has here produced a fitting tribute to video game history, presumably by using a vintage advertisement for the console.
It appears that electrical engineer Charles Proteus Steinmetz – the Breslau-born mathematical genius affectionately known as the Wizard of Schenectady for his effect at General Electric’s New York HQ – was something of an eccentric. Hence, it seems fitting to see his image brought to life here as a mesmerizing, magical GIF.
Thomas Edison, a onetime acquaintance of Steinmetz, is one of history’s most celebrated creators of things. Here, Kevin Weir used an old photograph from General Electric to capture the excitement of Edison’s sometimes-precarious experiments. Weir is modest about his work’s success, though, having stated, “A sheep farmer once emailed me and told me that my gifs made her morning. That was the best.”
In this image, Weir creates a playful take on the world of vintage photography. The subject is Herman “Germany” Schaefer, a Major League Baseball player here taking a turn behind the lens at a Washington Senators vs. New York Highlanders game in spring 1911.
This invention of the past looks like it could be from the future, yet General Electric’s incredible Hardiman – a robotic-like exoskeleton – was developed in the 1960s. It was designed to allow the wearer to pick up something as heavy as a Holstein cow, but its own excessive bulk was one concern that meant it remained at the prototype stage.
Although its appearance is more akin to an old science-fiction movie prop, the Walking Truck did once spark military interest. Weir’s GIF perfectly illustrates the wobbly gait and erratic movements that characterized the machine and ultimately contributed to its termination.
Here Monterrat took an image from 1962 of an engineer looking at an unexciting printout at the Rocket Engine Test Facility at Cleveland’s NASA Glenn Research Center and created an astounding GIF.
One of the apparently eerier GIFs collected here is this one based on a photograph of a soldier standing next to a “French 42cm gun” during World War I. However, the sinister figure is somewhat unnecessary, as the original image was actually satire, featuring a wine barrel in the place of a deadly weapon.
It’s typical for GIF-makers to add small touches of humor to their work, like the cartoon of Mickey Mouse on one of these screens. But it’s no wonder the men watching it don’t look entertained, as the real content of the monitors at the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment – a Cold War airspace monitoring network – was probably a little more serious.
Monterrat manages to perfectly capture the modern frustration of flipping through endless TV channels. How? By using a screenshot from the Wim Wenders movie Alice in the Cities – this despite the fact that the film was released in 1974.
Perhaps one of Monterrat’s strangest creations, this GIF is simply labeled, “Natsuo was preparing hard for the next Tour de France…” Whatever is actually going on in this comical offering, it certainly seems as if a man in his boxer shorts riding a bicycle-like device is the perfect candidate for some entertaining animation.
In another of Monterrat’s vintage science GIFs, here an unknown experimenter looks deeply into a bulbous glass. It’s impossible to say what the original “dreamer” in the photo would have been thinking, but the stylized power surge added in this GIF is a great reflection of the imaginative spirit of the age.
Monterrat’s work ranges across scientific invention to cultural innovation, as seen in this cleverly animated GIF created from a photo of a 1950s drive-in movie theater. He lights up the screen with some iconic scenes from favorite movies of the era, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and From Here to Eternity.
Pictured here is an oscilloscope – a device utilized to measure voltages in the form of flat, wavy lines. The GIF details this analog model coming vividly to life, though the oscilloscope is still available today and can be used in the creation or mending of electrical kit.
As far as early sound technology goes, this Pioneer RT-909 was among the finest reel-to-reel tape recorders of its era. It came with plenty of features seemingly uncommon when it was launched in 1979, including both microphone and line inputs and an auto reverse mode.
Image: pizza splash!
The Polaroid camera was an icon of its time, with its instantly recognizable white-framed pictures and washed-out hues proving so popular that scores of apps exist today to allow users of modern technology to recreate the look on their smartphones. This GIF shows off the camera’s satisfyingly instant appeal.
A far cry from the sleek touch screens and invisible hard drives that characterize today’s computers, this Apple Macintosh, released in 1984, featured a monochromatic screen and an optional floppy disk drive that cost an extra $495. As this GIF highlights, however, the Macintosh Plus was featured in 1986 science-fiction movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Back in the days before vinyl records were the sole preserve of hipsters and DJs, record players like this were so popular that they even apparently had a star cameo in 1953 Marilyn Monroe movie Niagara. In this GIF, the movie’s soundtrack – and the party in full swing – almost comes to life.
Image: Humanoid History
NASA has always utilized the very latest technological developments to send missions into the far reaches of space. On April 11, 1970, for instance, controllers gathered at the Kennedy Space Center to launch Apollo 13, the third mission to the moon, and here’s the vintage tech they used to do it.
It’s back to the innovations of General Electric for this final GIF. The sorting machine pictured – seen in a mid-1930s General Electric clip – was designed to spot and remove the black balls as they revolved on a disk past a light-sensitive device.