Discussion: Using reference effectively and responsibly

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  1. #1
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    Question Discussion: Using reference effectively and responsibly

    I thought it would be a good idea to open up a thread to discussing this topic here so we can leave the finally finished section to actual artwork and criticism.

    Don't tell someone off for expressing their opinion here. This is a serious issue that deserves some thought.


    What should the role of reference be in original artwork and concepts?

    What qualifies as valid reference material?

    How can reference be incorperated ethically into original artwork?

    When does a peice of art cross the line of "referencing" another artist's work and "plagerizing" it.

    play nicely, now....

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  3. #2
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    For direct image referencing... there's a line that can be easily crossed. If your directly referencing an image just for study and fun, it's hard to yell at someone. Yet many times artists will directly reference something, put it on the forum and not even state they used reference. If you don't state you used direct reference your basically lying to everyone... i find that distasteful.

    Although, I do you CAN add stylization to a referenced image-Using the image as the back bone for your creativity.

    It's a touchy subject...

    Not always easy to say what is right or wrong.


    Also refereeing another artist's work... i find annoying... unless say it's a popular piece of art and your doing... like a "remix" for lack of better terminology. I've seen many artists copy Joe mad's work and try to pass it off as legit original work.. and that seriously infuriates me.

    I'm guessing this topic was made because of Carlo's work referring another artists work for his own piece. I'm honestly not sure what i think about this. He obviously has skill... but needs to tap other sources for some of his 'power'. I think i would appreciate his art much more if he did do this... I have much more respect for someone that toils with their faults instead of taking the easy route.

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  4. #3
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    Good idea. Well I'm just going to repost my question from carlo's thread since after 160 responses it will probably be overlooked and I really would like a answer from one of the administrators or any of the professional concept artists floating around.

    Anyway I am curious, It's ok to reference other concepts as long as the end result is unrecognizable from the original? If I were a concept artist looking for work in gaming and I referenced a mech design or some art that Manley or Feng or any of the other big names around here did and a potential employer saw and recognized where I got some of my designs from, How would that effect my chances of getting the job?

    It seems like two schools of thought because another one of your founding members, James Zhang said this awhile back

    "Pay Attention to detail and costume. Pose is nice, but remember that design is most important. Be original. Do not use existing designs from ANYWHERE. Chances are...employers will recognize it. On a design you are particularly proud of, show the design from start to finish. Sketches, finals, colors, close ups, references, details, equipment, etc... "

    I'm all for inspiration but I'd hate for somebody to look at my work and say this reminds me of.... Or this looks just like...

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  5. #4
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    I use reference for inspiration mostly. Just to get me into a mode of thinking, like putting on music. If I want to draw a car, I'll flip through some car books, make a sketch here and there, but its reaelly just to get my synapses firing in a different order.

    "They were born, they grew up in the gutters, they went to work at twelve, they passed through a brief blossoming period of beauty and sexual desire, they married at twenty, they were middle-aged at thirty, they died, for the most part, at sixty. Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and, above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds."

    Sketchbook
    Alex Jones
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  6. #5
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    When it comes to referencing other artists, its a lot more effective to look beyond any one of their drawings/paintings/sculptures and try to understand their thinking process. How do they depict certain kinds of form in space, why do they use the details they use, and why do they choose a particular method in creating their art? If you can start to figure this stuff out, then a little piece of that artist lives in you (cue the smarmy music), then when you sit down to do a new piece of art, you can think "What would so-and-so's approach be?"

    In response Eric's question, it all depends on what you do with that direct reference. If it seems like its just a small part of one of the pieces in your portfolio, (as in Carlo's case) and it looks like you know what you're doing otherwise, they might overlook it. However, they will look at the rest of your work with skepticism. How are they to know whether or not the rest of your work is legit? For all they know, everything else could be stolen from pieces they themselves haven't seen yet. Its pretty apparent when someone has skill or not. A faker might be able to pull one over on the viewer a few times, but eventually someone will notice the source material or the inconsistencey in their work.

    As far as James' quote, I'd agree with him for the most part, except in the case of historical or real-world reference. I'm sure he had to incorperate a lot of historical costume reference into his concepts for "Gladius". Those kind of connections are the kind you WANT the viewer to make. For instance, if you're working on a space fighter thats designed to take out slower moving surface targets, you might want to visually reference an A-10 Warthog because they are similar in purpose. I mean. look at the (original) Star Wars movies. Part of what made them so easy to relate to was that the designs looked a lot like their modern day counterparts. THe storm troopers carry modified WW2 sub-machine guns, Their helmets resemble nazi helmets, etc.

    so if you gotta steal from somewhere, steal from real life. No ones gonna bust on you because the head of your robot resembles the can-opener motor form their "obscure small appliance parts" handbook.

    A great resource for real world tech reference is model kit catalogues. No where else will you find a wider variety of vehicles and stuff in the same place. And the photos of them are great because showing the detail is what sells the kits.


    I have much more respect for someone that toils with their faults instead of taking the easy route.
    nicely put, Davi.


    -Sean

    BTW, where did you get this quote from James, Erik?

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  7. #6
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    I saw Carlo's sexy babe, was completely amazed by it, and then came back to see the huge debate.

    I think most of the points people brought up have to be applied depending on the situation.

    My own opinion being that I really don't think Carlo did any bad, at ALL. I do agree that he obviously borrowed from a previous design, and that he could've posted the reference. But the picture is "fly" on it's own merits.

    Given that this was a "fun drawing" to begin with, him posting that small bit of arm he reference would have only taken up more bandwidth, and added little for me personally.

    I also think that some people were right when they pointed out a bit of player hating. Carlo borrowed the design of a bit an arm for a non professional piece that he reinterpreted and rendered in his own stlye.

    And I think some people were right in pointing out that depending on the person borrowing and the source that's borrowed from, everyone's reactions are totally different. And that's as it should be; that's life. That's why we have judgement skills.

    A professional of Carlos' level has nothing to prove. He's just sharing some of his hard work with everyone here. A noob like myself, has a lot to prove; people don't know my skill level, so any unreferenced "borrowing" will seed doubts in my ability.

    If you were allowed to walk through Carlos's studio and flip through all of his pictures and sketches, would you expect him to stop and and explain and provide reference everytime you came across a picture he borrowed or copied any small element from somewhere else.

    I'm glad he put the picture on the board. And I'm glad someone pointed out that he borrowed the arm from another design. Carlo didn't deny it. I was impressed how well he incorporated the design into the rest of the arm that he created!

    I'm sure some people here know, "Hey Joe" by Jimi Hendrix, and probably slightly fewer know "Hey Joe" by the Birds, or Byrds, or whatever. The Birds wrote the song. Performing the song made Jimi famous. He didn't write the lyrics and he didn't write the notes, but he performed it in a way that made it HIS song after that. Some people can do that with music. And some people can do that with art. Just my opinion.

    P.S
    I think Coro was pissed with some peoples' belief that "any" sort of copying is a sin, even though it's a time honored tradition encouraged and practiced by most "great" artists. Whereas some of the borrowing done by others who've been "caught" here at ConceptArt has just been plain old stealing, with no doubts as far as intentions;and few skills as far as execution. Putting Carlo's piece in with that group of people is just plain stupid. And in that I can understand Coro's initial reaction to this debate.

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  8. #7
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    I'll jump in here, just to clarify that tracing someone else's work isn't referencing, it's just that: tracing. And that's wrong. When I see tracing, the work's value plummets. I prefer substance over style, and originality is the paramount goal.

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  9. #8
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    Arrow Sean you beat me to it...

    Originally posted by chukw
    originality is the paramount goal.
    Chuk, That is beautiful.

    And It is very tangible. Difficult, but Tangible.

    -Joshua

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  10. #9
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    I have a question. Not an accusation please, because I understand Carlo's piece was just done for fun. But lets say that design was for a game/anime. Is there a legal danger if an actual production model were based off of it? I guess what I'm asking is, I understand where the cut off is in coping 2d art, but where is the line when it comes to similarity in design? How much does it have to look like a Porshe before Porshe can take you to court?


    Also, I'd like to point out that regardless of how you feel about declaring/posting your reference, if no mention of it is made and someone else produces your reference in the same thread, it almost automatically puts you in a bad light even if no wrong was meant. I've never seen it happen where it hasn't started some huge debate/witch hunt. So I think it's always in your best interests to mention when you use reference, especially if that reference is publicly available.

    But yeah, I think Carlo puts us in a bind. I think if a lesser artist had done what he did, we would have totally torched him mercilessly. But because we were all sitting there thinking "this is, without a doubt, the most awesomest thing of all ever," we are all a bit confused. We all know copying is bad, but what happens when you copy something and then make it 10,000 times cooler than the thing you copied it from? I mean, clearly the lesson here is "cover your tracks better, foo!" but that doesn't answer the question.

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  11. #10
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    What an great thread. So much different debate by one piece. After reading almost all of it, the lesson I learned and came away with is that it pays to be awesome. If you are an amateur or beginner, pay your respect, if you are a pro, you don't need to justify a damn thing, just keep making great art. Just good incentive to get as good as Carlo.

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  12. #11
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    I've actually heard from a well known professional artist that they often use pieces from other artists in their work for gaming companies, just to flush out ideas.... i understand why they would do this.. could be easy to quickly copy paste some images together just to get the show on the road... but it doesn't seem like something i would personally do.

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  13. #12
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    It doesn't seem like something you would do, BUT, what if you had a deadline? Time i'm guessing is the driving force for that situation.

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  14. #13
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    also, the CONTEXT of the piece in dispute is another thing to consider...
    i mentioned this in the other thread too, but this was a FUN piece, a class demo that he decided to finish and share with us as just that: a fun piece of artwork that had no baring on anything else.
    now, if he had come on here saying: hey! look at my work, please hire me! then sure...rip him a new one...but if youre just having fun with a design to share among peers...i dont see the problem.
    the fact that he made the design BETTER than the original (IMHO) shows hes not a fuckin hack...the boys got some serious talent.
    i do believe its wrong to rip other peoples work for use in your own personal gain...but to share art and designs among friends and peers is totaly different ..again, IMHO.

    thats about all i have to say..

    peace.

    -------
    I wont fail now
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  15. #14
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    Davi,

    I totally agree with you as far as my own work is concerned. I seldom copy. I don't even like copying a style. For me it takes the fun out of things.

    But I think that on a professional level, you're dealing with more than just art. you're dealing with vision. And if you have a vision you want to portray, and for example, you want a retro "Metropolis" future type look:

    You could go and dig up all of the images of metropolis that you can find; photo's illustrations and movie stills. And from those you could create some great concepts, keeping close to your original idea.

    Or,

    You could reference Everything you know about Metropolis, and then put it all away, making sure you don't bite too strongly off of any picture or design, and then get to task trying to design "Metropolis"-like stuff without infringing upon the creativite turf of anything Metropolis.

    the latter would take much longer, and might skew from the vision or just become a weak shadow of the vision.

    With the former, you can take the inspiration and improve upon it and make it better, adding some modern ideas to the old, smoothing some edges here and there, and putting in some modern technology. And the whole concept might become new again; without copying; but definitely some borrowing and inspiring.

    Given equal artists, the one who "cheated" might come out looking a lot better, and more well researched.

    Can you think of any great creative franchise that hasn't been accused of, or openly admitted to, borrowing from somewhere else. Two come to mind-Star Wars, borrowed and inspired. and the Matrix, admittedly inspired by Ghost in Shell.

    I'm not advocating or even saying I like this practice; but I think it's important to realize that the genius behind art is the creativity along with the execution. And lot of creativity is taking and responding to the world around you.

    And I think that looking at another artist's work, and realizing it has the "right feel or approach" for a certain project is an important ability. Using it in meeting to get your point across I think is also cool. Especially if it's across disciplines ie. using fashion designs in gaming, or taking from car design and putting it into fine art.. Things get much more dubious when the "borrowing" is within the same field. But that does happen, and sometimes it's done well, and sometimes it's done in bad taste.

    But I think it's importat to realize that as artists we are paid to produce the "right" image. And sometimes if that "right" image is inspired by another artist I think that you're doing your job, as long as you finish with a great piece of original artwork-not copied.

    And no matter how much you try to be original, you're probably doing something that's been done a million times already, and you just don't know it. Just as well, make great art, don't step on any toes in the process and I think things will be cool.

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  16. #15
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    McNallyism,

    Thanks for answering. I pulled that quote from an entire thread that Manley and James Z had answered in response to portfolio questions. James gave a long list of do's and don'ts for preparing a concept design portfoilo. Manley chimed in with a few things he likes to see as well. This was before the entire forum crashed back in the summer of 2002 and we lost everything. Glad I saved it. I have quotes from alot of people just in case it comes in handy.

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  17. #16
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    I've probably said this before but I'll say it again; There's nothing wrong with being inspired by someone elses work in order to expand you perception of visual possibility. Let's face it, if this didn't hapen no one here would be designing mechs, aliens, vampires, or spaceships or any type of reocurring themes like those at all. Why? because they're revolutionary ideas someone had to initially be responsible for. The problem is one one ceases to create and design, but instead starts to merely arrange. Unfortunately I get a sense of this happening a lot, not only from ametuer artists but in the mainestream media. When one idea proves to be proffitable, dozens of others try to jump on the bandwagon and leech of the originals success (poke'mon begat digi'mon begat chinpoko'mon). Just look at the whole superhero mythology. Because of this, I've totally lost all respect for that entire genre because lately it's been mostly filled with people that do nothing but arrange from preselected attributes in order to get a combination that sells for a little while. It's the artistic equevelent to all of the reality TV and American Idol clones.

    Inspiration is totally different. Inspiration can really help you articulate your own ideas by seeing a partial realization. I believe Jason Manley put it perfectly when he said it's okay to draw inspiration from something as long as the end result is uniquely yours in it's own right. It should be a simple conduit for your own ideas to manifest themselves through. I will openly and unashamedly say that I'm inspired greatly by artists such as Giger, Barlowe and Tatopoulos and people here such as El Coro, Dodowa, Hawkprey, Android and Feng. If it wasn't for these artists I wouldn't be in the place I am today as they showed me all new asthetic possibilities that I may have not considered before. If their influence showed up in my own ideas I'd hope it'd serve as tribute to them as after having been made aware of new possibilities, my own ideas start to surface and become a new monster and focal element in their own right. I'd wager that the same can be said about them too. I know giger is inspired by artists such as francis bacon and some other flemish painters and he probably wouldn't be where he is today if he had not been made aware of their work. That's just one example. I'm sure the others have their own accounts of inspration as well. Hopefully I'm making sense.

    As an added note to an already lengthy post, I think we ought to give poor Carlo a break and leave him out this. We've estabolished that he's an incredably tallented artist and that he barrowed an incredably simple and minor element of another design JUST FOR HIS OWN AMUSEMENT mind you. No one's saying anything new regarding this so just give it a rest and let him be.

    That's my 2... or 5 cents.
    -Noel

    Last edited by N D Hill; February 25th, 2004 at 02:11 PM.
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  18. #17
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    eric--could you post the conversation on portfolio stuff so we can all benefit?

    ty

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  19. #18
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    prime rule is : never use references

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  20. #19
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    TAPS for the creative mind.

    I dont get around these boards that much these days, and I saw the mechgirl pic,...even defended its playfull nude style, Im still reading more of others opinions as I write this.

    I know that what Im about to say will probably get me shot up and crucified,..or banned,.. I dont know,... but I have ask these questions..

    When I saw that the bottom half of the arm was borrowed, my hart sunk to my feet,(the artist was one of my heros)... I know to some its not a big deal its just for fun,its just a small part and he is fully able to design what ever he needs if he realy wanted to,...So WHY didnt he?

    hears what bugs me about the small part in question,...

    (1)Its a pretty clear swipe, almost looks traced? I mean is it were at a different angle, or if it were a comon hand gun, there wouldnt be question, but its a unique design in that VERY angle, at that VERY perspective!?

    (2)Why?...why would a artist of this calibur (appears to be very talented).. do this? and not mention his ref source?....unless he does it all the time?...forgot?..or, doesnt care?.

    (3)Will the rest of this picture (head/body/shoulders) surface as small but identical parts of some other artists work? or photo?

    (4) will this open the door to new artist using a spinefinger foot here, and a J. Manley body there with a feng back ground? most of us on these boards all rip on clip art, how far from clip art is this?

    (5)I personaly have never done something like this, should I be? is this something all you professionals do?

    (6) IS it ok to use some one elses face or (arm) down to the smallest detail, "IF" you add some of you own art to it, or if you draw better then the artist you are ripping off...

    I mean thats what bugs me the most, if this was ANYONE,.. ANYONE else he would have burned hard! for not stating a ref, maybe been banned? but instead was complimented on how clever he was???????!..what is that all about!.. is it because the dude he copied from isnt a major player on these forums?.

    I mean this isnt as "extreame" as the whole Rob Liefeld incedent, but it realy makes one think.

    Humans are creatures of habit, .... wich is a scary thought,

    I can stomach a "lens flare" about as much as I could stomach seeing recycled art being accepted by a comunity of "creative" peoples. and writing it off because the artist is popular? sounds like a crappy "class system" enviroment.

    or maybe I am wrong...and over reacting,..IF,.. this is something most of you profesionals DO? and deam acceptable, then sadly my opinion of the professional art industry has dropped as well...

    I hope someone can convince me this isnt the case...

    10110011cogwitch101101110
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  21. #20
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    Noose,

    I highly doubt you'll get the answers to your questions from pro concept artists or any of the administrators on this forum. McNallyism answered my question for the most part. I don't want ayone looking at my stuff with skepticism. What's the point of doing something for fun and not reference responsibly if you may in time want to add it to your portfolio?

    Not using reference responsibly is praised by all including the mods and administrators if you are another pro concept guy.

    I recall last year someone did paint overs of a couple of a administrators old works. Possibly for fun or practice but he got ripped a new ass. This obviously is not the case if you are a pro. So the lesson I've learned from seeing pro work on this board is that if it looks too familar to something that has been seen before we should all ignore that fact, say nothing, keep our mouths shut and go draw. If you don't have sugar coated lovin to give for pro work, your reply sadly is not needed. That should be the new rule for people who want to register on this forum.

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  22. #21
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    Eric- I have to say I agree thats what it looks like to an outsider, in my "twisted" view I would have expected the pro to get torn a new ass, because he should know better, and the little newbie guy should have been advised he did a no no.

    My wife made an interesting point that I laughed at,.. at first, then thought later makes a lot more sence now,... she said "isnt it less about being an artist, and more about convinsing others that you are one" She was refering to when you have a big enough name in music or art, people dont question your product or method, they just think it all great no matter what it sound or looks like,..

    Im sure that its not very often, that a pro would resort to copying, and most that do,.. do it out of homage to the artist they copy, of course they ALWAYS state they are doing it, and give the name of the artist that they are copying,.out of respect.

    10110011cogwitch101101110
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