Man behind some of the most watched GIFs lives in small town Ontario

 (Robert E Blackmon - image credit)
(Robert E Blackmon - image credit)
Robert E Blackmon
Robert E Blackmon

In a short looped video, Robert E. Blackmon lugs a garbage bag labelled "2020" down a driveway and heaves it into a trash can.

The video resonated with viewers — enough to attract more than 360 million views in 2020 and become one of the most viewed GIFs of the year.

Blackmon, a Hollywood actor and lifestyle coach turned prolific GIF creator, has now compiled 10.5 billion total views across videos posted to the online GIF database and search engine GIPHY.

"If there's a situation, there's a GIF for that," Blackmon said. "And more than likely, I have created it."

Robert E. Blackmon
Robert E. Blackmon

Originally from Detroit, Mich., Blackmon now films his videos on an iPhone in his home in Spencerville, Ont., about a 45-minute drive south of downtown Ottawa. Blackmon moved to Spencerville because his husband is from the area.

A staple in social media posts and text messages, a GIF is an animated message that plays on a loop. It's usually sent as a reaction, or to express an emotion.

Blackmon has his own interpretation of the form. He described it as a six-second silent film, although he added most GIFs are now as short as about two seconds.

"It expresses every kind of emotion that an emoji can't," he said. "And depending which kind of GIF or meme that you choose, [it] will convey your story."

Blackmon's story

Blackmon shot his first GIF before he knew what a GIF was.

His manager, marketing consultant Amanda Cee, pushed him to film one. After about a year of resisting, he finally caved.

He started by simply trying out characters — something that comes naturally to Blackmon, who refers to himself as a "Mr. Dressup-and-the-tickle-trunk" kind of guy.

Robert E. Blackmon
Robert E. Blackmon

Pulling on an assortment of wigs, Blackmon experimented with roles. His manager shot reams of material before releasing his debut GIF to the world.

"Within about three months, it had exploded," he said.

His first effort was viewed millions of times. Opportunities — and cash — soon followed.

Blackmon began receiving invitations to film festivals, commissions for custom GIFs, and requests from agencies hoping to license his creations for ad campaigns.

"Now, I'm an institution — or should be institutionalized," he joked.

'Less is more'

Blackmon has since translated his knack for short, engaging videos into a TikTok following of 1.8 million.

But the result, he said, is a strange brand of fame. Although he's recognized constantly, people can rarely place his face.

Robert E. Blackmon
Robert E. Blackmon

"You've probably either been sent my image, or you have sent my image," he said. "The conundrum for [people] is that they've probably seen me, but I'm probably in a blonde wig or in a church hat."

Despite the elaborate wardrobe, Blackmon said the secret to GIF success lies in simplicity.

"Less is more. Shoot it and go," he said. "People like organic and the organic parts are what really draw people to the authenticity."