Liz Gannes

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Tyra Banks Invests in Flixel, Will Feature Its “Living Photos” Prominently on “America’s Next Top Model”

Modeling icon Tyra Banks has invested in the animated-picture app Flixel, and will heavily feature it in the current season of her “America’s Next Top Model,” which airs Friday on the CW.

This goes well beyond normal product placement. Instead of simple static photos from fashion shoots, some 100 professionally created Flixels — that is, “living photos” that combine aspects of still photography and video — will be created and aired throughout the course of the season. Banks’s signature “Tyra Mail” notes to contestants will be Flixels, and in one episode, all the contestants will be creating their own Flixels.

Banks, who called herself “obsessed with technology” in an interview yesterday, started making animated GIFs about a year ago with the app Cinemagram (Here’s BuzzFeed’s compilation of her efforts). This year, when the Twitter-owned mobile app Vine came out, she dove right in with loops of herself belting songs and doing impressions (BuzzFeed also has a roundup).

“It starts off with me being the user. You’ve seen me on Vine being the fool. It’s something I enjoy myself,” Banks said.

The concept of a living photo captivated Banks.

“When I first saw the Cinemagraph, it blew my mind and took my breath away. It had a ghostlike quality. It was a photo but it was alive — it gave me chills.”

Originally created by fashion photographers Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, Cinemagraphs are moving digital photographs made shareable on the Internet because they are saved as looping GIF files, which Web browsers display automatically. Banks searched for a way to bring Cinemagraphs into her work, and arrived at the app Flixel.

Founded two years ago, Toronto-based Flixel at first wanted to be “the next Instagram” — an iPhone app for social sharing of Cinemagraphs. It wasn’t the only one; close competitor Cinemagram caught the eye of Silicon Valley investors and raised $8.5 million last November after some quick user growth.

Flixel editing tools

Flixel editing tools

Looking for the best way to stand out, Flixel turned its efforts to higher-end tools, with a $9.99 version of its app aimed at people who want to fine-tune living photos from their iPhones and iPads. The 11-person company also built out its own creative agency to help brands make nice Cinemagraphs with its apps.

The combination of high-fashion quality and broad accessibility made Flixel just what Banks was looking for, she said. Banks invested in a previously undisclosed seed round for the company at the beginning of this year, bringing Flixel’s total funding to just over $2 million.

This is Banks’s second public investment through her Fierce Capital, following personalized shopping site The Hunt. Banks said she specifically wants to find female-led or female-focused businesses.

Since investing, Banks advised Flixel on a redesign of its interface to be more accessible to new users (Flixel founder and CMO Mark Homza attested yesterday that her feedback was quite useful).

Banks also dove wholeheartedly into integrating Flixels into “America’s Next Top Model,” now in its twentieth cycle. “The reason we’re still on the air is we’re always looking for ways to push the envelope,” she said.

So are Flixels a gimmick, or will they find a lasting place in fashion? Banks agreed that they won’t work in print, but said she imagines digital Flixel billboards are right around the corner.

What’s clear is that this is more than your standard celebrity endorsement.

“I was an endorser when I was a model,” Banks agreed. “I was a Victoria’s Secret model, I was a Cover Girl model. This is providing strategic help, and advising and bringing them onto my show. It’s a much more robust relationship.”


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