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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains





































































































As Seen on TV - Family Garden Trains Resource has "Cameo" on American Idol®

Just when you think your life is wierd enough, it gets wierder. Last night (May 7, 2009), I wondered for a second if I was seeing things, when a graphic I created in 2007 for fellow hobbyists literally "popped up" on American Idol®. Thanks to the Dish® equivalent of "Tivo®" I was able to back up and make certain I wasn't losing my mind. Well, I may be losing my mind, but you know what I mean.

A Little History

Click to see our Building Front resource page.Longtime readers know that since 2004, we have maintained an online resource of images that I captured, cleaned up, and rescaled for hobbyists to use on their railroads or other projects. Brick walls, store fronts, business signs, that sort of thing.

Initially our building fronts were designed to be combined into downtown districts for model railroads. The photos below show model railroad settings by BigIndoorTrains.com contributor Howard Lamey (Feb, 2008) and reader Tom Amara (April, 2009).

Click to see Howard Lamey's February, 2008 article that describes how to use our store front grahics to make a believable downtown district in any scale.
Click to see Howard Lamey's February, 2008 article that describes how to use our store front grahics to make a believable downtown district in any scale.

So while it's rewarding to see these graphics put to their intended use, I have also encountered those graphics in some strange places, not always with my permission.

Virtual Buildings

Most recently, with permission, a Train Simulator fan, Tom Muir, used one of my store front graphics to add a drinking hole to his virtual railroad.

My cleaned-up graphic is to the left below. What you can't see is all the street signs, phone lines, newspaper boxes, etc., that I took out of the photo just to get a relatvely unadorned storefront. Tim Muir's "virtual" bar is on the right. If you ever stop there, have a "virtual drink" for me (nothing alcoholic, please - I'm a teetotaler").

Click to go to our Building Fronts Page Tim Muir's Virtual Version, renamed the 'Trolley Inn.' Click to go to our Building Fronts page

That said, I know that by now my graphics have turned up in many other kinds of hobby applications, including other "virtual worlds." And I always "let it go" as long as folks ask permission and acknowledge the source. But NONE of these so far have been commercial use in a for-profit enterprise.

A Big Surprise

However, last night I was surprised to see one of my most popular building graphics make a cameo while I was watching American Idol®, of all things. Each week the show airs a Ford®-sponsored music video that features the surviving contestants. And last night, just before the end of the video, my salmon building front graphic rose out of the ground, swung across the "street," and settled into place beside what looks like a real building next to it. Click to see a tiny gif animation which shows about every fifth frame If you get a chance to see the video, watch carefully as the little red car leaves the stop sign. To the right of the frame, you'll see a salmon-colored storefront rise out of the ground clockwise, go past vertical and pitch forward, then snap back into place. It's a cute bit, in a VERY clever video with lots of production values.

I told Shelia, "That's one of my buildings," but she wasn't convinced. I had to play it back to make sure I wasn't seeing things myself. Now that I am sure, here are some photos that will shed a little more light on that particular virtual structure.

This is what this building looks like on Canal Street, in Dayton Ohio, on May 7, 2009.  Notice the trees in the wayClick to see this and several more versions of this graphic on our our Building Front page
The original building as it looks today (May 7, 2009). Since I took the original photos, one window has been boarded up. Notice the trees, which I had to edit out of my graphic. The original photo also had cars that I had to edit out. This is my graphic, based on a photo I took in early 2007, after I squared it up and photoshopped out the trees, cars, parking meters and clutter in one window. I then sliced and diced this original into many different versions to meet the needs of people with different scales of trains and different format printers. These graphics have been posted on our Building Fronts page since March, 2007.

I don't have the technology to do screen shots of television shows. So when I saw this last night, I got out my digicam and took actual photographs of the TV screen, with one hand on the pause button and the other on the shutter - that explains the graininess in the photos. (I used the same photos to make the little .gif animation above.) Here are some stills that I took

This is the building with grating attached to the middle windows, seen as it is rising from the ground in the last seconds of the American Ido®l Ford® Video on May 6, 20 For a moment the building arcs through vertical before it pitches forward. Click for bigger photo. The building pitches forward and hangs for a few frames with all but one windowframe out of the picture. Click for bigger photo. The building snaps back into vertical position as the shot ends. Click for bigger photo.
This is the building with grating attached to the middle windows, seen as it is rising from the ground in the last seconds of the American Idol® Ford® Video on May 6, 2009 For a moment the building arcs through vertical before it pitches forward The building pitches forward and hangs for a few frames with all but one windowframe out of the picture. The building snaps back into vertical position as the shot ends.

Among the dead giveaways that this is my graphic:

  • The shadows around the windowframes never change, even as the building changes angles. This indicates that the windowframes are "flat," not 3D, which is consistent with working with a photograph, not a true "virtual building."
  • Compare the shape of the frost patterns in the bottom two windows to my graphic - and notice that THEY never change shape, either. What are the chances that two photos of the same building on two different days would show the same frost pattern?

To be fair, the graphics-animation person put a side on the building that isn't in my original - you'll see a sort of framework of squares. He or she has also used one of those same squares to hide the first-floor window in the last few frames.

I don't really understand why he/she bothered putting the grates over the middle windows, unless it was a way of changing the graphic enough to claim that it was a "derivative work" and get out of acknowledging someone else's copyright. If he or she really had REALLY wanted to hide the source of the graphic, he could have simply changed the color. But that salmon is just TOO bright for an "artist" who has spent hours working with that particular graphic to overlook.

How Should I Respond?

I've learned long ago that, unless you want to sue someone over trifles, there's no point in getting too crazy over pursuing even those folks who deliberately plagiarize my web site. Deliberate plagiarizers are wannabees or worse by definition, and when I get in touch with them, most either ignore or abuse me, mostly the latter. Oh, well, they are what they are, and if they weren't plagiarizing and abusing me, they'd be abusing someone else with a thinner skin. At least they recognize quality, I suppose.

However, in this case, for all I know, the graphics-animation agency could well have paid some agency or artist who claimed to have a right to this graphic. So tracking down how they got the graphic and who owes me what could be an argument that could go on forever. Yes, the people who put this ad together should have tracked down the graphic's creator, asked permission, and paid something for a graphic that was going to be seen by more people than the average Superbowl commercial. But Ford®, Idol®, and Fox® combined have a LOT more lawyers than I do. So the healthy thing is to let it go.

Still I can't let it go completely - that's what blog-like-articles are all about.

Plus, I have e-mailed them a very nice e-mail, and so far (May 8, 2009), all I've seen back was a note saying that I had sent it to the wrong place and needed to send it again to a different address. I forwarded the note to second address, so stay tuned. . . . .

Note: Ford®, Fox®, and American Idol® are all registered trademarks of their respective companies. (This is to keep their lawyers® satisfied - suppose it will work?)

Looking forward to your suggestions, additions, criticisms, and anything else to let me know you're paying attention, I remain,

Paul Race

familygardentrains.com

Click to see some ways you can help us grow the hobby.P.S. Enjoy your trains. Especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks.

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