Historians will remember 21st-century internet culture for a few iconic relics: rare Pepes, "proudy" best friends, a clenched cartoon aardvark's fist. SpongeBob memes, this generation's Seinfeld for having a plot point for everything, surely makes the cut for whatever digital time capsule we'd construct for the late-twenty-tens.
That's why this GIF, created by 17-year-old Shane Kuhn, looks like it was dug from a vault in the future and sent back to 2017. It's pixelated, silent, and less vibrant than I remember SpongeBob being when I watched it on TV as a kid. The GIF contains the entirely of "Help Wanted," the 1999 eight-minute SpongeBob Squarepants pilot episode, run through several compression methods and crammed into Twitter's 15 megabyte file size limit.
"I wanted to find out if an entire episode could be fit into a single GIF, no matter the circumstances," Kuhn told me in a Twitter message. "I selected 'Help Wanted' as the episode to translate into the GIF format due to its iconic nature. I also assumed that most viewers would be able to 'listen' to the rather mute GIF format if they had the dialogue of the episode ingrained in their hearts." It's true: If you think you don't remember every line of that episode, watching the GIF and letting your mind fill in the Gary meows and Squidward groans might surprise you.
Raw, lossless SpongeBob episodes have a resolution of 512 by 384 pixels, he told me—when converted straight to GIF, this episode ended up being 175 megabytes. Kuhn needed to get it down to 15 megabytes to post to Twitter, so he re-rendered it in Sony Vegas using the lowest possible resolution that maintained the proper aspect ratio: 192x144 pixels.
Still slightly too large, he opened the newly-compressed file in open-source video transcoder HandBrake, and got it down to 80 by 60 pixel resolution and a file size of 13.7 megabytes. He also GIF'd "Reef Blower," the following episode in the first season. It's an almost three-minute short that's nearly dialogue-free.
"Watching full SpongeBob episodes as tiny GIF sounds like an idea that Mr. Krabs would definitely endorse, although I also want to respect Nickelodeon's intellectual property rights as well," Kuhn said. "I have received many requests to do more episodes, and even requests to create a GIF of the SpongeBob movie. In the words of the magic conch shell, 'Maybe someday.'"