I sat down and watched a movie last night that really touched me in many ways. The Pursuit of Happyness, with Will Smith is a must-see for anyone over 12 in America. It embodies the American Dream like nothing I have seen
But this is not a review of the movie, even though it does stir up a lot of my old forgotten emotions from the time period in which it was set, 1981, when I was just beginning my career as an illustrator. One of the things that impressed me was the movie sets, with authentic period decor… starting with the Ban de Soleil tanning lotion ad in the picture above.
Ban de Soileil was the tanning lotion of choice for snobs — or at least I thought so, sitting there on the beach with my bottle of baby oil and iodine.
I knew they had done their research when this scene flashed by. Will’s character gets into a taxi with a Dean Whitter exec, and the ad card on the roof was a pristine PSA Airlines ad.
PSA was “out of business” by 1988 when acquired by USAir, but for the seven years they used that particular airplane illustration that had been incorporated into their logo, I seethed.
See, I was a new illustrator on the San Diego scene. After a nine-month stint as an in-house illustrator with General Dynamics, Covair Division in Kearny Mesa, I got washed out in a 400-employee downsizing, and found myself treading the scary waters of the unemployment pond. Rather than stand in line for government assistance, I hit the streets with my college portfolio, first meeting with San Diego Illustrator Darrel Millsap — who became a friend, and a mentor of sorts — and then to design groups and ad agencies, always asking for more referrals.
This all brought me to the little design team of Clem and Bonnie Schwartz who hired me, that day, to do an illustration of a PSA plane flying up and over to the viewer’s right. They were preparing a 2-page, black and white spread in a newspaper campaign, and wanted to dress it up with an illustration of the plane with the signature “smile” on the front.
I took the job. It paid $750, and I needed to pay my rent.
I went down to Lindbergh Field, stood outside the fence and shot pictures of departing PSA flights with a zoom lens on my film camera, prepared an under-drawing for my final illustration, got it approved, and then received a phone call from the Schwartzes. They wanted me to “paint it in color, just in case at the last minute PSA decides to run the spread with color.” I figured that wasn’t that big of a deal, so I complied.
I painted this in 1981 for a one-time newspaper ad.
It was then used as the company logo, with no additional compensation.
They loved my finished illustration… …so much so that they took advantage of me [read: royally screwed] and told me after a month or so that they could not release my payment to me without my signing-over copyright and ownership of the original art.
Now, even though I was a little green, I knew that there were at least 3 valuable assets attached to any original work for which an illustrator should be compensated:
- time in creating the work of art and the associated, pre-planned usage rights for which the commission is therefore engaged,
- ownership of the original artwork, and
- copyright to the work.
Whomever owns copyright — inherently with the artist unless transferred or sold in writing — can do with it whatever they please.
But, like I said, I had rent to pay.
They told me this was just a formality, and that I had nothing to be concerned about [except that signing it was the only way to get my check], so, trusting them (did I mention green behind the ears?) I signed the agreement [which gave them copyright] and my check came a few days later.
Within a month, the illustration had been incorporated into their previously barren PSA logo, and was used in virtually all print and media advertising until their merger with USAir in 1988.
I never saw the original art again, and I never received a penny more in compensation.
Movie note: The guy at Dean Whitter that keeps asking Gardner (Will’s character) to get him some coffee is none other than Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson.