The SIFF PR team tries out SIFFGIF.

Last year our friends at the Seattle International Film Festival asked to use our office photo booth in their press lounge. We obliged, and it was a big success. We captured photos of all sorts of people in the international film industry (including an Avenger and Oscar the Grouch). They asked us if we’d let them use it for this year and we agreed, which we eventually realized was easier said than done. We wanted to do more than just repeat ourselves and decided to create a custom experience for SIFF over the course of a two week sprint. Here’s how SIFFGIF came to be.


There were a lot of cobwebs in the existing photo booth application. Originally it was built as a weekend project before it became a permanent office installation, it took 4 photos, placed them in a frame and that was that. Over the years, we added to it here and there, but for the most part the experience never changed. It was fun as an ever-present novelty, great for visitors, but never something we thought of actually reusing.

The Goal

We had one primary goal for this application. We wanted to build a delightful experience for visitors to the SIFF press lounge. Press lounges aren’t known as being the most exciting places, so making people smile was our metric of success.

As secondary goals we also wanted to create something that would be easy to repurpose for our permanent photo booths in our various offices.

Plus, if we could get some of this year’s SIFF guests to make an appearance in something we built, how cool would that be?!

The Ideas

We kicked off the project with a brainstorm session. Ideas ranged from simply keeping the photo booth we already had to creating a giant installation with a faux security scanner, a vaguely creepy take on SIFF’s “Be Watching” tagline. There was also talk of instagram-like filters, video snippets, and faux-3D effects, among other things (remember, there are no bad ideas when brainstorming).

When we left the room, we were settled on creating two experiences, the photo booth itself, and an interactive backdrop. The latter was definitely ambitious and we knew that would possibly need to be scaled back. Knowing we might not be able to execute within our short timeframe, we decided to keep the current photo booth as our fallback solution.

The Build

An early wireframe of the camera app.

We began the build by auditing the current photo booth to ensure it was going to work as a fallback. But we discovered that various revisions and updates has left it hobbled and creaky (but not entirely broken), and it was going to take some doing to get it back up and running.

Given the reality that we effectively were going to be working without a safety net, we scaled our ideas back for what the experience was going to be, simplifying our photo booth from a full installation to just an iMac photo booth and server-side web gallery. This decision was easier to swallow once brand assets from SIFF showed up, the surveillance aesthetic we planned on didn’t fit this year’s brand.

While the above reads as a relatively straight-forward process, in reality these decisions came after moments of real discomfort, no one’s favorite part of working Agile. At one point we even had to “stop production” to ensure the team was in sync across the various moving parts. This happened on day 3 of the project, but given only two (business) weeks to work, that felt like a potentially huge blow.

Once we were all aligned on what we were doing, we got work going on various fronts:

  • Modifying the existing photo booth to take a series of images and composite them into an animated GIF instead of a single image grid. Turns out you can do this client-side now (isn’t JavaScript amazing?!), so we could perform this task faster than we would have just a few years ago (when this would have required some image wizardry on the server). Even boring animated GIFs look awesome, so there was plenty of laughter as the first working prototypes appeared.

Testing the work in progress.

  • Building the backend services that would take said photo, store it, and deliver it to Twitter. Yes, the beginnings of this existed, but this entire codebase needed revisiting as it was legacy code from an mostly-abandoned codebase.
  • Designing the camera experience. In our years of working with our legacy booth, we had some clear optimizations in mind to make this experience easier to use, namely:
    • Presenting the option to retake a photo.
    • Not having users enter information until after they’ve confirmed the photo so they have a sunk investment before we ask them for not fun stuff.
    • Showing a preview of the image before resetting to camera mode.
  • Designing the gallery. If you’re going to take all of these photos, people need a way to retrieve them as well. We wanted this to be as simple as possible, but aesthetically uniform with the camera.

With just a few days to go before our installation, we had the entire experience working end to end. It was a huge moment for the team, as until then we’d only seen various parts, a wireframe here, a test image there. With all of that together, we had a flood of new ideas, and we used the remainder of the time polishing the experience. We’re happy with the result.

The Reaction

SIFF tries out SIFFGIF for themselves.

While we’d used this plenty on our own while testing, the real test for this new photo booth was getting it in front of SIFF, to whom we’d only hinted at doing something more than we had last year. After setting up in their press lounge we called them over to try it out. They immediately “got it,” smiling and laughing with delight as they took their first SIFFGIF. Delight was the whole point for us so…mission accomplished!

The SIFFGIF team.

The SIFF Press Lounge Gallery
Our Office at Play Gallery

SIFF runs from May 14-June 7. SIFFGIF is also running in our HQ so you can give it a go on your next visit.