No Original Ideas Required: Welcome to Advertising

Even though Motionographer posted this advertisement for the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, I felt it was important to post it again on Cartoon Brew. Not because it’s visually impressive (it is), but because of the technique it “borrowed” for its production.

The creators of the spot–director Elliot Jokelson and NY-based studio Ghost Robot–credit recent Pratt grad Javan Ivey for coming up with the Stratastencil technique upon which they’ve based their entire piece. When Javan posted his short “My Paper Mind” on his website last year, he also posted technical notes on how he achieved the look. (We mentioned Ivey’s work in last month’s piece about 3D papercraft animation.)

The ethical question here is, If an artist comes up with an original technique and style and a studio decides to use it shortly after the artist puts his work online, should the original artist be offered a job, financial compensation, or creative credit on the project?

Let me make one thing clear: techniques can’t be hidden away; they need to be pushed around, explored, discovered. Computer animation would not exist today if not for the early SIGGRAPH conferences where artists and technicians openly shared their discoveries. There’s a big difference here though in that Ghost Robot and Ivey were not working collaboratively and contributing to each other’s artistic development. Ghost Robot took another artist’s fleshed-out technique and got hired by a client to replicate that look. Examine Ivey’s original piece and the Bonnaroo spot and you’ll see that they not only borrowed the technique, they brazenly took actual animation ideas from Ivey’s piece. In my opinion, if you’re a studio that’s taking money on the basis of another individual’s brand-new technique, it’s shamelessly low not to make an effort to have the originator direct the piece.

In the comments of the Motionographer post, Ivey notes that he was emailed by the director but he didn’t respond to their initial inquiry. Ghost Robot’s single email to Javan does not, in my mind, constitute a sincere effort to communicate with him, and since the director was emailing him, it was clear that they weren’t looking to have Ivey direct. They’d already sold the job based on Ivey’s technique and, more than likely, they wanted to make their own jobs easier by having the originator show them the way.

In my opinion, this is what it boils down to: how creatively bankrupt does a commercial studio have to be to troll the Internet looking for the ideas of college students to rip off? Is there nobody at Ghost Robot who possesses an ounce of creativity so that they don’t have to pitch the ideas of college students to clients? Sadly this situation is considered business as usual in the icky world of advertising where studios regularly repurpose ideas, technique and styles. And just as I feel it’s important to point out the creative people in this business, I also feel it’s important to point out the Jokelsons and Ghost Robots who coast off the creativity of others.

At the end of the day, Javan lost money and work because of this, but he’s gained credibility within the animation community by having the validity of his animation technique proven by an uncreative commercial studio supported by deep-pocketed clients. It should be pointed out that despite being taken advantage of, Ivey has been a class-act about the situation and tells Motionographer:

“This is precisely what I mean every time I say ‘I’d like to see someone try.’ Because I do, I love to see what someone else does with it. They’ve taken the idea and applied manpower and a budget to it, and I’m absolutely floored. It looks great. I mean, I’m kinda bummed I wasn’t invited to the party, but I really enjoy seeing what they’ve done.”


  • http://mymedicatedlife.blogspot.com/ Bitter Animator

    I’m actually impressed by any attempt at communication. I made commercials for many years. In the latter years, I would say a good 90% of ads I was in talks about had the “creative” show me a YouTube video of a short film, piece of student work or another ad and then ask if I could copy it.

    To say I was uncomfortable with it is an understatement. One time, it went further. An ad agency saw a short film they liked and had the decency to contact the person who made it to get him to let them use the style and form for an ad. He declined because he had licensed it to someone else. So… they came to our studio and asked us to copy it but not so much that they’d get sued.

    I was disctinctly unhappy with that so proposed something a little different. Different enough to make me feel I was contributing rather than ripping off but close enough that it had the spirit they wanted (if an ad can have a spirit, which it probably can’t, though it can suck them into its black heart). They agreed.

    But the more the ad went on, the more they pulled it back to being a rip-off. And that’s how it went out.

    I never quite recovered from that as it was broadcast proof that I was a hack and little more. Though the studio I was in was never hauled up on it. Others have been, thankfully.

    Most people I met in advertising were absolutely creatively bankrupt, living in a haze of cocaine and ego that led them to believe they were filmmakers and artists rather than the reality – they’re salesmen, like the guys who would go door to door selling vacuum cleaners, and nothing more. Salesmen, not filmmakers.

    So to answer your question – “how creatively bankrupt does a commercial studio have to be to troll the Internet looking for the ideas of college students to rip off?” – I would say completely creatively bankrupt. Welcome to the world of advertising.

    The final end to my time in advertising was when I was eventually diagnosed with clinical depression and it didn’t take a shrink to figure out why that was. I took a break, got on to a children’s show that was led by someone with one goal – to put smiles on the faces of children – and I have been trying to reclaim pieces of my soul ever since.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com Richard O’Connor

    There is nothing unethical about using techniques and styles advanced by other artists.

    You don’t need to credit them or hire them or pay them.

    It’s happened to me, and yes, it feels bad -but so be it. If I don’t get the job it falls on my lap for not making the sale.

    It sucks for Javan and I wish him success.

    On the other hand, you suppose that he would’ve been able to execute the production in a timely and professional manner (thereby earning the money the studio received).

    These projects exist on deadlines with protocols, if an unreturned email is not enough, what is?

    I’ll further add that Jasmina Mathieu who animated this piece, is extraordinarily talented in her own right. Perhaps this the use of this technique actually handicapped her from making an truly special work in her own style.

  • Celia

    Film students have an abundance of new ideas and skills. Sadly, this is another sad example of how innovative artists receive no reward for the pieces they influence.

    As a college professor, it saddens me that students aren’t better prepared for these things. The industry will not change their ways. Young creatives need to show their work carefully, and not let their ideas and techniques be transparent.

  • http://www.candlelightstories.com Alessandro Cima

    I watched the film by Mr. Ivey and I think it’s simply beautiful. It is a direct and simple expression from an artist. Just gorgeous. I also think it’s very nice of him to share his ideas on how to make the paper animations.

    I also watched the Ghost Robot advertisement film. It is simply nothing.

    An ad agency working for a client, no matter how skilled and talented its animators are, will never equal an artist making a direct statement. There’s no competition. Mr. Ivey wins.

    I eagerly await his next papercraft film and frankly don’t give a damn what Ghost Robot might do.

    As Mr. Ivey did, I would have ignored their email too.

  • Gerard de Souza

    I don’t know the answer. The ad people did email. The technique was pubic knowledge once on the blog. It isn’t like it’s that easy to pull off even understanding the technique. Can one patent such an organic process? I wouldn’t think anyone else would’ve been “crazy” enough to try it. It’s the difference between knowing how a magic trick is done and the ability to perform it.

    I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see this technique. What is it they say about imitation. That and 2 bucks will buy you a venti, I know.

    It would’ve been nice if Mr. Ivey got the gig but it is well documented so he can go down in animation history as the inventor of the technique.

    May I add the technique is wonderfully insane and the type of stuff I wish the NFB would do. It would be nice to see him get support for a longer short.

  • http://www.daxnorman.com Dax Norman

    In advertising, the idea is the product an agency sells to the client. Since the idea is what was co-opted from Mr Ivey, he should be compensated by the agency in some way.

    When stories and characters are licensed to movies, DR Seuss or Spiderman, for example, the original “idea makers” are certainly paid, why should visual ideas be any different? (Especially when this idea is the basis for an entire commercial)

  • http://wscottwarren.blogspot.com/ Scott

    I dunno. If Ivey had applied for a job at Ghost Robot, I would agree with you Amid. But I don’t think making something outstanding, in and of itself, entitles an artist to expect to be scooped off his/her feet into a sweet office job.

    If Ghost Robot is savvy enough to recognize a beautiful work of art and use it as inspiration, I’d say that’s a step in the right direction for the industry.

  • TStevens

    I’ve worked in commercial animation for most of my life. When an agency comes to you with a style you do what you can to replicate it. In this case you have to consider that an attempt was made to include the creator. The fact that he failed to reply shows that he didn’t take them seriously. This is why students and young film makers are often not taken seriously to complete a commercial job. Had he replied he probably would have been hired as a consultant and made a few thousand dollars or more.

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    I’m frankly impressed ANY credit was given.

    First off, this is a digital reproduction of a practical style – I’m very impressed with both the student and studio results, but it is a digital replica of a pre-existing PROCESS he created, not a completely original idea never seen before, and one even Javan based upon Stratacut. Second, you put something out there online, this is what happens – it gets taken and either improved or ripped off. I’m fairly impressed with how Ghost Robot pushed this in a digital direction, and I think even without the process described a talented animator would figure out the process and replicate it on their own if they were so inclined.

    Perhaps the lesson learned is creators need to defend their work and distinctive styles, or enjoy the fruits of their labors. Look at the glut of JibJab style online cartoons in the wake of their success. The creation of real art and the process of commercial work in advertising and film ARE distinct – I’ve learned to never confuse the two, and I feel its naive to expect anything different in this industry.

    Finally – sounds like Javan is having a blast with PES, so I can’t really feel sorry that he isn’t collaborating with Ghost Robot. I’m sure his aesthetic is more at home where he is now, and this is not the last we’ll be hearing from him.

    Meanwhile – how long before Brew posts about the Disney/Touchstone/Dreamworks distribution deal, and when is a Monopoly defined in our industry?

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    Hal – The deal between Dreamworks and Disney does not include animation. Disney will distribute Dreamworks live action films under it’s Touchstone Pictures banner.

    Dreamworks Animation, a separate company which Jeffrey Katzenberg runs, has an exclusive deal for distribution with Paramount Pictures. That deal is not affected by today’s announcement.

  • scuttlebutt

    I couldn’t disagree more with the whiny sense of entitlement in Amid’s post. Technique is out there; it’s what you do with it that counts. Javan Ivey has the right attitude. I’m glad he shared his technique.

    By the way, I do prefer the simplicity in Ivey’s piece. The color in the advertisement spot somehow ruins the papercut effect for me.

  • Rick Baumhauer

    I’m sorry, but this is a tempest in a teapot. Javan did put the details of the technique in his blog, so he must have had some idea they’d be used by someone else. An attempt to contact him was made, and he ignored it. If he wanted a monopoly on the technique, he should never have spelled it out for everyone.

    Javan seems to have the right attitude, so I’m not sure why Amid is so upset……..

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com Richard O’Connor

    I’ll throw another thing out there -agencies contracting individual animators out of school is one the factors serving to destroy the independent studio.

    These are our bread-and-butter jobs which allow for a degree of practical apprenticeship and help finance interesting projects which otherwise couldn’t happen.

    The upshot is underpaid grads deflate the market for animation which quickly funnels down to studios, which results in fewer and lower rate freelance gigs as well as less largesse for development of independent projects and new content.

  • http://www.johnbludwick.com John B. Ludwick

    If you don’t want your ideas stolen, it’s best to keep them off the internet; Fry (of Futurama) calls the internet, “the free exchange of other people’s ideas”. He’s so right.

    Internet-surfing to get inspiration is a delicate balancing act. The ideas go “in there”, and I’ve seen many reputable artists spit out an idea that’s been done before, verbatim, without realizing it. It’s just lucky that someone happens to be standing there to say, “dude, that’s so-and-so you just came up with.” “Oh, crap,” the honorable artist responds, “I’ll do something else”.

  • Bill Field

    Let’s face it- anyone that hasn’t been screwed at least once in our field of animation is much rarer than not. I wouldn’t have even known my creation of The Don Ho Cartoon Show, was developed into 6 episodes at MTV if Jerry hadn’t posted it years back on cartoonresearch, because it never aired, in spite of which, Don still reaped $ and other benefits from
    it. I never saw a dime- BUT I was benefitted in the sense that it gave me a higher profile and has lead to more work for me and my studio- once an episode showed up on youtube.
    Javan, it seems, has done the same, and he is making the proverbial lemonade out of lemons! So it’s not all bad, it also isn’t worth the work one might miss with the time and effort of seeking compensation or credit. Javan did the right thing, in my opinion.

  • James

    Even the name, “Ghost Robot” seems to invoke a more talented, dedicated studio. “Ghostbot” anybody? (“yeah if we just put a space and two letters in there it will be a totally different name!”)

    okay i just did a search and saw that Ghostbot was founded in 2004 and Ghost Robot in 2005, okay sheer coincidence I guess.

  • timmyelliot

    On his blog here
    http://javan.tumblr.com/
    he goes in to a little more detail on his feelings:

    —————————————————————————

    Feb 07

    To Clarify:
    There seems to have been a little uprising in my name, I’d kindly ask people to stop. Though if I could swindle a Bonnaroo ticket, that would be excellent.

    I left the following comment over at motionographer in hopes of calming everybody down. I got over it. You can too.

    —Javan

    “Here’s what it boils down to. I put it out there hoping that somebody would pick it up and run with it. If I wanted to secret it away and hide the idea from the world, I would have. As a kid, I was a crappy magician, I always showed how the trick was performed. I’d rather Empower than Enthrall, bonus points if I can accomplish both. Ghost Robot took the technique and ran with it. And proved to me that really gorgeous things can be done with it given a few extra hands.

    Admittedly, they could have pushed it further, but there are things you don’t think of until you’re actually in the process of getting your hands on it. Moving Lights, Moving the Rig, the Shape of the rig itself, scale, background, material, frame order… (these are hints to what I want to see next, someone else want to take it on?)

    Bottom Line: They worked hard, made a pleasing piece and clearly had a good time doing it. They don’t even need my blessing, but they have it anyway.

    The only soreness I’m feeling is from the hard kick in the ass to come up with something new.

    Don’t bogArt”

  • Gobo

    Hal and others: please note that the Ghost Robot piece is NOT a “digital version of a practical technique”. The Ghost Robot site has a making-of film that clearly shows that each individual frame was cut out by hand, just like Javan did.

    Frankly, I feel like they took the seed of his idea and expanded it way, way beyond what he did on his own, and created something pretty impressive.

  • Paul N

    This is such a non-story. Count me among those who can’t figure out why people are upset.

  • Mark

    I was just watching some of Elliot Jokelson’s other videos on the Ghost Robot website.
    It seems Jokelson has a habit of grabbing other peoples ideas.
    Watch his video for Prefuse 73. Looks like a lot like Blair Witch Project.
    And how about “Dreams” for TV on the Radio. Zardoz anyone?

    There’s all kinds of great ideas out there if just look hard enough…

  • V

    I have developed a technique of using pencils to draw things. Everyone else stop doing it!! You don’t have my permission!

  • Uncle Phil

    Guess I better get out my checkbook and send a few hundred checks to Ken Burns. While I’m at it, I may as well send my credit card to Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith for my frequent use of texture mapping and alpha channels. I tried contacting Dr. Ed to ‘collaborate’ but he never returned my calls. Seriously, films and TV shows reference styles and techniques just as much as commercials. Many times filmmakers look towards commercials and music videos for inspiration. If anyone wants to really protect any technique, they’re more than welcome to patent the idea.

  • http://www.genarorocha.com genaro Rocha

    I find it funny that there’s even a minisite at ghost robot’s site dedicated to showing off the technique, as if it were an original thing. Credit to Javan is nowhere to be seen. At least they could’ve mention that it based on his technique.

    On the other hand, I think Javan should start responding to his emails, if you dont care about someone asking you for permission then this is what happens. I remember asking a character designer if I could use his character for a student film, never got an answer, but I did give him credit on the piece. Perhaps thats what ghost robot should do.

  • Skip

    I enjoy the content on this blog a lot, but honestly the whole tone is such a downer. You guys constantly post negative opinions on pretty much anything and everything involved with animation.

    Have you ever worked for any type of creative agency? Is the concept of taking someone else’s idea without crediting it to them new to you? Geez. It happens everyday. I mean the fact that they even emailed him was shocking to me. It would be nice if this blog concentrated on posting more information about animation and focused less on whining about the “state” of animation as you see it.

  • The One

    I have to agree with Uncle Phil – concepts and techniques are constantly borrowed in every form of creativity. Not JUST advertising as this post title suggests. Having worked in both television entertainment and advertising I can say this from personal experience. Just because Amid is bitter doesn’t mean it should rub off on all you animation students reading this. “Ooooohh…advertising is bad. Don’t get into advertising, it will wipe all creativity away.” Bull.

    Javan isn’t upset about it so no one else should be either. Ghost Robot improved on his idea, he said it himself. It’s one thing if they made it worse, but then we wouldn’t even be reading about it on these blogs, now would we? C’mon.

    Now get back to work.

  • http://jakehatesyou.blogspot.com jake armstrong

    I agree with Javan. He made awesome work with it, and I hope he continues with his extremely creative process. Ghost Robot also did excellent work, and to loosely quote Javan, it’s pretty incredible to see how Javan’s unique method is interpreted by a studio that has money, manpower, and time. Art should inform art, and push itself to strive to be something great, and i ahte to say it, but that’ll unfortunately never happen if everybody plays fair. I can only hope Javan is recognized for his innovation, and will get hired by people who recognize how out-of-the-box he thinks and works.

    Both of them did exceptional work and I’m happy to see both peices. I also hope to see more from both of them in the future.

  • http://www.milowerx.com Mike Milo

    I don’t get it… why is it so terrible?

    By this articles account all cartoons are suspect because they borrow from TV, radio and live action in some or many ways. Art is in and of itself a way to express oneself. Ghost robot was doing just that. The animation business is only profitable if you take money for expressing yourself. What’s so wrong with what he did? Is it because he made money from it?

    Does your ‘rule’ therefore make Ren and Stimpy a ripoff of classic H and B and WB because the animation is a homage to WB and the backgrounds a homage to HB? No! Does that make Dexter’s Lab a ripoff of UPA because of it’s limited animation and slick layout? No. Does it make Dreamworks a ripoff of Pixar because Pixar
    invented’ 3D? No it does not and hopefully you see my point.

    Artists thrive on inspiration and the internet is a huge cacophony of influence. Does this mean Van Gogh ripped off Monet because he was influenced by him? Hell even the classic WB cartoons were ripoffs of the radio days. Foghorn Leghorn is a straight rip of Senator Claghorn.

    In defense of this article (and Amid) I think it’s great that you sound the alarm on these sorts of things and I believe this site to be one of the few who champion artists…

    That said I think Javan’s film kicks the crap out of Ghost Robot’s ad and usually that’s how it goes art imitates life but it seldom does it as well.

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    At the end of the day, Javan lost money and work because of this,

    Javan would have had neither more money nor work had this commercial never been made. He didn’t lose anything.

    but he’s gained credibility within the animation community

    Indeed! I’d never heard of him until this post today. And I saw his film for the first time for the same reason. And I learned he’s a cool dude – a real artist. Like me, he sees his work as a gift to share, not property to hoard. That makes his “social currency” – status – increase with me, and probably many others.

    It may have been ideal if the agency had acknowledged Javan, but they’re under no obligation to. Javan did the right thing sharing his work with the world and documenting it online, because that allows the community – today in the form of Amid – to link to it. His contribution is timestamped so we know his work predates the ad. The community compensated for the ad agency’s oversight. The internet makes that possible; how awful if we left everything up to ad agencies! I don’t share Amid’s indignation, but I am glad he posted about both Javan’s work and the commercial that built on it.

    Amid also benefited from posting this story, as it confirms his expertise. He knew something I didn’t, and in sharing it his social currency increased. That’s the community’s incentive to keep tabs on things like this. The ad agency has no such incentive.

    @Celia:
    Young creatives need to show their work carefully, and not let their ideas and techniques be transparent.

    Had Javan hoarded his work like property, most of us never would have seen it. Ad agencies get far more access to hidden work than we do; it’s their job to seek out new innovative films to copy. Hiding work only hinders the artist and the audience, not ad agencies. This whole story (including Amid’s coverage) is a great example of how free information and free culture beat “intellectual property.” We need more transparency, not less.

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    Also, kudos to Jasmina Mathieu, who like Richard says is extraordinarily talented in her own right. I think she did a great job in her “derivative work”.

  • http://poptique.blogspot.com/ Matt Richardson

    Is this another example?

    http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2009/microsoft-people-ready-for-everybodys-business/

    My jaw dropped when I saw one of these ads on TV just now. It’s a straight lift of Josh Raskin’s “I Met the Walrus” – surely he must have been involved, even though he isn’t credited as such as far as I can see.

    Even more ironic considering the theme of Microsoft’s campaign!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8FFdbR_znE&feature=channel_page IttyBittyLit

    Rather than a continuation of the conversation, because I doubt my style will be a tremendous draw for any professionals or studios, but because one vid got linked to your pages. Thanks for noticing. I used one of my accounts to post a story my six year old wrote and my eight year old recorded. True animation? Not really.

    all the best.

  • http://www.deptap.com Rajesh

    I guess we all owe checks to Winsor McCay.

    “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” It was decent of Ghost Robot to give credit where credit is due.