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The Story Behind That Famous GIF of All of David Bowie's Hairstyles

As the internet mourns David Bowie's passing today, one of the most widely shared images was a GIF created by illustrator Helen Green.
January 11, 2016, 8:45pm

UK-based artist Helen Green has—or had—a tradition. Every year, for David Bowie's birthday, she drew a picture of the groundbreaking songwriter and performer. Last year, she drew 29 of them, each from a different era of Bowie. She animated them in a remarkable GIF—each Bowie look flicking past in the blink of an eye, all of them together forming a thorough illustration (pun intended) of Bowie's expansive, impressive career. You likely saw the GIF when it first made the internet rounds 12 months ago, and no doubt you've seen it today, when Bowie's death became public.


Happy Birthday David Bowie! — Helen Green (@Helengreeen)January 8, 2015

Green herself has been shaken by the news.

I'm shaking so much, this news isn't processing at all.. my thoughts and love are with David Bowie's family, friends and fellow fans today..

— Helen Green (@Helengreeen)January 11, 2016

The GIF she created last year had such reach that Bowie's camp found out about it and reached out to her, asking her a couple questions about its inspiration and technique for David Bowie's official Facebook page. "It's become somewhat of a tradition for me to create something to celebrate David Bowie's birthday—a little token of appreciation for someone that has inspired me so much over the years," she told them. "This year I decided to put my inspiration in motion. The result; an animated portrait illustrating Bowie's evolution and reinvention, from the pre-Bowie 1964 to 2014, with the release of 'Sue (Or In A Series Of Crime)'"

Each drawing, she went on to explain, was done in pencil and colored digitally. She animated it in Photoshop. She spent a whopping 35 hours on the project, 29 illustrations in all, though some of that time, she says, was spent doing research on Bowie's various looks. "For many of the drawings, I used a reference from a different year, but facing the correct way. For example, the reference for Ashes to Ashes Bowie was his 1976 mugshot, and a sideways-facing 'Heroes' Bowie for the drawing of Davie Jones. It was quite a triumph to see all 29 drawings in motion for the first time!"


Fans of Bowie seem to agree, and today it's hard to be online and not see Green's impressive birthday gift to 2015 Bowie live on as a fitting tribute.

RIP David Bowie, illustrations by Helen Green — Salt Lake Comic Con (@slcomiccon)January 11, 2016

The looks of David Bowie, from 'Ziggy Stardust' to the 'Thin White Duke' — CNN (@CNN)January 11, 2016

You can see Green's countless drawings of Bowie (plus other artists who inspire her like Lady Gaga and Grimes) on her website, Instagram, and Tumblr.

More below:

David Bowie ★ Blackstar — Helen Green (@Helengreeen)November 4, 2015

— Helen Green (@Helengreeen)August 1, 2015

Posting a new Bowie pattern/print/thing tomorrow! ⚡️— Helen Green (@Helengreeen)July 31, 2015

Bowie at L'Hotel, Paris, May 1976 — Helen Green (@Helengreeen)April 29, 2015

— Helen Green (@Helengreeen)January 7, 2016