Copyright Violation?

Hey all,

I have a problem. I’ve found an excellent concept drawing for my movie, drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. I’m wondering, however, if it would be a violation of Ralph’s copyright to use his picture as a reference for a set in my movie.

Anyone know if it would?


I would imagine that if you were to only use it as a concept, it’d be fine as long as you don’t recreate the entire character. Don’t quote me though, I don’t know much about copyrighting.


There a many different types of copyrights, check and see which one it has.

But heck ya, as long as the drawing is not reproduced/published… If its big (the movie) though, you may want to contact him and get permission/put 'em in the credits. =]

All right. Thanks for the help! =)


You really should get permission before hand… 12 monkeys had some sets that flew a little close to concepts by “architectural theorist” Lebeous Woods. they weren’t exact copies but close… he sued… I think he won…

same thing happened with “the devils advocate” where there was a large set piece with wrthing figures around a door arch that came to life… they got sued by the sculptor thery ripped off… that sequence got dropped fromn the DVD and all subsequent versions…
It’s better to get permission “up front” thna to get sued for money you don’t have later down the line…

depending on your intention and projected scale you may welll get what you want free…

Tim Burton got Vincent Price to do the voiceover for his student film “Vincent” for free! (when Tim was an unknown student rather than internationally acclaimed director) simply by writing to him to ask…

All right, here’s the pink elephant in the room. Exactly how does one actually get in touch with perhaps the most noted conceptual artist of this century? =(

And…what exactly do I say? “Hey Mr. McQuarrie, I’m making a small independent film and I have seen one of your concept pictures. I wanted to know if I could use your picture as an inspiration for a 3D computer graphics set for my film.” :no:


Just tell him:

  1. Who you are
  2. What your are doing
  3. What you need
  4. What you need it for

Just make sure that your email/letter is very formal. Then it might stand a chance getting past his secretary(?)…

And make sure you tell him you will give him credit if wanted/needed.

inspiration isn’t copying. You could take the idea and run with it, or use it as a springboard to come up with your own thing. It just depends on what exactly the design is and how exactly you plan to use it. If your version doesn’t really resemble his that much, then it’s probably safe, but if you basically took his idea and just changed a couple little things about it, then you might want to get his permission. (or you could call it an homage, like most film directors and musicians do when they want to blatantly copy something and get away with it :P)

As Squiggly_P said, inspiration isn’t copyright infringement. I think you should ask yourself first if the result is going to be recognizable as McQuarrie’s work, and if there’s anything you can do to change it enough to be original and not recognizable, which is both practical and more artistically rewarding.

A lot of Ralph McQuarrie’s work was probably done for hire, which means that there’s a significant chance that he himself isn’t the copyright owner. You would probably more likely have to deal with somebody like 20th Century Fox or Del Rey.

I’d like to thank everyone for their helpful comments. I was originally trying to get as close as I could to the original picture, but, as Bugman said, it’s more rewarding to put your own spin on things, which is what I did. Now it’s barely recognizable from the original picture.

Then again, the set is only shown in two scenes at most, and they’re over with quickly. With relatively short cuts, someone recognizing the set shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Again, thanks. =)


This thread’s tapering off but I’d like to add my 2 cents to the idea of a making polite request for permission where possible. I wrote a short e-mail to author C.J. Cherryh about using her Chanur novels as sources for some portfolio illos and got a very encouraging positive response. Don’t be afraid to ask, the “big guys” are all “little guys” at heart, at least in most cases.

Even if you get turned down, it’s not agin’ the law to be inspired by something, as long as the result is fully original and wouldn’t look like a derivative if held side-by-side with the inspiring work.