How I Made a GIF of Donald Trump That Went Viral - A Case Study
Hello internet people. Let me tell you the story of how I came to make a GIF of Donald Trump that became…
*dramatically flourishes hands*
First of all, I’m not saying that I can take just anything and “make it viral.” But I do believe there are ways to craft content that has a very high chance of hitting the right emotions that cause people to want to share it.
Like…goofy GIFs of Donald Trump.
How it All Started
I first had a similar idea back in 2008 when Mitt Romney was running for president. Remember that? Way back when asking why you can’t open an airplane window was enough to render you incapable of being elected as president in the eyes of the American people. Man, we were so young and naive then.
I knew this was a concept that could go viral, but the software I owned at the time wasn’t adequate enough to get the look I wanted, so I set the project aside.
A few weeks later someone made a video of Mitt Romney with the exact same “tiny face” effect that I was trying to achieve. As I predicted, the video went viral, with over 1.8 million views.
4 years later, we have another election. I’m scrolling through Twitter before I go to bed (which I know you shouldn’t do) and I see this Photoshopped image of Donald Trump.
Immediately I remembered the idea I had 4 years ago and decided to give it a go again.
How I Made It
The VFX process is a little hard to explain unless you’re familiar with 3D/2D tracking. I’m essentially photoshopping his eyes, mouth, and nose off his face, then adding his eyes and mouth back in at a much larger size, but still matching the movement of his head. A way more complex version of tracking is used in visual effects for television, movies, and commercials. If you want to learn more, check out this video by Matthew Merkovich where he explains some of the 3D tracking work he did on MINORITY REPORT.
My 2D tracking job wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was good enough for this. I exported a 5 second YouTube video, along with a GIF. And then I composed a Tweet.
It Starts to Spread
A few friends of mine “liked” the Tweet, then one or two retweeted it, but I wasn’t really getting a lot of interaction. But then my friend Emily Carlton retweeted, and one of her followers, an influencer in the design community retweeted it after her. That started a domino effect and people started sharing it like crazy.
But I didn’t stop there. I also uploaded the GIF to Imgur, and it quickly shot to the top of submissions with 10,982 points and 3,302,109 views. Someone else submitted it to Imgur a few days later and it also hit the top of submissions with 6,647 points and 4,248,127 views.
Within 24 hours, Reddit user /u/FilmingMachine submitted the YouTube version to /r/youtubehaiku where it was upvoted 2,089 times. Redditor /u/USERNAME_FORGOTTEN submitted the GIF to /r/gifs where it was upvoted over 27,000 times.
There were some major influencers on Twitter that were retweeting and posting the GIF. Paul Feig, the director of the Ghost Busters reboot retweeted it. Oliver Willis posted the GIF and was kind enough to share the stats on the Tweet with me.
Declan Cashin also shared the GIF and the stats on his Tweet of the GIF. He told me that the Tweet is the most engaged one he’s ever had.
It’s very interesting comparing these two Tweet interactions with one by Finn Harries. He Tweeted a GIPHY link and even though he had over a million followers it was only retweeted about 300 times. Oliver had less than 50,000 followers at the time, and Declan had less than 10,000, but they both got over 9,000 retweets.
There was also some really good press around the GIF/video. Both New York Magazine and Mashable wrote about it.
[Viral Life is] Just a Vapor
Like most viral moments, the buzz died away within a few days. It was an exciting, endorphin-filled rollercoaster ride that left me wanting another “hit.”
I didn’t profit off this idea, and even though my website URL is in the GIF/video, no one reached out to me about work. I did get one email from CNN, they wanted my comments for a piece about viral memes and politics, but they never used my response.
It’s also been a good way to introduce myself, especially with potential business contacts or clients. When people ask what I do I’ll often show them the GIF as a way to explain some of the digital marketing work I do. So far I’ve only met one person that had not yet seen the GIF.