Animusings

Thoughts on storytelling and the world of animation. Caution! SPOILERS!

Blog Post #12 – Stealing Animation

The world of animation seems to have slightly different ideas about copyright and property than would be found in books and papers. Copying other animations and animated ideas was quite common, and expected.  I’d like to think that my feeling of OMG HOW COULD THEY is partly due to my college essay writing experiences and the various ‘plagiarize and die, got it?’ forms I’ve had to fill out at every school.

But animation in the early 20th century was brand new and no one really had a set formula for success.  They mainly knew what was previously popular, and figured copying it would increase their chance of success.  The topic pops up from time to time in Leonard Maltin’s book, “Of Mice and Magic, A History of American Animated Cartoons.”  Animation was fair game once it hit the theaters, where animators could see if certain things ‘clicked’ for an audience.  “We had no hesitation in adopting ideas from other people’s pictures.  if it worked for them, it would work for us,” said Chuck Jones (Maltin, 240).

One thing that really stands out in each chapter is that the Disney studios set the bar for high quality.  They hit the ground running, and kept up such a pace that everyone else lagged behind, no matter what they tried.  Disney studios were the Harvard of the animation world.  Any animator who learned and worked there could pretty much go and work wherever he wanted.  So, if a studio couldn’t attract enough Disney animators, they did the next best thing.   “Whenever a Disney cartoon was playing in a theater, we’d go in and pay just to see the cartoon and study it, see what we could steal in ideas and everything” Harry Love remembers (Maltin, 210-211).  No one saw a problem with this, and the audience probably didn’t know or didn’t care.  Animation techniques and plots were both ripe for the taking.   “You remember that scene in the Disney picture where Mickey Mouse did s0-and-so?” Jack Zander recalls Hugh Harman asking.  “I want EXACTLY the same thing”  (Maltin, 227).  Not just a similar idea, but a direct copy.
On the other hand, it’s hard to determine whether ideas and techniques were’ borrowed’ or animators simply moved from studio to studio without detailed tracking of each animator’s moves.  Animators were eager to work/study with the most innovative animators at the best studios, and many of them had their own special way of drawing that was recognizable.
Imagine an artist attempting this today!  I am a miniaturist, and belong to an online group of other miniaturists from around the world.  Disney memorabilia being so ingrained in our culture, naturally they wanted these things in one-inch scale to decorate their houses, and the topic popped up frequently in our discussions.  Sellers and manufacturers immediately warned “DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS!  Disney will come down on you HARD.”   If you wanted a pair of ubiquitous mouse ears to set in a dollhouse child’s bedroom or on a doll, you had best quietly make it yourself and not tell anyone.  If you were foolhardy enough to make enough to sell, you would certainly NOT call them by their right name on Etsy.  Disney is not shy about cease-and-desist orders!
Having seen the attitude of animators in the early days of animation, I can now begin to understand Disney’s actions.  They were so concerned that they lobbied hard for the Copyright Term Extension Act to try and prevent their still-in-use characters from entering the public domain.   The way the other studios proudly claimed to emulate Disney animations, I can’t say I blame them!

 

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12 thoughts on “Blog Post #12 – Stealing Animation

  1. cruiz89 on said:

    It’s crazy to think that in today’s world no one would dare copy another person’s work of art. Obviously times were different especially since animation was something new. As times change, animation became more popular, and the need increased. Money was being made for animators and of course money led them to cheat. Money also led them to create laws such as these so they could protect their earnings. I enjoyed reading your research on “stealing animation” and its a good reminder of how far we have come.

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  3. Kendra Prasad- Hist 389 on said:

    It is very interesting to see how the laws and norms have changed in about a hundred years. If animators outside of Disney did not plagiarize at all, they probably would not have received any considerable fame or success. Although Disney still rules the world of animation, it is nice that there are so many other types and companies out there today. Disney is probably so protective over their work today due to its past.

  4. Whenever I see a “homage” in a work of art, I try to figure out if it’s plagiarism or an actual homage. It’s hard to tell! It’s easier in written work than in other forms of art, like fashion or animation. Is it an influence? Or are they stealing? I guess it depends on how much it influences the overall production, or something.

    • elaineziman on said:

      We discussed that quite a bit in the Digital Past class. I think the main catch for it is ‘are they making money off of it?’

      • Legally, sure, but so much animation, and other art, is being put online for free now, that I feel like there should be other ways to definite originality and homage.

      • elaineziman on said:

        Do you mean ‘can’t tell if it’s Disney or someone else?’

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  6. I think this is rather common in all forms of art. There’s a very fine line between completely ripping something off and being inspired/influenced by it. It is interesting to think about the success that Disney had with their animation and how so many of the early ones were merely their adaptation of classics. Had Disney started now as opposed to then would they have had the same amounts of success?! It’s something to think about for sure.

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  8. Interesting that you bring this topic up, in my recent post I discussed the similarities between The Simpsons vs. Family Guy. Both animated series displayed similarities in their plots, jokes, satire, & cast of characters, it seems oddly weird that they were not in a sense related or “plagiarized”. The Simpsons have of course been around for quite a while so the culprit of who copied who is clearly Family Guy. However as you said before “We had no hesitation in adopting ideas from other people’s pictures. if it worked for them, it would work for us,” said Chuck Jones (Maltin, 240). Clearly the model for animation that The Simpsons set worked pretty well for the American Audiences, Family Guy was able to expand on this popularity and take their animation to a new level with expanded themes, and a wider audience with it being shown on more than 20 countries.

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