Does Zack King have real magic


The stories that are told on the Internet are getting shorter and shorter, faster and faster and more fleeting. For example, they are only six seconds long. That is the default on the Vine video platform, whose previous success story can also be told in a few seconds.

Founded in the spring of 2012, Vine will be adopted by Twitter as "the next big thing" in the fall. Six months later, the free app takes first place in the stores. The 13 million users after six months have now grown to 45 million. Twitters Vine has long been competing with the major platforms Facebook and Instagram. It's about users and click numbers. In fact, 2014/2015 is not just the year in which the web shifts more and more to the social web for most users and is perceived more and more exclusively via the timelines of the social media apps. It will also go down in social media history as the season in which the moving image conquered the timelines that a few years earlier were geared towards text and then increasingly towards rigid images. Those who want to keep up are currently relying on the further development of the possibilities to produce, broadcast, watch and share the shortest films ( of-journalism /).

Zach King, born in 1991, demonstrates how to tell stories with the rules of Vine (
He opened his own account in September 2013, and two and a half years later he had almost four million followers. At the beginning of 2016, his 208 six-second films were played almost 1.3 billion times. He is considered an influential young filmmaker in the USA, is booked as an advertising celebrity for major brands and is invited to the most popular television shows to demonstrate his storytelling technique live. His films are hailed as "magical". He himself is considered a great magician and wizard of Web 2.0 ( 527 / final-cut-king-zach-king-interview).
In fact, King does amazing tricks. On November 9, 2015, he uploaded a video to Vine in which he threw himself on a water bed in a department store and drowned in it (
On September 21, 2015, he posts a video in which he pulls a paper wristwatch out of a magazine advertisement with his fingertips and hits his wrist once, turning the paper into a real watch ( v / eP11EMF9Plh).
On August 16, 2015 you can see him lying in his sleeping clothes on a bed with a red and white blanket. He wakes up, rolls around in the covers until he falls off the bed, only to land on the floor freshly clad in a red T-shirt and white trousers - and very astonished ( v / ep5H6QlgLKV).
On June 27, 2015, he turned a young man, who was sitting at a game console as if staring at a screen, into a pile of potatoes after some shaking (
On May 30, 2015, he sticks a fuse to a banknote, lights it, causes the whole thing to explode and is whirled through the room by a pressure wave in the middle of a cloud of new banknotes (
The money video ran almost eight million times, almost 173,000 users clicked the heart button with which they say “I like”, and over 33,000 users have shared it. The potato video ran almost ten million times. There were over 41,000 hearts. Over 41,000 users have put it into their own Vine timeline.
Zach King's very first video from September 9, 2013, in which he was electrocuted by a small kitten and thrown through the air, received a little more than 443,000 hearts and more than 380,000 users put it on their timeline.


Before becoming a social media filmmaker, Zach King worked as a personal trainer teaching people the tricks and tricks of using the Final Cut editing program. He achieved fame in 2011 when he uploaded a “Star Wars” video shot with cats and pimped with special effects to YouTube under the user name “FinalCutKing” ( . What he demonstrates here, he later uses on Vine. What works magically is a mere cutting trick that the eye cannot realize. For the viewer, the images merge so quickly and without breaks and thresholds and the whole film rushes by so quickly that the transformations look real even if you know that they can't be real.
King's work is thus in the tradition of magic, in which something is performed on the open stage that is actually unbelievable because it cannot really happen the way you see it. But it also has a great cinema tradition. The stop trick is used here, which enabled completely new forms of film narration at the end of the 19th century. In the 15-second film "The Execution of Mary Stuart" from 1895, directed by Alfred Clark and produced by Thomas Alva Edison, the recording is stopped before the ax reaches the Queen's head. Everything stays in position, only the actress is exchanged for a doll. The camera continues, the ax falls, the head is off (

At least that's what the surprised viewers think, who don't even notice the exchange. The time between stopping the camera and moving on does not exist for perception. The devices are used for cutting. The scene is then glued together in the minds of the audience. In a magical way, what actually does not belong together belongs together for the audience. The stop trick turns out to be a coherence trick that works with the expanded possibilities of the new recording devices as well as with the restricted perceptual conditions of the recipients.

The fact that watching movies can actually be magical is largely due to this trick. While one should constantly have doubts that what one is seeing is really happening, on a subconscious level one is busy removing doubts and gluing breaks in such a way that everything fits together well. And because that is an achievement that cannot be done all at once, but has to be done over and over again for the duration of the film, one remains in a floating manner, oscillating back and forth between doubt and doubtlessness.

If you watch Zach King's videos, you will feel exactly that. You are tempted to watch the trick over and over again to find out how it was done, only to amuse yourself that it didn't work and you believed again that everything happened the way you saw it.


This is reinforced by other tricks. The Vine contributions are no longer than six seconds, in King they only offer a single scene with just a single punchline, sometimes there are two or three, which then only vary the first at lightning speed. This does not establish any larger narrative contexts, as is the case with film. Like magic shows, there isn't even a whole series of different baffling numbers that follow one another. There is only ever one film to be seen on Vine. You have to scroll further yourself if you want to look at the next one.
It is no different with the "execution" of Mary Stuart. But everything runs in a loop at Vine. When a contribution is over, it starts again almost immediately. The video will therefore continue to run indefinitely once it is started unless you stop it again. This explains the tremendously large number of views that are recorded under Zach King's videos on Vine. You don't just run once. They run in a loop. This explains the special fascination that emanates from his little scenes. When the performance of the viewer of films with tricky cuts is to create coherence against the doubt, and when watching King's videos you have to work with the doubt against the impression of coherence again, and all in just six seconds , so you will be drawn into the next round almost automatically: You loop until the joke is used up.
Zach King inscribes himself once again in film history in a different way. Around the point where the Belgian physicist Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau developed so-called phenakistiscopes on the basis of his experiments with the perception of dismantled and reassembled images at the beginning of the 1830s. These are circular disks, on which the same images are always arranged along the edge in a slightly shifted perspective so evenly that the viewer, when looking through a slit, gives the impression that they are moving when turning (https: / /
Zach King's videos share with these disks and the devices through which they can be started and observed, the repetitive moment, the repetition of a short sequence, a small movement, a single scene that one might think is actually happening although the eye is only fooled. And because you have to see it again and again if you want to try to track down the deception and still allow yourself to be fooled again and again, the loop here also provides the magical moment that is experienced as hypnotic: the eye comes no longer going on. Only when the joke has worn off.


But there are other tricks that make up the secret of the magic of Zach King's videos and that set him apart from all other projects in film history. King's work pieces do not stand on their own. They're embedded on Vine's pages. King is just one broadcaster among many others who upload videos on the same platform. And at the same time he is a spectator among many others who have the videos of all those whom they follow bring together on their timelines. Because new videos are always being uploaded, there is a strange flow. What was new is pushed down on the timeline. Above you can only see the very latest, which can soon disappear from view.
In the middle of this stream, smaller and smallest streams can be organized, which do not remain without influence on the overall dynamics. Every video post is surrounded by a range of intervention options. There's the like button, which is heart-shaped on Vine. There is the Repost button, with which you can transfer the contribution from someone else's timeline to your own. And there is a button that can be used to embed the contribution on other platforms. Finally, there is the option to comment on the video.
All of this is not external to Zach King's contributions. Rather, his videos are precisely defined by the fact that they appear on a platform that no longer differentiates between producers and viewers and gives the opportunity to dock with your own activities to existing contributions or to move them by marking and quoting to bring or to keep moving.

If you watch Vine users orientate themselves in the offers on the screens of their smartphones, it is easy to see that the almost hypnotic sticking is in no way caused by looking at individual posts. With Vine, it's your own movements, the up and down on the timeline, looping in the posts, branching out to other accounts, reading comments, commenting on your own, searching through the video folder on your mobile phone for suitable pieces, that you could post yourself. In between, your own films are produced, uploaded and then checked to see whether they are being viewed, marked with hearts, quoted and commented on by others.

What is so magical about Zach King's videos has nothing to do with the editing technique and the loops. It is participation in an unmanageable event that results from the movement of all contributions and interventions across the entire platform. It is being involved in a process of reception that has productive consequences even in the smallest of movements. It is the direct feedback with a contribution that another person has sent, through which energies are given to the contribution and at the same time absorbed by it.
In the case of Zach King's Posts, this results in complex turbulences at Vine that reach other platforms and ultimately even reach the traditional press and television from Web 2.0. They create a temporary suction through which further activities are set in motion, which lead to a movement that can then be described as a "net phenomenon" - or which, when reduced to the individual workpiece, appear magical.


What Zach King produces is part of a much larger tectonic movement that is changing the way we deal with moving images on the web. This becomes visible outside of Vine in the GIFs, which have been spreading en masse online for a few years ( -one-69060).
GIFs also work with the afterimage technique. They too operate with the extreme shortening of the contribution. You concentrate on the performance of a fragmentary movement. They run in a loop. And they can be liked, quoted, forwarded, processed further and embedded in other contexts. They are named after the program, first published in 1987, with which individual images are compressed and sent to save space and which is displayed as an abbreviation at the end of the file name: .gif - "Graphics Interchange Format". Network browsers output GIF files in such a way that the images appear in quick succession. So slow that you can watch it as a slide show. Or just so fast that the impression arises that they merge into one another and show a movement.
The fact that the GIF is used for animation is a side effect. The possibility of making icons dance and rotate with the program was only used more intensively as a gimmick for designing websites in the mid-1990s. Then license disputes ensure that nobody really likes to work with GIFs and that they only spread as sidekicks on Myspace and related sites. Finally, the Flash program overtakes the Graphics Interchange Format in terms of practicality and convenience. GIFs only deliver roughly rasterized 8-bit graphics that were designed for a slow network. GIFs are silent, there are only images to be seen. And a GIF just runs through and repeats itself without any intervention.

At the end of the noughties and at the beginning of the decade of the 21st century, the GIF spreads against all odds in a network that has long been able to transmit entire films in HD quality at high speeds. When it was not yet possible to integrate YouTube films on websites, users cut out small sequences, translate them into Graphics Interchange Format, insert them and link them. For this, concise sequences of two to ten seconds in length must be selected, which are characteristic of the linked video.
The best GIFs are not only considered to be the particularly characteristic ones. On the 4chan platform, later also on Tumblr, where the integration of GIFs is also allowed, separate competitions are developing to find the really best excerpts that tell something closed, isolate an interesting, absurd or funny movement, discover something puzzling or the Demonstrate the aesthetic independence of the moving image. As in Zach King's videos, anyone watching them is drawn into a hypnotic loop. Each piece in itself seems understandable and incomprehensible at the same time. Each appears to be taken from a larger context and left to its own devices. And each one refers the viewer to the context from which it is taken. Because this cannot be understood in the shortness of the piece, at most it can be balanced out, one always slips straight into the next loop when looking at it.

It is therefore no coincidence that you come across lists and collections when you google “GIF” and “hypnotic”. Here you will find top-quality products that you stick to because when you look at them you get into a dynamic balance that is difficult to find out. With this effect, new microfilms are constantly being created that are reminiscent of experimental video art ( ). The so-called "reaction GIFs" are also created. They focus on faces, postures or movements that express anger, sadness, despair, resignation, devotion, love, excitement, indifference, generosity, disgust, arrogance, self-love, disdain or arrogance. Since they do this in a loop and repeat the same expression and gesture over and over again, they have a particularly intense effect (
If you scroll through the Tumblr blogs, on which only GIFs are posted, or control one of the search engines that have now specialized in finding GIFs, you can find a visual encyclopedia of facial expressions and body language in the moving images of the 20th and 21st centuries Discover the century ( It is continuously being expanded by users who search through the film materials that are circulating on the Internet in bulk and unsystematically, break them down and convert them into GIFs. There are now also separate pages for this conversion ( The uploaded GIFs are collected on them and always made available to other users for further dissemination.

Because reaction GIFs introduce large emotions and movements in miniature format, they are used to be posted as replies in social media comment threads. They are called what they are called because you can react to them in a very special way. So-called Facepalm GIFs are posted if you want to express your own resignation in view of the stupidity of the previous post or comment. GIFs with short disapproving looks are used when you want to show how much you despise the above. A sequence with people celebrating is posted when you want to show that there is a reason to celebrate. Since the pieces, which are taken from different films, differ in nuances, these reactions can be finely nuanced. Wherever reaction GIFs are used, there is accordingly a finely nuanced communication with moving images, which results in completely new film sequences for those who scroll through the comment columns.


If the stories that you tell yourself on the Internet are getting shorter, faster and more fleeting, then with Zach King's trick videos and the GIF second-hand films you can understand how brevity, speed and volatility are compensated for by tricks and strategies. The focus on a short scene, an action or a movement creates something whole, which is enlarged further and further through the loop. For those who look at a GIF for a long time, the miniature transforms into something large that takes over the entire perception. That means: What seems so short and fast and fleeting appears as if it were infinitely long, as if it did not come from the spot and as if it were made to have to repeat itself in fateful ways without it being able to end.
In other words: the microfilms obviously follow the high speeds on the Internet and even seem to want to outbid them. But they do this by dissolving space and time for the viewer for a brief moment in the midst of the noise and thereby creating a timelessness that appears strangely long in retrospect, even if it actually lasted only a very short time. In addition, there is the interactive activation of the moving image. The looped short films are surrounded by intervention options that give the viewer the opportunity to create their own dynamics in the midst of great turbulence. They involve, activate them, and thus increase the likelihood that you will spend a long time working on individual pieces and appropriating them. Precisely because they are short and quick and fleeting, they increase the cohesiveness. If brevity, speed and volatility are combined with conciseness and punctuation and an enigmatic nature that cannot be understood all at once, then you stick with it, then you press the like button, put it in your own timeline, download it, edit it and upload it again.
And that means: the individual films may be short and quick and fleeting. But because they can be placed in new contexts, they are connected to other texts, images and film sequences. You have the option to chain yourself with other posts. And because they can be copied infinitely, they can be linked to other pieces again and again in new contexts.

The shortest films that therefore work best in the internet context are those that achieve a hypnotizing independence by affecting viewers, but never giving themselves away completely and forcing them to watch the next loop as well. And at the same time there are those who do not want to remain themselves, but rather develop their power when they are used as parts in longer narrative contexts.
Knowing this is not unimportant if it is true that the web is currently shifting further and further into the social web for most users and is being perceived more and more exclusively via the timelines of the social media apps. If the moving image conquers these timelines and the users are filled with it, then the question is which posts you will get stuck on and which one you simply scroll past.

Suggested citation

Porombka, Stephan: Tricks of the Second. About vines, GIFS and the success of small forms in Web 2.0, in: Torsten Meyer, Julia Dick, Peter Moormann, Julia Ziegenbein (eds.): Where the magic happens. Education after the delimitation of the arts, magazine Art Media Education | zkmb 2017. Source:; Last accessed: May 24, 2021