Art and Law
Last year, we found ourselves in a bittersweet project love triangle involving artistic integrity, legal obligations, and the dreaded scope-creep! We were granted lift-off on a project for which any green-blooded science fiction aficionado would give his right lightsaber hand: develop a science fiction timeline of robots and cyborgs throughout film & TV history. Our inner children were soaring as high as the Cloud City of Bespin at the prospect of designing for characters like Darth Vader, Neo, Robocop, and The Six Million Dollar man, just to name a few!
Those stories and characters hold an intangible nostalgic significance for our team, so ensuring that they were properly represented was our top priority. However, when designing for projects that involve pop-culture references, one of the biggest challenges is use of imagery. Images derived from film and/or television have very specific rules for use. Of course, you have to be very careful regarding what’s legally allowed, even when interpreting the characters’ likenesses through illustration; failure to do so can get the client and/or the agency in hot water.
We spent days researching specifically what would be acceptable for “fair use” of the characters’ likenesses. We had a timeline tighter than C-3PO’s gaskets and our budget didn’t allow for purchasing rights from dozens of movie studios, so sourcing imagery from the Internet was extremely tempting. We resisted the pull of the Dark Side because we knew that using imagery sourced directly from the movies or TV shows is not allowed without attaining explicit permission from the studios that produced them (even if it says it’s okay in your Google search, don’t believe it). Our timeline would not accommodate the months or even years it could require to get those permissions, so a photography-based design was off the table.
Luckily, we have a dynamite illustrator who was able to create stunning portrait-style illustrations of our characters in their iconic scene settings. Our illustration was based on the fair use allowance that these were artistic interpretations of the characters and not depictions derived exactly from their film or television sources. We ended up not pursuing this direction, as the legal department feared the image was good, just… TOO GOOD… It appeared too photo-real and added too much risk into the equation.
Our winning approach presented these characters as conceptual blue-print schematics. We dressed them not only as artistic sketches, but also nodded to their status as sci-fi engineering marvels. Focusing on Luke Skywalker’s hand or Robocop’s leg as a scientific diagram protected it from the challenging nuances of “fair use” while upholding each piece as an influential pop-culture musing. Win-win-win.
We were privileged to work with the Smithsonian Channel on the promotion of “The Incredible Bionic Man”. This in-depth documentary chronicled the construction of a synthetic human made of the world’s most advanced medical prostheses and cutting-edge technology. We wanted to help make the project more relatable to average viewers, so we created a content-rich interactive timeline of famous science fiction characters and medical advances from the past century. Learn more about the project in our portfolio.
Rise of the Robots: A Sci-Fi History of Mechanical Men & Hybrid Humans features more than 70 entries, many of them accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations. Although it’s available online, Rise of the Robots was designed as a touch-screen exhibit that premiered at the 2013 New York Comic Con. Much to Neo-Pangea’s delight, Rise of the Robots is now an interactive exhibit in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.