Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge.
Artist Rights

Why Are ‘BoJack Horseman’ Artists Being Asked To Take Their Art Offline?

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Artists working at Shadowmachine on the Netflix series BoJack Horseman recently received a letter from show producer, Eric Blyler, asking them to remove their artwork from the Internet.

Here’s the letter in full:

Hey Folks,

Now that the profile of our show is rising, we need to get a lot more protective about what we show online. I know a lot of character designers have been posting their work online since season 1. Sadly, we need to bring an end to that practice. If you have samples of your artwork for the show posted on Tumblr, Instagram or any other website, you’ll need to pull it down. Same goes for any storyboard samples, background and prop art, animatics and any other original art created for the show. We’re going to start looking for organized efforts to publish work for special events, at which time we’ll ask for submissions from any of you who want to participate to be approved before posting.

I know you’re all really proud of the work you’ve done for BoJack Horseman, as you should be. You’ve all contributed so much brilliance to the show and want you to have a chance to share it. We’ll be looking for opportunities to do this in the future.

If you have any questions about this don’t hesitate to email, call or come see me.

Thanks!

Eric

This is an uncommon request in today’s animation industry; the BoJack staffer who sent it to us called it “overreach” that “makes my head spin.” Few TV animation studios take issue with artists posting their work online after a show has been released, and in fact, the practice is encouraged by many studios.

While Shadowmachine may have some sort of copyright over the artwork, fair use generally protects artists who want to display work samples online as long as it’s done for non-commercial purposes and the rights holders are properly identified.

But while the law technically protects artists in this situation, Shadowmachine still has leverage to discipline and discharge artists who disobey their request, a staffer at the Animation Guild, I.A.T.S.E. Local 839, told Cartoon Brew. The company could even take ex-employees to court, though it would be difficult to claim damages if the artwork is only being used as a work sample, the Guild staffer explained.

Shadowmachine’s letter raises an important question that affects artists throughout the industry: Should artists be allowed to exhibit their artwork online after a show or film has premiered? The Internet has become a vital tool for the professional careers of industry artists, and attempts to deny artists the right to share their work online could potentially affect artist’s future job opportunities. As just one example of how important the Internet has becoming to the hiring process, Harvey Beaks creator C.H. Greenblatt recently told Cartoon Brew that he found most of his show’s crew through Tumblr and other online sites.

Shadowmachine owner Alexander Bulkley told Cartoon Brew that he completely understands the importance of the Internet in the hiring process because he uses it himself for that purpose. He emphasized that the intent of the letter isn’t to hurt their employees’ career opportunities. Rather, the studio wants to protect artists by not accidentally releasing anything “that could be damaging to the show…because we’re all on the same ship.”

Bulkley said that artists are free to use screengrabs from the already released Netflix episodes to promote their contributions to the series; however, the company is requesting that artists not post pre-production or production artwork like model sheets, storyboards, animatics, or background paintings without prior permission. Bulkley explained that those assets are technically unreleased and could unintentionally reveal something to audiences that wasn’t meant to be revealed.

This conversation might have been very different a decade ago when posting artwork from a show online, even after it had premiered, would have been considered a major breach of etiquette. But studios today have adapted to the Internet age, recognizing that many of their artists maintain social media presences and need to display their latest artwork to maintain an edge in the highly competitive animation industry. Many productions even operate crew blogs to share the kind of artwork that Shadowmachine is asking its crew not to post online; these shows include Clarence, Harvey Beaks, and Gravity Falls.

The situation on BoJack Horseman will hopefully find a satisfactory resolution, yet it won’t be the last time this issue crops up as studios continue to adjust to this new Internet age and learn how to balance their obligations to clients and networks while ensuring employees are happy and fulfilled.

  • This is…weird. Searching out production art for TV shows and films was something I constantly did as a kid, because it helped give me greater appreciation for the cartoons that I loved. And these days, as you’ve said, crew blogs where glimpses behind the scenes are regularly shared are more and more common. So if a giant powerhouse like Disney is fine with their artists occasionally sharing the art behind their shows, I don’t see why a smaller company like ShadowMachine can’t be similarly okay with it.

    • Mermaid Warrior

      For real, I love seeing production art and it seems that stuff is really popular these days. BoJack Horseman is a pretty great show and I do like to see the processes behind it.

      In the letter, they’re saying they want to publish work for special events. I’m wondering if they’re implementing this policy as a way to keep profits, maybe they’re afraid that no one will pay for art if artists are posting similar stuff on their personal blogs.

  • Brian Menze

    In the games industry this practice is standard. You either need direct permission to show work you’ve done or it already has to have been published officially beforehand. If you’ve worked on a canceled project, it’s near impossible to show work you’ve done without permission.

    • DJM

      And it only fuels the labor problem in that industry.

  • pretty bizarre…I’ve grown accustomed to seeing pre-production, storyboard, character models and so-forth from shows like Steven Universe on tumblr shared by Rebecca Sugar and others who work on the show.

    The first thought that came to mind is that Shadowmachine wants to make sure they are the only ones profiting from this cartoon? but it’s not like the artists are making any profit posting their work from the show online. Or do they think they can get money from people if they showcase content from the show at special exhibits/animation festivals???

    If the artists started posting inappropriate content with characters from the show, that has nothing to do with it or is representative of it, I could see that being an issue, but that’s not what’s happening

    • Nikolas

      Looking at how Bojack behaves on the show, how much more “inappropriate” could any content really be? Shadowmachine should be careful not to alienate the show’s fan base. Petty stuff like asking artists to remove production art does just that.

  • Ben

    I can kinda understand it if their posting stuff that will ruin twists in future seasons (Like who Jill Pill is or something) Other than that this seems kinda dumb.

  • Noël ILL

    It would be nice if the entertainment industry had some transparency. I don’t see the true answer to the question of why they won’t allow this. I use to work on an animated show and everything posted online was protected by the network, so anyone wanting to perhaps steal the art would be in trouble with that network. It never happened though. I think the only fear would be people in other countries stealing the art perhaps. But if that’s the case, studios should make that more clear. You can’t just ask people to stop doing something without a clear explanation. Also, as an artist, your online followers do want to see what you are working on and they love seeing the process. Could you imagine someone’s Twitter bio saying, “I’m an artist for BoJack Horseman” and then they have nothing to show for it…? I am now wondering if whoever sent in this letter is going to be in trouble now haha. I just don’t see how being so hush hush in the industry is doing anyone any good at all. It’s more damaging I do believe.

    • DJM

      What it is is that its a way to suppress their earning potential. By not allowing them to advertise the work they have done, Shadowmachine is cutting them out of future opportunities and keeping them for cheap.

      • Honest_Miss

        Artists have been showing off their work for hundreds of years. If anything the value of art has decreased. Visibility isn’t likely to be what raises the maximum income of the animation industry.

      • Noël ILL

        That definitely could be true! I hadn’t thought of that, but makes evil sense haha

  • Chicken McPhee

    Sounds completely idiotic to me.

    Anything the artists post online is essentially advertising for the show itself. Some suit, somewhere decided that a picture of something will give away important plot points. I curse you, talentless simpletons who rummage through bureaucracy, essentially stunting creativity that feeds you.

    Hear this, artists, at EVERY opportunity, you will be screwed over. EVERYONE is looking to make money off you and if at all possible, pay you nothing or the very lowest minimum. And now, the freedom of ENJOYING the work you do has been taken away from you.

    Change has to come. These clowns need to be overthrown.
    READ EVERY CONTRACT YOU SIGN, take it home, have it read by someone in whose interest it is to protect you. They will take the love you put into your work, cut it OUT of you and make you hate the work you love yet. Be careful and stay away from conglomerates.

    • DJM

      The whole “application” angle on special events is pretty disgusting. Its as if they are expecting their artists to grovel just so they can get just a liiiittllle recognition outside the uninteresting credits. They want them to ASK for the privilege to give them free advertising. I say blech, which is particularly infuriating since the lead character designer Lisa Hanawalt is one of my absolutely favorite cartoonists and the sole reason I tuned in to the show in the first place. I mean seriously, NO ONE interviews the animators. No one thinks about them. Writers, directors, producers, etc. Everyone except those who actually make the show compelling.

      Blech. Blech. Blech. Blech.

      • Chicken McPhee

        Animators have been shat on in this industry since the beginning. Musicians and actors get royalties – why the fuck don’t animators and comic book artists? Usually same reason as this – they’re just happy to work, while someone makes money off their genius for years and years and years.

    • Art Ranchero

      No one is forcing you to work on a production. When creators have invested large sums of money on a project, they have every right and obligation to protect that production. As an artist, I would never post any work that I am doing on a show w/o permission. That’s totally unprofessional.

      • Karl Hungus

        By that reasoning, no one is forcing Shadowmachine to be in the animation industry
        And in being in the industry they are going to have to accept the way that industry works. Which is that artists compile a portfolio of the work they have done on many different productions throughout their career and they use that art as the SOLE reflection of their abilities when gaining employment. As was stated earlier, there are no interviews in this industry. You are hired on the merit of your work. If a studio denies you the right to show the work that you did for them then they are denying artists the right to go out and better their career.
        Also worth noting: creators do not invest large sums of money in the shows they make. Television networks do. And this is not an edict handed down from a television network, its from a production company that has been hired and is paid by that network.
        If you think exercising your right, under the United States Fair Use Act (as per copyrights) to present your wares in this industry is unprofessional, then you must not work in this profession.

      • Chicken McPhee

        It’d be unprofessional to try to make money off it, not promote the show.

  • Kyle_Maloney

    Not really surprised, I feel like studios have tightened their grip on production art, not loosened them. I remember when it was much more common to find animation blogs with their art. Maybe its just me.

  • L_Ron_Hoover

    I think what could solve this is having a crew blog/tumblr that posts what is approved or given permissio. I think that’s kind of what they were getting at when saying “organized efforts” and “we’ll ask for submissions.” Usually crew artists reblog their work from a ‘mother blog’ that release material after episodes premier. Steven Universe, Adventure Time, and many other Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon shows do that.

    I can also see their point about “spoilers” being an issue. Stuff like “Over the Garden Wall” was completely ruined for me when the images of the monster and other things were published shortly after its premier. I don’t have much an interest in watching it still because of that.

    Anyways, reading the owner’s response, it doesn’t seem like they are being completely unfair. It’s not like the artwork we create for a studio is our property. Also, your reference to Greenblatt, he was discussing their personal work. If posting your own work was an issue then that would be asinine.

    • Honest_Miss

      A mother blog is a great idea. With the posts, you can include links to the artist’s other works, even. That would help ensure that artists aren’t losing click-throughs to their work.

    • I would agree with your point, except it’s my understanding that the work was completed and aired already. It’s one thing to say “I’d have rather seen that new character/bg design in the show than on someone’s blog”. It’s another to see it again, after the show has broadcast.

  • I can’t process this. This is so messed up the artists are helping the show by promoting it. Sure its not a controlled marketing effort but nothing is these days. I wonder how Shadowmachine will feel about fan art, are they going to send artists cease-and-desists? Shadowmachine is legally in the right but that doesn’t mean that what they are doing is ethical. All animation artists take note.

    • Honest_Miss

      Actually, most people don’t like controlled marketing anyway, particularly the Netflix crowd. That’s the type of audience that *prefers* organic discovery.

  • Their show their rules

    • Disagree.

      • TheNormalMan

        Explain please? Should the artist give the money back? Isn’t it all work for hire?

        • I’ll have to ask you to explain your question. I’m not quite sure I understand.

          What I mean is, if it is Shadow Machine’s show, it’s still not their rules to make. Fair Use dictates that artists can use the material for purposes of promoting themselves for future work.

          • Fried

            And contracts can nullify fair use by clearly stating anything created for studio purposes is the studio’s property and they can do whatever they want with it.

            If artists want to use that work for their portfolio and cannot put it online publically, they may be able to get permission to put it on a private server/webpage with a password to send out to clients.

          • Karl Hungus

            No they can’t.
            A contract written up by a small studio in an industry with time tested practices wherein artists need to present work in order to… wait for it… gain further employment, cannot void FEDERAL copyright law.

            Especially in a state like California. And especially in a city like Los Angeles.

            A citizens RIGHT to pursue a livelihood supersedes a company’s allegation that they need to “protect” the content they create. The onus would be on the studio to prove that their existence was threatened by artists showing the work that they produced there. And clearly, with dozens of studios in this city prospering without such draconian policies, that case would be one that this studio would not have a chance of making.

          • Fried

            You must have missed the entire second part of my post:

            “If artists want to use that work for their portfolio and cannot put it online publically, they may be able to get permission to put it on a private server/webpage with a password to send out to clients.”

            A studio has every right to withhold art that is made for them and posted to the public. But artists are still allowed to show them to future employers privately. I have been in many cases where employers asked me if the work I was presenting was for a project and if I was able to talk about it.

            I have also been in many studio presentations who showcased work for upcoming films and they state that they had to get permission to showcase the work and ask for people to not photograph or take pictures of any of the presentation.

            If you think someone can just post all their work done for a studio publicly on their Tumblr portfolio without getting permission first and that doesn’t somehow break their contract (Assuming they signed one), sorry, but you’re dead wrong.

            This does not mean you cannot privately show employers your work (Or even have it on a section of your portfolio that requires a password), which you definitely can, but even then, talking in detail about the project may be a breach of contract, which many potential employers will respect and understand if you cannot talk about it and are only able to show the work.

            This is no different than festival who ask that your film not be put online while its in rotation on their listing, but that doesn’t mean you cannot put it on Vimeo privately to show to people.

          • JJ

            NormalMan is saying that artists were compensated to create work for a studio. The work does not belong to the artist, it belongs to the studio. In my career, every contract has been VERY explicit about this; you need written consent before posting your artwork online.

            Further, your posts seem to be conflating two issues: using professional artwork in a portfolio and posting professional artwork on a public website. They are not the same, and I’d bet fair use covers the former.

            I’ve stumbled across this issue before, and the studio I worked for said they do this to control how a show is officially represented. If an artist for a show is posting official artwork, that competes with the marketing department’s efforts. If you don’t believe me, shoot me a message in private and I’ll tell you about a big boondoggle that still rears its head three years later.

            But even on that note, the letter says that Shadow Machine is looking for an outlet to release this production artwork. It’s about controlling what’s out there, though. Imagine if a storyboard artist released a section they did, but it contained some sexist jokes that were flagged by BS&P? That would be part of the public image of the show, totally against the studio’s wishes.

            Yes, it sucks that the artists can’t put their professional work out for public consumption, but that’s what we typically agree to by signing a contract. I’m really bothered that this pretty respectful letter is being characterized as an affront to an artist’s ability to make a living.

          • It may be incorrect to assume who owns the work. We don’t know the relationship between Shadow, the show creators and Netflix.

            I think the issue boils down to Fair Use. As Karl has pointed out, it would seem to me (and the Guild’s attorney), if Shadow attempted to challenge an artist who worked on BoJack by attempting to get them to remove art from a previously-aired show, from a website whose sole purpose is to promote the artist’s skills for further gainful employment, a court would back the artist and allow the work to be posted.

            I sincerely hope it doesn’t get to the inside of a courtroom. I hope the studio, while trying to promote their brand and the show, realizes that artists just want to work.

    • Art Ranchero

      Yep, If you are hired to work on a show, it’s standard practice not to share production work without permission from the folks who are paying you to create said work.

      • I’d say it’s understood that you’re not to show production material before the show has aired. Fair Use covers the use of the material once it has.

        So, while working on Season 3, don’t show any Season 3 stuff on your website. However, if while working on Season 3, and assuming Season 2 has aired completely, you can post your Season 2 work on your site.

    • just some animator

      problem is the show doesn’t belong to shadow machine, they are just the production company. the work belongs to the companies with the money (Tornante, i believe)

  • “Bulkley said that artists are free to use screengrabs from the already released Netflix episodes to promote their contributions to the series; however, the company is requesting that artists not post pre-production or production artwork like model sheets, storyboards, animatics, or background paintings without prior permission.”

    This implies that there is production work being performed on the next season of BoJack. It’s my understanding that’s not the case.

    So, is Bulkley saying that posting model sheets, storyboard panels or BG designs of shows that have aired .. could harm the show?

  • Sydney

    EVERY studio job and contract I’ve signed makes it clear that what you produce for a show and with their equipment, on the clock is explicitly owned by them. By those rules, all production art you see on the net has been ‘stolen’ from a studio at one point. I’ve always been careful about it. And yet…for years and years I’ve seen images and vids leak on to the web which obviously came from someone on the inside. Most of the time it’s from artists managing their own PR campaigns or niche blogs and sites. That has always irked me, because I could’ve shared and drawn “followers” to my site, but I don’t want to be sued. I’m conflicted about it. Studios don’t so much care about individual artists careers as they care about control over how something is shared, despite the notion that “all publicity is good publicity”. The problem is that they would only promote chosen artists. Look at that “Spongebob Squarepants Experience” book that came out. There were only a handful of people featured in it which is so misleading. Obviously, sharing production work benefits the company and your internet presence, so there needs to be clearer rules.

    This letter from Blyler seemed diplomatic. He realizes the benefits of having art get out on the web for publicity, but he’s trying to reign it in and control it now – probably to drive all that traffic to their sources instead of having the artists also benefit from their own hard work. He seemed (morally) conflicted as well.

  • Dick Blakely

    This seems like a reasonable request on the part of Shadowmachine. If an artist wants to post pics of his/her personal work, that’s cool, but to post images from a production you are being paid to help create is completely unprofessional.

  • Methuselah 969

    One fairly simple workaround might be to draw paper bags over the recognizable, copyrighted character heads in all production artwork that appears anywhere online. Treating the proprietary crown jewels like porn might land them the respect that their owners so deserve.

  • Karl Hungus

    I would be that artists are allowed to show work that they produced if it can be proven that it isn’t harming the show if they do (revealing plot points).

    To say they aren’t is to suggest that a judge would rule against an individual who is trying to better their employment potential. Who is trying to further their career. That would never happen.

    What kind of an industry would this be if artists were not allowed by some studios to work within the hiring parameters dictated by every other studio. Do ya think Shadowmachine didn’t hire their artists by judging them on the work that they did for other shows?

    The letter is a canard. They have no right.

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    As someone who works in animation, the studio is within their rights and it seems reasonable albeit frustrating. I was relieved when they said it was stuff related to production. I once worked for a place that said anything an artist created was theirs under their employ (nothing ever came of it and I assume it was to cover not just artists but programmers too). But just because everyone shares W.I.Ps does not mean it’s legally right.
    My sneaky passive-aggressive way around it has been to show my newer work on an ipad at an interview. No one gets a digital copy but they can see it. Kind of like the days of the portfolio.
    So artists, still put up your original stuff created in your own time at home to whet prospective employer’s appetite.

  • Jack

    I get if its a new season the work is from, but the letter is talking about work that came out AFTER the first season premiered. It makes no sense. If it already was released why do they need to take down their work?

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    P.S.-The letter is extremely reasonably written. I’ve seen my share of draconian letters from management.

  • Honest_Miss

    What an interesting discussion, particularly considering this is happening over a Netflix original show.

    I can see both sides of the argument. That being said, I think there’s a real flaw in logic here.

    If this were a cable show it would make more sense, because the idea of exclusivity for the sake of building interest/tension is their base model. The week-by-week method is for creating excitement and holding interest, because people always want what they can’t have. And it works. You’ve assured, by holding back, that the audience will *come* back. Doing the same thing with the making-of elements of the show makes sense and fits that model.

    All that said… this is a Netflix show. With the exact opposite model. Where nothing is exclusive or held back. The entire season is visible from the beginning to end. Accessibility at all times, when you want it, how you want it *is their model.* That’s why people like it. So for a show that’s *born* from that model, this request not only doesn’t add up, it breaks from what makes Netflix work.

    So, I guess what sums it all up is… frankly, I think a lot of this is technically reasonable, but a mistake. It’s a mistake when you consider the larger picture of their platform and audience, because it reduces accessibility. It’s a mistake on the small scale because it creates completely unnecessary friction between management and employees. None of it really adds up.

    Somebody tell me if I’m crazy, though.

  • Sharkey Shyster

    If it’s artwork related to the current show, I can see him doing this. If it’s an online portfolio to get more work or other work he may have a problem with this letter.

  • AmidAmidi

    We reached out to Eric for comment. He passed along to Shadowmachine owner Alex Bulkley, whose position is included in the piece.

  • rezz

    This is really strange and really hurts the artist considering they need the work to advertise their ability and what they contribute to the show. Esp when you consider that once the show is on hiatus, they have to find work immediately and the cost of living in LA is ridiculous! Glad the artist had the courage to go public with this.

  • Hey Now

    This demand isn’t at all as uncommon as this article suggests. Though, I choose to roll the dice and post my work anyway… if the episode/film in question has already aired/premiered. No studio looks at physical portfolios anymore, and I refuse to have my career options limited by hypocrites who use the same method to find new hires.

    It’s not unthinkable, but it’d be incredibly petty to pursue legal action. We artists are mostly small potatoes.

  • Capital_7

    You certainly don’t want all that publicity coming down on you, and it’s important to alienate creatives under your control. Well done.

    • mick

      All that publicity? Delusions of grandeur?
      I’m willing to go out on a limb here and speculate that the audience for this show will not be giving a flying fig any time in the near (or distant) future

  • You make a good point. I wonder what the employment contracts state. I’d like to see a copy of that for my clarification.

  • optimist

    I suspect this is strictly about maintaining control from the top.

    It irks the PTB to have lower and lowest-level people on the production(by that I mean any IATSE members-actually, is it a union show? But you get what I mean) pull the curtain back in such a casual, individualist-centered way and say “*I* work on Bojack Horseman, and here’s what *I* drew for ep 4”. In the view of the exec producers, possibly and almost certainly whoever handles promotion, publicity and programming, this is not kosher. Someone sees it as usurping their decisions about what to show and promote. Individuals taking personal credit, instead of waiting to be chosen by the people at the top for inclusion in some video, blog or art show. And technically speaking, it isn’t quite legal, probably. But practically speaking there’s been a wink-wink/nobody knows/nobody cares thing going on for a couple of years now with all the studios-that’s the internet for you.

    I think they’re making a mistake to make a deal out of it, as the various Tumblrs definitely raise the profile of the show, but I’m not signing the paychecks.

    • Karl Hungus

      It is not a union show.

  • Anonymous

    You imply that animators all live in nice houses and eat well….I question this.

    That said, I agree with you about the quality of the artwork on Bojack Horseman.

  • I disagree, and so does the law. Your argument of ownership falls to copyright. The copyright laws allow for “Fair Use” of the material.

    Ultimately, a judge would be the one to decide the question. From what I understand, decisions of this nature favor the artist unless the artwork in question was posted for a series in production.

    • Art Ranchero

      Ok Steve, I get the legal argument you are making, but I think you are missing my point. It’s a small world and if you go around challenging your employers rights, you will certainly lower your chances of being hired on the next project.

      • I’m not big on “Boogeyman” arguments. Especially in a forum like this. But, to counter ..

        TV animation is at an all-time high. Here in Los Angeles and beyond. To say that Shadow would turn an artist away for exercising their legal right to promote themselves and be vindictive enough to not bring that artist back on future seasons of BoJack, when that artists has experience in the show that someone new will have to learn, is a bit of a stretch in my eyes.

        I think my eyes count for something considering how close to the LA industry I am. Maybe I’m wrong.

        I’ll never promote the notion that an artist should stop thinking like a business person and be more “content to be employed”. I come from VFX. Ask a VFX artist how that mentality works for them.

  • Robert Holmén

    Geez, it could be fatal to a carefully crafted serial drama if some story detail got leaked.

    Wait… we’re talking about “Bojack Horseman”?

  • Barrett

    I fail to see how people posting model sheets, storyboards or concept art from an animated project that has already been released presents any risk of financial or reputational harm to a studio in ANY WAY. Unless they are concerned there is some “secret sauce” to those materials that will allow “counterfeit” Bojack Horseman episodes being made (hardly impossible to do if you can freeze-frame a high-res show anyway) it seems like a backwards and petty demand. If it were some kind of porn-y fan art or something that involved other companies’ IP (like a BoJack/Rick & Morty crossover…..which WOULD be cool, BTW) I don’t see what the hell the issue is for the suits. Even they must know blogs and such are basically free advertising with no downside to them in today’s media world.

  • Uncle tony

    LAIKA hasn’t adapted much to the internet era either… They limit artists to post only 10 pictures (out of the hundreds done), that have to be submitted first for approval and watermarked.

  • Capital_7

    It’s “brouhaha”. Also I should point out that you don’t understand what delusions of grandeur means either.