For those of you who’ve missed the drama, I’ll try to bring you up to date. Last week, we posted the latest spot in Sony’s Bravia campaign. The project was created by Passion Pictures for Fallon, the ad agency who’s handled the previous two high-profile Bravia spots, “Balls” and “Paint.”
I think everyone will agree that it’s a fantastic spot, and that Passion did a great job bringing the whole thing to life. The problem is that the concept for the spot looks strikingly familiar to some bunny-inspired work by design and illustration team Kozyndan. (See a side-by-side comparison here.)
It didn’t take long for more mainstream outlets like Gizmodo and BoingBoing to catch the story and start slamming people left and right, namely Passion Pictures and Sony. (Fallon somehow escaped most of the blasting.)
An official joint response from Sony, Fallon and Passion Pictures was posted on the Guardian website:
“Sony would like to stress that the advert conception, creative and final animation is not based on any pre-existing artwork,” states an excerpt from the official statement. “Sony Europe, its agency Fallon, production company Gorgeous, and animation company Passion Pictures, assert that the wave, whale and bunnies were arrived at without reference to these artists.
“In the original script, the rabbits were one of many creatures to cavort around a cityscape. In fact, the location was only finalised shortly before the shoot”.
Some people, including Kozyndan themselves, point to the fact that Passion Pictures had requested work samples from Kozyndan about a year prior to this Bravia spot. This has raised suspicions that maybe Passion kept this work on tap and referenced it to create the Play-doh bunny concept.
While no one can claim for certain what really happened (except maybe a few people at Passion and Fallon), the design community has by and large taken the opportunity to bash the living hell out of Passion and Fallon for what is being called a blatant “rip-off.” I’ve received several angry emails on the subject and read many impassioned posts on other sites skewering the parties involved with varying levels of vitriol. The degree of anger in these responses is directly proportionate, I’m guessing, to those persons’ personal experiences with similar situations.
Obviously the Kozyndan work and the Bravia spot seem to have grown from a similar conceptual seed. Whether or not that seed was planted by the same hand or if the deviations caused by its growth into a full-blown spot are weak enough to justify the use of the term “rip-off” is, I suppose, the real cause of debate.
An Issue of Semantics?
There is no doubt that ripping is a problem in this industry. I’ve seen and heard well-documented examples of agencies and clients calling for pitches only to take the best idea and then outsource it to India. That kind of myopic thinking is only hurting the clients in the long run. By undermining the creative efforts of quality studios, they are financially crippling those studios’ abilities to continue pitching great ideas.
And that hurts everyone. Boutique studios can only roll the dice on ballsy pitches every now and then. When it works, the results can be ground-breaking and innovative, the kind of stuff we love posting on Motionographer partially because it’s come out of left field from a relatively unknown upstart. But when agencies and clients poach ideas from these studios it discourages them from trying so hard next time. A kind of general cynicism starts to blanket the industry, muffling what might be exciting new voices and ideas.
But the term “rip-off” is thrown about way too much. Troll through some of the comments from the last three years of Motionographer and you’ll find countless accusations that Company A ripped off Freelancer B or that Freelancer B ripped off Illustrator C. In most cases, there are similarities between the work, but correlation isn’t grounds for causation. Just because two works look alike doesn’t mean that they sprang from the same source.
Often times, two projects are merely tapping into the same cultural zeitgeist, employing trends that no single person can claim credit for creating. It’s a common misconception that the first person who does something is the “inventor” of that trend. Not until the idea has been picked up and repeated a few hundred times does it become a trend. Thus, the act of reproduction and emulation is as crucial to authorship as the original instance of the idea.
It is our egos that convince us otherwise. It is our egos that tell us we have original ideas that somehow pop into being within our own private creative vacuums. That is, of course, complete nonsense. Almost every act of originality is, in fact, a novel configuration of older “original” ideas.
I’m not trying to say there’s no such thing as creativity. I’m not trying to reduce this down to simplistic terms at all. Quite the opposite. I’m arguing that the complexity of the creative process is so vast and vague that to point confidently at something and proclaim “RIP OFF!” is almost always an intensely naive act.
I’m not defending Passion or Fallon or Sony. Nor am I defending Kozyndan. I’m asking us all to take a deep breath and consider for a moment the nature of what we do. It is inherently tangled and messy, leaning all every imaginable discipline and every source of inspiration. That’s part of its beauty.