Many of you are no doubt familiar with the incredible artwork of "Dapper" Dan Schoening. A talented artist who has been featured on Destructoid before. Well, poor Dan has been dissed pretty hard recently, by the franchise he loves the most: Ghostbusters, or more specifically, by Red Fly Studios, the makers of the PS2/Wii version of the recently release Ghostbusters: The Video Game.
Sit down kids and I'll tell you a story...
You see, many moons ago Red Fly released some preliminary art and character models for their work on Ghostbusters:TVG. Well, when Dan saw that work he was understandably confused, as these character designs were quite clearly based on his well known and loved ghostbusters designs. So Dan did what any reasonable artist would have done, he contacted the developer to find out what was up.
It turns out Atari and Sierra had given Red Fly a pile of fan art culled from the web to give the developer a general idea of what they were looking for. Dan's work was amongst this pile, and Red Fly liked it a lot. And who wouldn't really? Dan's Ghostbusters art is considered by many Ghostheads to be the best of the best. Here's where things get sticky though. Red Fly, instead of developing their own stylized take on the characters, just copied Dan's work instead, with some minor tweaks here and there for the sake of appearances.
What Red Fly didn't expect was that the original artist would ever see their work, or that he would be savvy enough to call them out on it. Unfortunately for Red Fly, Dan is a professional animator, not just some kid with a tablet and a PC drawing pretty pictures on the weekends for fun. Dan makes his living as an artist. he knows his rights. So it was that Red Fly got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
This is a serious issue. The theft of art and ideas is the kind of thing that can sink a studio. This is an industry that trades a lot on integrity. A bad reputation or the appearance of impropriety can do serious damage to an independent like Red Fly. Faced with the possibility of their name being turned to mud, Red Fly offered Dan what he referred to as an "amicable settlement" which consisted of payment for the use of his work, and more importantly, a screen credit in the final game.
Artists trade on their names. You can't show a cheque to a prospective employer and say "This is for the work I did on Ghostbusters, please hire me." That's not how things work. An on screen credit though, that carries weight. To Dan, it was the most important part of the settlement. The acknowledgment of the influence his work had on the production. The ability to add it to his resume and portfolio. The possibility that others would see his name and seek him out.
The game is now released and sadly, Dan's name is no where to be found. This is really where our micro saga begins. Disappointed that his credit was forgotten after he was promised by the studio that stole his work and who would have claimed it as their own had they not been caught, Dan posted the following blog on his deviantart page:
"I have to get something off my chest. I want to be as professional as possible here, so I will not be specific regarding names or dates. Sometimes in life, you have to step up, and call individuals on their integrity.
As many already know, my art of the Ghostbusters looks similar to that of the new Wii/PS2 art. Some of you may also know a bit of the history behind the subversive nature on how the art came to be so alike.
I had mentioned before that this issue was resolved in an amicable manner. I also noted that it was confirmed that Sony and Sierra actually gave my art as a base to work off of, directly to the the developer. However, much to my disappointment this past Tuesday, the most important part of the deal was not upheld. I was 100% guaranteed an on screen credit in the game. Not seeing the credit in the game was a huge disappointment for me.
I like many of you, love the Ghostbusters mythos. The characters are a part of our culture, and many of us have grown up with them throughout the years. I put my heart and soul into the art I create. My full passion goes into all of the Ghostbusters art I do. For a game that in many ways is heavily influenced by my work, is it too much to ask for some acknowledgment?
There is no opportunity to add my name in now, as the game is out. So, consider this my on screen credit;
Special Thanks - Dan Schoening
P.S. Thank you all for the support and feedback on my recent poll. It may be of interest to note, the art that I juxtapose against "This Chick is Toast" is official Ghostbusters Wii art, and was done by the Lead Concept Artist on the game."
Simple, to the point, professional and gracious. Dan doesn't name names, he doesn't attack anyone. He never calls them out for the theft of his work. He expresses his disappointment over the situation and says quite plainly and rightly that sometimes you just have to stand up and question people on their integrity. As well he should, they stole his work and then they failed to deliver on the most important point of their "amicable settlement".
Word got around, as it often does on the internet. So it was that an article was written about the matter and it started to make some waves. Waves which eventually incited Mr.Dan Borth, CEO of Red Fly Studios to respond. Red Fly put up an apology to Dan on their Blog. A nice gesture and totally appropriate, if too little too late. But then Mr.Borth made a pretty spectacular blunder. He felt the ill advised need to "defend" himself in a written response to the article about Dan's dissing. Unfortunately for Mr.Borth, his rebuttal does himself and Red Fly considerably more harm than good. Here is Mr.Borth's repsonse:
My name is Dan Borth and I am the CEO of Red Fly Studio and I am the person that Dan's blog entry is aimed at.
First off I would like to defend the position here at the studio that we left Dan off the credits intentionally. That's not true.
Dan's blog entry is one that is not packed with facts so I share them with all of you before you scream that I and or our studio is just an awful terrible sort of people.
I don't really appreciate people questioning my integrity but to each his own.
When we were first approached to do Ghostbusters from Vivendi at the time they gave us a large group of concept art that we were to go through.
We had already decided on a stylish look for the game and there were many concepts and fan art pieces that we liked. Dan's was among those. We started working off the art work we liked and it wasn't until later that I was contacted by Dan himself. Being an artist myself I understood his position and also wanted to make things right - since no one informed us who created the concept pieces - etc. So we reached an agreement that included money and an on screen credit. At that point his work ceased to be fan art and became our property because we paid for it.
The months went by and Dan pinged me here and there - I got back to him when I could but not always promptly. He was very supportive and excited about the game - as were we.
Fast forward some crazy months and after crunching to get the game out Dan contacts me through LinkedIn with his on screen credit grievance. I didn't respond to him in time and he started posting these blog entries about how he was cheated and that we acted unprofessionally, and how I have no integrity - etc, etc.
Leaving me with little choice but to tell the other side at the very least to people in the industry or to whom might care about such matters.
I myself am an artist - or I used to be - and I understand the anger Dan is feeling. I don't think however, it is justified and attacking me or the studio in the press was and is a wrong way to handle things.
Back to the on screen credit...after Sony, Vivendi, Atari all got their credits we had few spaces for ourselves and the others who worked on the games with us - Zen Studios, War Drum studios, etc. Was Dan's name left off? Yes it was. Was it intentional? No it wasn't. Many, many people didn't make it and they worked many, many more hours on this game than Mr. Dan I can assure you. Does that make it right? No it doesn't. That's just how it played out.
I offered to put a blog entry up on our page to correct the matter and that wasn't good enough. Our concept artist also wanted to make an art book available on the blog only and include Dan. He has refused. So to call me out like that is not really fair. The fact is we paid him and his name was left off. We tried to fix it but he wanted to go public so here we are.
Despite how I completely disagree how Dan handled this - Dan is an incredible artist and a true talent.
I personally posted this on our blog -
http://devblog.redflystudio.com/2009/06/23/special-thanks-to-dan-schoening/ - which I told him we would do but he chose to vilify us publicly anyway. And of course all the game sites love a good story of how a big bad developer like us screwed the little guy. I would like to remind people that a large group of other creative people worked very hard on this game.
These are the facts guys."
Interesting how much longer his response is than Dan's blog. And notice how he goes out of his way to be personally affronted by Dan's comments. He uses words like Cheated and Vilify and attempts to paint a picture of Dan as being unreasonable and a whiner. He attacks Dan, calling his response "unprofessional" and making it sound like Dan had publicly lashed out at him in the main stream media. Maybe I missed a meeting, but I would hardly describe a personal blog on DeviantArt as "the media".
It doesn't take much to see that Mr.Borth is making a desperation play here. He's trying to turn things around on Dan, make Dan seem unreasonable, as if Red Fly bent over backwards to apologize to and accommodate him. But the truth is this: Red Fly and Mr.Borth are in a jam, the industry knows what they did now. How many Studios and Artists are going to want to work with a company that has shown through their actions that they are okay with stealing other peoples work? Integrity is key in this business, and theirs has just taken a big hit.
The classy thing to do would have been to post the apology on their blog and leave it at that. They might have made it out of this whole debacle with their reputation mostly in tact. Mr.Borth's ridiculous attack on the artist that he and his company took advantage of has undone all the good will and forgiveness that the apology might have garnered them. Hopefully this is a lesson learned though: Do not steal the work of other artists, it will bite you in the ass.
At least some good has come of this whole debacle though: Dan Schoening has now received considerably more recognition than he would have through a simple on screen credit. And that's all to the good because "Dapper" Dan Schoening deserves it.