Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Good artists borrow, great artists steal"

Even if Picasso or T.S. Eliot really said that, I'm pretty sure that this is not what he meant:

Something I painted a few years ago

Art from a recently released game called Tiny Bang Story

I'm still not sure how to react.  On the one hand, the artist borrowed heavily from my art without credit or recompense.  But on the other hand, they made it look like that.  I should probably feel more bad for the culprit than anything.  Not bad enough, however, to spare him or her the public ridicule he or she rightly deserves.

Update:  Joe Olson points out that the kid in the image (including the hand on the shoulder, but not his eyes) appears to be modified from a picture by Kevin Keele.  It's very strange---the rest of the art in the game looks pretty good and the artist here obviously re-painted everything him/herself.  So why do such an ugly hack-job on this portrait?


  1. Holy crumbs!!

    I did laugh out loud though, I have to admit.

  2. That is really strange. Just based on the changes they made and the other art in the game, it's obvious they have some artistic talent.
    So why would they go through the trouble and danger of copying certain aspects of your illustration, when it seems they could have done their own art in the first place?!

    There's no doubt the artist ripped you off though.

  3. Definitely a great artist!

  4. Jeff: I just added an addendum saying the same thing. They have talent, so why not just do it the right way?

  5. I feel like they took your image and did a paint over. The boy lines up to where the stove was. The shadow on her forehead is in almost the same spot. the shelves in the background line up. Its even worse if they did that verses looking at yours for reference. Dude thats lame.

  6. I wouldn't do a thing I think. You should be proud. It's like "repainting" Mona Lisa which happens in many movies, caricatures. etc. You know what I mean, right? ;)

  7. I always thought an image that combined our art would be way cooler.

  8. Ive always loved this image of yours Sam and Ive seen hack jobs like this in amateur (and I do mean AMATEUR) portfolio's before. Blatant copying...such a shame really, where is the satisfaction of doing this? If I were to bet, id say the budget was short and they needed to do something quick. Ah well, take it as a compliment if nothing else. Keep up the amazing work, Sam.

  9. If I were you I would let the company know. Even if you don't mind/care ( which I'm sure you do). It's just that they might not be aware of it. If the "artist" responsible get away with it, maybe next time he will use somebody else that will not be as nice and bring them to court.
    Imagine the guy steals something from someone that works for EA.
    If it was my company I would like to know.
    my 2 cents.

  10. Did a quick animated gif overlay of the 3 images at my blog, shame on them.


  11. I think it's different than the Mona Lisa thing. For one, that's a readily-recognizable image that's been an icon for hundreds of years, so there is really no need to give credit to Leonardo. In this case it seems like he's taking something good (yet not as recognizable) and trying to claim it as his own.
    This upsets me quite a bit.

  12. that's horrible, but maybe its a freak accident. JK
    thats like a 8,900,000 to one chance.

  13. I followed the link to learn a little more about "The Tiny Bang Story," and I found something very interesting written in a rather large font right there on the main page: "Don't forget to share."

    I think that's aimed at you, Sam.

  14. I confronted one of my animation professors (back in the day) when I learned he had stolen our new website design promoting our program from another artist. (he left some of the links linking to the original artists website) After I expressed that him stealing another artists' work to promote our program was the most shameful thing he could do, his retort was to tell me how hard it is to steal a website and that he wasn't in the wrong.

    Some people lose sight of reality along the way.

  15. That is shocking... and in an official game too? It's not balls or guts, it's idiocy! As if people wouldn't notice. :/ Well I must say, the bright side is good, but I would absolutely hate it if somebody did that to me. Of course, I much prefer yours even if I didn't know it was a copy (which would be impossible).

  16. Anonymous1:30 AM

    Man, stuff like this really makes my blood boil.

    It makes you wonder how much more of the game was ripped off too.

    But what can you do?

  17. Ive had art of mine used without permission but it seems ungodly to spite someone for doing so. We are all children and this universe is Just. So really its all for everyone to learn from. There is a lesson here for you too you know. And its not a lesson about how to protect what you have more. I think someone who is truly abundant finds himself providing for more than himself naturally. It is natural to look at this negatively but there is another voice beyond that one waiting for you to stop and listen. And it is saying that nothing is wrong in this moment.

    Just thought I would share my perspective. You have some great work!

  18. that weird I do think they have some amazing talents do do it on their own but why do they have to copy someone else's and modify it..

    well better luck next time because I guess a lot of people like them are just around the corner.

  19. I like the illustration of green Grandma, is creepy, but also adorable

    haha oh yeah great work Sam

    see ya!!

  20. Well ,I'm very surprised when I saw this Sam ,
    , I remember that I used this same work of yours , for to do any similar , but with Emy whitehouse as main character.
    .But I only wanted to learn with your knowledge.
    Never to make money with that , if I were you I would sue them.

    I apologize for using your art

    This is that image: (I was very stupid,sorry , I hope you forgive me Sam)


  21. Sounds like I am in the minority here but I would be flattered. Feels like the thrust of your painting is the wonky old face and he changed that a lot. The things a little too ballpark but I wouldn't be bothered.

  22. This has got to be the weirdest damn thing I have ever seen.
    I would be sending an email to that game company asking for that artists pay check.

  23. I'd personally find the whole situation a bit unsettling. I still don't think it's right to take work like that even with some altercations. How did you find out? It's also very possible that the said person follows your blog so hopefully there's some sort of conscience there.

  24. I suppose there is the possibility that it's a tip of the hat to you. Maybe the artist didn't so much rip off your work as want to give a little minor honoring of your work.

    I'm probably being idealistic, but it's another way of looking at it.

  25. Intellectual property is a tough knot. When something you have conceived is lifted and used by someone else, it's a personal thing. Like they stole your toothbrush or your underwear. But worse, really. I've found fan fiction based on my Only Alien on the Planet, and really of the other books, too - some little fourteen year old using my characters as finger puppets, putting words in their mouths they would not use and having them do things I expressly would avoid. I have threatened with the law - but it's really not so easy to use.

    Julie Young had her Nursery Manual illustrations lifted by some woman in the same valley - the woman had called the church office, wondering if she could use the art for the basis of fabric animal toys - and was told by a secretary that "it should be fine," even though the copyright was published on every page. So the woman went on to make the animals and sell them - and then to publish PATTERNS that were nothing more than the line art with seam lines.

    Those illustrations were Julie's lexicon - like part of her name, her signature. And it's against the law to sign someone else's name without power of attorney. But the courts did nothing about the theft. I accused the woman of something tantamount to rape. She was offended. If the shoe had been on the other foot, she'd have been livid, without doubt.

    At first, I didn't see a huge resemblance between your portrait and the knock-off. After all, your use of highlights and your propensity to grotesquize characters (PLEASE never do a caricature of me - and I'm getting to be EXACTLY that age) is so markedly yours - and the style is commanding.

    then I saw the lace neck of the dress. Then realized the hair was exactly the same, down to the left hand swirl, and even the unevenness of the heavy eyes. It's just too obvious to be believed. What, the guy couldn't do his own hair?

    Maybe the person was doing a fond quote? But from what I understand, all you have to do is change three things in a design to have it legally classified as original - I heard that from an intellectual property attorney.

    But I would call the company. Chances are it's run by fourteen year olds, but hey - maybe there's a grown up in the office somewhere. But I would. Because there's just too much in this world that slides by.

    My only conclusion is this: when you use any kind of public voice, this happens. You can kick against the pricks and maybe get an apology or free copy of the game out of it, or you can let it go and breathe right.

    Spiritually speaking: forgiveness is not about the other guy. It's about you grinding your teeth as you sleep at night. Tell God about it and that you're really really mad. And ask for judgement--but only if you're sure nobody would be doing the same, angry at you (justified or not).

    It stinks. It's offensive. It makes me want to punch somebody. But it is what it is. I'd call the company, raise hell, then drop it in my own mind. Survival. Your kids are way more important in your life. Wash your head out with them.

  26. I would not be as forgiving as you.

    I would blatantly call this art theft, though there isn't anything you can really do now...

    If the guy showed up on DA, people would rip him apart if he got exposed.

    But yeah... not cool.

  27. This is really lame - I've worked for Hasbro and other game companies and this actually could have been an art director's decision. I've been asked by more than one art director to do this kind of hack job in the past. They get a vision from looking at good illustration and can't let go - so they tell the illustrator what they want and provide the reference. The illustrator then has a moral dilemma....or it could have been that the illustrator just aped you guys - either way it's slimy.

  28. I feel bad for you not for them, i'd be angry bcause it is still art theft ^^°

  29. Definitely looks like theft to me...what's interesting is it looks like they're a 2 person company. It's easier for me to imagine this happening on a larger team, but if it was really just one guy doing all the art for the project... like if the game is such a personal work why would you ever even consider doing something like that.

    Or maybe they outsourced some stuff, who knows. Crazy though.

  30. LizzieK7:03 PM

    I have posted a few photos showing how the pictures overlay. Even the bottles on the shelves match up.


  31. Anonymous10:11 AM

    The faces look like something from Alawar's "Snarkbusters" game series superimposed on your bodies. And much of the game, as far as the scenery goes, looks like a greener, prettier "Machinarium". In a way that was nice, since it felt "familiar".

    Colibri has created an awesome game, but the artist has borrowed from many sources, not just yours. Hopefully they will net enough profits from it to hire a new artist for the next one.

    I expect their art was outsourced, as is commonly done in games. If they were not paying an artist enough, who is to say that they didn't liberally borrow in order to make it worth their paycheck?

    I think if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then you have been complimented.

  32. I am amazed how you explain things like these in great details, amazing job Sam. It made me understand the seemingly unseen operation within all artist in the process of their creation.

  33. That makes me mad. They really took great artists steal to heart!

    Keep it up, we all know who is the true artist here.

    Sheesh, scummy people!

  34. Even the bottles on the backround are the same! lol

  35. Anonymous1:01 AM

    I've seen this used a few times and think it's incredibly good and flattering to see work you've done used somewhere else. You said yourself that the best artists steal. Look at the creativity in what this guy in using things that people might be able to reference in a setting where they feel those are familiar.

    I almost get the impression you're under the belief the artist is out to get you, not do what true artists do, borrow. No matter the likeness, what's the issue? Honestly, what's the issue? Because of this game, you can be known as the referenced artist. You can capitalize on this opportunity. If you don't want to, this person did and if you want to, well now you have a chance to created specifically by the popularizing of your work.

    Even if this somehow harmed you, which I have absolutely no reason to believe, it wouldn't matter because you honestly can't monopolize an idea. I can erect a building exactly the same as another building in a game, I can create a mock image of the United States. Is US government going to tell me I'm infringing their copyright to the shape and look of the US? No, probably not. Is a map maker going to harass you about it? In this day and age, I don't know.

    It's the very supposed bias that we have to draw a line that causes all of these issues. Sure, it's the right thing to do to get permission, but why? Why do you have to? I do not believe you or anyone can give me a well-reasoned or adequate answer to this question. The answer is that there is no line; the rest is arbitrary babble.

    I just have to say this, the only place I would advocate getting any sort of permission is using the original work in its original form modified in absolutely no way but size. This doesn't mean permission is required, only obligatorily noted. In no occasion would you ask for permission from an artist to doodle what that artist drew in the same way you wouldn't ask permission from someone to steal the very concept of their design. You don't own concepts, you only own that very specific work.

    In the real world, if you don't want something copied, you have two choices. Either one, don't make it, or two don't show it to anyone if you do make it. It's that simple.

  36. Anonymous: You should probably read my other posts on the subject before you condemn my attitudes about using others' artwork. That said, your argument is like a bucket full of holes. Copyrights and patents are the creative equivalent of laws that protect your home from people that might want to squat there when you're on vacation, or people who illegally develop land you own but are not using. It doesn't matter how much they clean up your toilets when they're done with them, it is your right to decide whether or not they use them, especially so if they make money by renting out your bathrooms for public use.

    Yes, artists inspire each other, and that is not stealing. Like I said, read my other posts. But to argue that there is no line to cross is just silly and shows a great deal of ignorance about the rule of law and how civilized society is maintained.

  37. Dadly as it it's in the casual game industry and "art" nowadays itself, there are loads of people stealing repainting everything that it's at hand, it's quite sad and it always fill me with madness. i actually Have coworkers doing this being encouraged by my boss which is totally lame because some of us do break our asses learning and doing stuff from scratch. In you place, I would totally go after their asses not only to make a statement for me but for everyone that thinks stealing has no consecuences

  38. Anonymous5:53 AM

    I posted a link to this page on Colibri's facebook page. They deleted it within a few seconds. Maybe they should give a little more credit to their influences instead of just shamelessly ripping them off.


  39. Recently, I discovered the plagiarism running rampant in the art of a fairly well known artist, Cris Ortega. This is a case where legal action should be taken. Check out the site:


    Another site devoted to uncovering plagiarism:


  40. God. I'm sorry to hear about that. I purchased and played the game when it was released and marveled at their artwork. I was a big fan of Machinarium, and that being a big influence on the Tiny Bang Story artists was what won me over.
    My husband had recently brought this article to my attention, and I think you've handled it like a real gentleman. I would've contacted the company, directors, and artists immediately. It is good to be inspired, but not to directly copy someone else's art (and to sell it!). I hope this doesn't happen to you again.

  41. Hello there.
    Just wanted to know, have you contacted the game devs about this or opened a discussion on Steam - Game HUB?


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