On Attribution

An incident yesterday has prompted me to write on attribution and credit again. To review, I wrote this at Motionographer a few years back: Credit Where Credit Is Due. Nothing has changed. I merely want to remind all artists who work in Motion Design, Animation and VFX that proper attribution and credit is absolutely required when posting your work online. It is not optional. It is not recommended. It is not a ‘best practice’ or a suggestion. It is the bare minimum of representing accurately your work as a professional artist, designer, producer, modeler or rigger.

When you work as an artist (on staff or freelance) you have the right to post your work done through various production companies on you own portfolio site. You should all be doing this. Don’t wait for the companies you work for to sing your praises. You’ve got to do it yourself. Put your work out there. Share it. Blog it. Send it around and get it noticed.

But you’ve got one obligation to all the companies that employ you and keep you in beer and your rent paid. Give them the credit they deserve as well. When a company produces a spot, the sometimes invisible work of actually landing the job, managing a client, shepherding the work through production and actually you know, producing the job is lost. After all what’s more sexy to all of us motion designers: nice colors, groovy shapes, ultra-smooth keyframes and popping type – OR – spreadsheets, bid forms, calendars, phonecalls, emails, conference calls and notes, revisions and suggestions for improving and finishing the work? (As an independent designer and a one-man-shop I’m learning more and more that all the unsexy stuff matters. It matters a lot.)

So when you post the work ON YOUR OWN site, make sure you’re properly attributing the production company that hired you to make those sexy keyframes and giving both yourself and all the other artists proper credit. Don’t take credit for Art Direction if you were the animator and don’t take credit for Concept if you designed the type.

This still goes both ways. Production companies and studios should absolutely post the credits and roles of folks who helped them create their work. I’ve seen a lot more movement towards this as standard in the past few years. Some notable studios still omit any names beyond the company moniker and perhaps a Creative Director role, though. And that’s still pretty disappointing.

And the incident that prompted this? It’s pretty simple: don’t let your work go up on a third-party’s site without attribution or credit. If you are an artist, you can post your work in order to get more gigs on your own site with the proper attribution and credit to all those production companies, Creative Directors, Producers illustrators, designers, animators and sound designers who worked on the spots with you. But you absolutely can’t let someone else put that spot up publicly as if it’s their own work without credit and attribution.

So hopefully, lessons learned. And hopefully the parties involved are all working it out together behind the scenes.

And I apologize for heading up the witch-hunt without all the facts. It’s not really a role I want. I’m not the design police and I’m not a lawyer. But as a vocal member of our community I sometimes get tipped off or discover stuff that just doesn’t seem or feel right. When that happens, I’m not scared to call it as I see it. But I think I also have to realize that I’m not in charge, and the folks involved really need to talk to each other and not have their dirty laundry aired out in public. So I’m sorry for that.

Keep your work on your own site w/ credits, attribution and links. Problems solved.

How To Make Sure You Can Show Work In Your Portfolio

Originally posted at Motionographer

You’re in the midst of production — the style frames you designed were approved, the work-in-progress animations you’ve sent along to the client were received well, and you’re rapidly approaching the deadline. You’re really happy with how the job looks, and everything is working smoothly. The client is happy, too. This will be a great piece for your portfolio!

But what happens when your client doesn’t want you to use the finished work in your portfolio?

The Problem:
Asking on Twitter, I got a ton of responses from artists who, through one set of circumstances or another, did great work they were proud of but were asked (either by the studio they worked with or by the end client) not to post it — and not always politely! Lots of those issues are unresolved, with the artists just backing down and not wanting to get into a fight with the studios and clients who hire them. Lots of those jobs will never see the light of day, since the clients who own them don’t want to put them out. But if you can retain the copyright to the work, you may be able to salvage something out of it, or re-use your hard work on your own project.

Too often, when you are on staff or freelancing, eager to do the work, you rush into a project without reading all the details of the contract. This is where artists get burned. It’s always a good idea to read your contracts and deal memos through thoroughly, speak up to the client or studio and make sure to declare your desire to show off your work as early in the process as possible. Amend any part of the contract you want to change before any work on the job is done.

Many contracts have a work-for-hire clause that automatically assigns the copyright of any work they create to the employer. This can be negotiated — if you wish to challenge it — but it’s fairly standard for most contracts. This also means that you may not have the ability to show any of you work on your own site or post about it online. And, of course, many studios have adopted specific policies on how employees can use the work they do while at a company on their reels and sites, which is why you see all those production company bugs on artist’s montages.

What to Do
Daniel Savage, who is one designer that got burned after working for six weeks on a project that he now can’t show said, “My advice, besides the obvious of READING a contract, is if you see something like that on a contract, cross it off and initial. IF they say no and you need the money, demand a huge pay increase. Otherwise don’t work with them, there is plenty of work to go around not to put up with that crap.”

Sebas & Clim also dealt with the same problem recently. “The possibility of showing the project or not is always one of our first questions. The budget changes radically if something will have to be completely secret or not … 90% of our work came because someone saw our [previous] projects,” they said.

Since their project, whose title remains confidential, went well, and since they have a good relationship with the client, they asked if they could use it in their portfolio without any reference to the brand. The client agreed, and they used the piece without voiceover and logos, resulting in an impressive animation showpiece for themselves.

Many graphic designers and illustrators also deal with these issues, but their industry often works a bit differently than ours. They will often retain the copyright of a piece of artwork, but specifically license it out to clients for specific uses. Much of the advice and standards in the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook deal specifically with how to negotiate these type of contracts. And the AIGA has a section in the explanation of its Standard Form of Agreement For Design Services that notes:

You’ll also want to be able to show and explain portions of the completed project to other companies when you are pitching new business. Sometimes clients who are in highly competitive industries have concerns about this. They may ask for the right to review and approve such promotional activity on a case-by-case basis. If you have licensed the final art to the client rather than making a full assignment of rights, and the work does not fall within the category of work-for-hire (defined below), you are legally entitled to show the work in your portfolio. As a professional courtesy, however, you will want to be sensitive to client concerns.

On a recent freelance job I worked on, I managed to solve this whole problem easily and straightforwardly, by simply by asking the producer to insert one sentence into the contract. It read, “Company agrees that [NAME] may show the artwork created by him for Company on personal marketing reels and on his web site at [URL] only.” So that’s my advice. Get it in writing.

More on this topic:
Jessica Hische – The Dark Art of Pricing
Graphic Artist Guild – Can I Show My Work in My Portfolio When I Don’t Own the Rights Anymore?
AIGA – Standard Form of Agreement For Design Services
Docracy – The Collective Legal Guide For Designers (Contract Samples)
Motionographer – Credit Where Credit Is Due

Why Motion Designers need to have solidarity with the #VFXProtest


I’m not seeing a heck of a lot of green avatars amongst my Motion Design colleagues, and it worries me. The green avatars started up Sunday night after Life of Pi won for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars. The team that won tried to speak out about the layoffs, bankruptcy and financial difficulties that their company, Rhythm & Hues was currently facing – and were cut off at the mic. Does that make any sense, to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and have your company on the brink of going out of business?

In Hollywood nearly 500 VFX workers protested the layoffs, the conditions they’re working under and the shifting geography of their livelihood on the streets outside the Oscars. It was the first grassroots and public demonstration around this idea that we’ve been talking about for over 3 years – a VFX Union.

For a good overall recap of the protest, the issues and what happened at the Oscars on Sunday see this post by Russ Fischer at Slashfilm. And to keep up to date with the latest developments and thoughts on it: #VFXProtest is the hashtag that started up the idea of the protest last Thursday before the Oscars on Sunday.

My twitter feed is full of the green squares, but only a few of the folks in the Motion Design & Animation world that I follow have adopted them. (And none of the major companies that do Motion Design work have. I don’t see Autodesk or Adobe After Effects turning its logo green like Trapcode, Maxon and Houdini have, either.) There are more than a few reasons for this, I’m sure. But the main one would seem to be that Motion Designers don’t think that this is their fight. It’s VFX. It’s Hollywood. It’s California. It’s the movies – everything about that industry is broken, corrupt, compromised. Movies that make billions of dollars worldwide are declared net losses on paper. The whole process is too big and too complex and too nuanced for an easy stance on it and they haven’t heard one clear concise argument or what the demands are.

But this is our fight. We face many of the same issues. We do the same work. Look at some of the leading companies in Motion Design, the Cream O’ The Crop. Look at their spots, their reels, the work they are proud of , promote and work on on a daily basis. It’s VFX. Sure, VFX with sides of graphic design, kinetic typography, 2D animation, experimental film-making, vector illustration, abstract polygons and whatever happens to be visually trendy at any given moment. But ultimately, Motion Design is VFX. VFX that isn’t beholden to photorealism, telling a narrative story or being totally invisible and seamless. VFX that isn’t all explosions, matte paintings, spaceships and superheros (though we have our share). We just have different clients.

Not all of the issues that the #VFXProtest is bringing up have an exact analogue in Motion Design, but too many of them do for us to ignore them: three-way pitches, cost controllers determining budgets, shortened schedules, lowered budgets, scope creep, getting paid overtime, proper credits, using our work in our portfolios, misclassified workers, temporary contracts, no full-time jobs, booking agreements, being forced to pay the employer’s share of income taxes as a condition of employment, signing away all moral and artistic rights in work-for-hire-contracts, illegal non-compete agreements … the list goes on.

I’m not sure a workers’ union can or ever will come to the world of Motion Design. How can a 15-person artist-owned company organize? How can an industry made up of freelancers, independent contractors, and highly competitive, talented, independent artists come together in solidarity to agree that they want to work together and make a sustainable healthy industry that they might <gasp> grow old in.

The fear of a union itself is a big issue. If a union forms, won’t all the work go overseas or to non-union shops? Well, the fact of the matter is that that’s already happening – without any union forcing it to happen. That’s the free market. And one of the only tools we have against the free market is collective bargaining. Is lowering our costs in fear of losing work a sustainable option? Is continuing to work on fixed-cost bids and continuing to make motion design workers put it long uncompensated hours a manageable way to do business?

One of the arguments FOR the entire industry unionizing – setting pay-scale minimums, enforcing labor laws, overtime and minimum turnaround hours – is that in theory it could allow VFX shops to point to the union policies now in place at their shops in dealing with their clients to say “No we can’t do that. It’ll take X more days instead. We have to abide by these rules with our workers and we don’t have the manpower to do that in the schedule without doing Y.” – and give them some leverage in negotiations which they currently don’t have.

And if a VFX Union does start up, I’m hoping that it can solve some of these labor issues at the 700-person shops in California and that those solutions will “trickle down” and be adopted by our motion design colleagues. I’m hoping new norms and standards are adopted across the board. No more day rates based on a 10-hr day. No more misclassified workers. No more 11AM start times. No more going home at 11PM. No more 1099s for folk who work in-house for six-month stretches. No more need to form an LLC just to work at certain companies. Etc. Etc. Etc!

And I think it might help all of us if more motion designers (and previs artists, game developers and everyone in related fields) are part of the dialogue that stands up together and fights for working smarter.

Adding that green square icon to your twitter and bookface avatars might be just a small step. But it lets us all know that we’re in this together.


Sign and Photo by Ardaniel.

Talking to artists since Sunday #vfxprotest it is disgusting how many LA facilities break CA law & owe so many artists so much money.

Jeff Heusser

Occupy VFX: Getting The Message Right

Post by Pixelmagic on Reddit.

Phil Tippet

fxpodcast #245: VFX roundtable – Scott Squires, Scott Ross, David Rand



So, I’ve finally done it. Decided I needed a new home for notes, thoughts, rants and ideas about Motion Design – where I can post writing that’s longer than twitter’s 140 characters at a time. I’m going to collect and republish previous posts from Motionographer and PSST! here as a sort of personal archive as well as new things as they come up. Thanks for stopping by!



Paying To Work For Free

(Originally posted at Motionographer) Posted by Bran Dougherty-Johnson Last week VFX Soldier exposed a scheme by Digital Domain to offer students at their taxpayer-subsidized university program the opportunity to work for free on their commercial production. In a November speech to investors to raise money for an IPO, Digital Domain CEO John Textor explains their plan this way: … Continue reading


Standards of Professional Practice

(Originally posted on Motion Design Association) Co-authored with other founding members of Motion Design Association When employers pressure artists to work without contracts or legal protection, and to work unrealistic hours for inadequate overtime pay, the entire motion graphics industry suffers. Both sides lose when artists can’t trust their employers to pay a fair wage, and when studios receive … Continue reading