Thursday, October 1, 2015

OpEd: League of Legends and Chiara

I'm not a big League of Legends fan, but the popularity of the game is such that it's all but impossible to avoid news related to the game if you're even marginally interested in video games.  So, last week (September 15), when Riot announced a new League of Legends champion called "Kindred," I, like millions of others, clicked on through to check out the concept art every gaming portal on the planet was teasing.  As I've come to expect from video game concept art (and Riot in particular), the art was stunning (even if the character is a little creepy).

It was also very, very familiar.  At first, that didn't bother me.  Between my video game posts here on The Geek Art Gallery, my link round-ups on SF Signal, and an expansive list of social media accounts, I see every game-related news story two or three times before it drops out of the news cycle.  I just figured that I'd already seen a thumbnail of the art somewhere, but Wednesday, Imgur smack me in the face with the real reason the "Kindred" concept art was so damned familiar.

The concepts are blatant immitations of the art of Chiara Bautista, who has been inspiring cosplayers, tattoo artists, and starry-eyed fangirls since 2010, when she first posted a MySpace page featuring her work.  Since then, she's created accounts on DeviantArt and Facebook.  She's a particular favorite on Tumblr, where her work routinely scrolls across the dashboard of users subscribing to practically any art-related keyword.  I've personally posted galleries of her work here on The Geek Art Gallery several times to thunderously positive responses.

I'm not the only one noticing the similarities, either.  The Bautista / Kindred issue has surfaced on Reddit at least three times in the past two weeks.  It's also been pointed out on the League of Legends forums.  Check out some side-by side comparisons of Riot's "Kindred" and Bautista’s work below.

Kindred might be the League of Legend's most stunning character designs to date - and that's saying something.  Kindred is an otherworldly white lamb-like creature that wears a vaguely fox-like black mask.  She's accompanied by an ever-present dark spirit with a jaw like a wolf and a long plume of a tail.  You can see an image of them in all their glory above.

The two always appear intertwined, and their back story is fraught with life and death symbolism.  The pair, who represent a single being split in two, are the grim reapers of Runeterra, the world in which League of Legends is set.

On balance, Kindred is a very beautiful addition to League of Legend, both in terms of aesthetics and narrative.  The only problem is that the concept is shockingly close to Bautista's much-beloved characters.  Check out these side-by side comparisons being circulated around the web.

Kindred isn't an exact replicas of Bautista's work.  It's clearly another artist's work, and both characters are certainly drawn from archetypes that can be found in literature the world over,  but the similarities in their visual design are undeniable.

The Kindred Lamb looks very similar to Bautista's Rabbit-Masked Girl.  The Kindred Wolf looks like Chiara’s Night Sky Wolf.  The Kindred Wolf enshrouds the Lamb in the same way Chiara’s Night Sky Wolf wraps around his Rabbit Girl. The Kindred Wolf and Lamb interact with the same intimate familiarity as Bautista's characters.  What's more, the Kindred Lamb’s graceful "Satyr" legs are strikingly similar to Bautista's Deer Girls pictured below.

Finally, the Kindred Lamb shares Bautista's Rabbit and Deer Girls' penchant for archery.  That may not be surprising, given the sudden popularity of the bow as a weapon since the advent of The Hunger Games, but it's a pretty damning choice in light of the characters' other similarities.

All in all, discovering the similarities between Riot's new character and a well-loved artist's work left me pretty smug, but not overly concerned.  Quite a few of League of Legend's characters draw inspiration from other story traditions.  In fact, in other circumstances, I might compliment Riot on making the effort to expanding their game to include an homage to an artist so widely favored by the opposite sex.  It feels like a deliberate step towards balancing the game to make it more gender balanced, and hey, maybe the game will lead more people to discovering Bautista's beautiful artwork.

Then, I went looking for Bautista's response to the similarities, and what I discovered left me cold.

It turns out that, after five long years of internet popularity, Bautista's work has gone from being widely admired for its originality to being mistaken for fan art almost overnight.

That strikes me as deeply wrong.

Kindred isn’t even out of beta testing yet, and people are already assuming that Bautista's work is Kindred fan art.  In fact, a number of people have raised the issue with the artist directly over the past few days, both on Facebook and in Bautista's DeviantArt gallery leaving Bautista to defend the originality of her own work!

I'm not accusing Riot of plagiarism, nor do I think the similarities are distinct enough to make a legal issue out of the incident.

In a world in which we bombard ourselves with images all day long in the name of entertainment, it's easy to understand that we admired in the past might drift up from our subconscious to influence our later work without our being consciously aware of it.  In a large company where dozens of artists contribute to a project, the problem is only going to become more prevalent.

That doesn't detract from the injustice of the situation, though.  Willfully or not, Riot is in the process of laying waste to the reputation of an excellent and widely admired artist.

It would be an utter shame if we let Chiara Bautista's work pass into ignominy so easily.

A company the size of Riot will never publicly acknowledge the parallels between Kindred and pre-existing artwork, but that doesn't stop bloggers like us from spreading the word!

If you're a fan of Chiara Bautista's work, show your support by clicking through to her Facebook or DeviantArt account and leaving a comment.  If you operate an art blog, repost this story!  If you're a fan of League of Legends, drop some knowledge on your fellow devotees in the game forums.  Every little bit helps!

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