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Scythe designer responds after game’s artist accused of copying illustrations

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The creator of Scythe has defended artist Jakub Rozalski after he was accused of copying other artists’ work in his illustrations for the strategy game.

The controversy was initially stirred up by a thread posted to Reddit’s concept art forum a month ago titled ‘The truth behind the art of Jakub Rozalski’, which presented supposed proof that the artist had copied “almost all of the major elements in his art” from existing images, using a technique known as ‘tracing’.

Among the images that Rozalski was alleged to have painted over or otherwise copied in his work included an image of Bucky from the Marvel movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, illustrations from Bram Stocker’s Dracula and a Warhammer 40,000 mech.

It’s worth noting here the important difference between ‘tracing’, which is generally shunned in the art scene for essentially being a version of copying-and-pasting directly between images, and using references, a more common and accepted method that involves artists using existing imagery as a guide but creating their own illustrations from scratch.

The creator of the thread went on to accuse Rozalski of posting “fake tutorials” that they claimed attempted to cover up his use of tracing by creating step-by-step guides after the image had already been finished.

The thread recently found its way over to Reddit’s board games forum, where it sparked another wave of debate over the authenticity of Rozalski’s illustrations of the 1920+ setting, which served as the thematic inspiration both for Scythe and upcoming video game Iron Harvest.

The discussion led Scythe designer Jamey Stegmaier to respond, saying that it was the first time he had been made aware of the dispute and reassure fans that he would investigate the matter.

Stegmaier later posted a longer statement in response to the claims, recalling that Rozalski had openly discussed using reference material two years before, including ‘tracking’ some aspects of his images directly.

“I used some references, my own photos, and photos from the internet, in several (maybe 10, maybe more), I simply track photo in 1:1, for some elements like: horses or pigs, cow, or specific parts, even some characters,” Rozalski wrote at the time.

“If some people think (it is their right), that I track every time or in most of my painting, and can not work without photos, or I track every time... well this is the price which I have to pay now, I understand. I never wrote, that I didn't use references where it did. Looks like now, because I did it a few times in the past, some people want to thing that I always do that, so this is so easy & cheap.”

Crucially, Stegmaier said that he stood by Rozalski’s claim that he painted the elements alleged to have been traced freehand, while using other pictures as reference.

“I believe Jakub when he says he painted these animals and people while referencing the photographs (not by digitally painting over them),” Stegmaier said. “I would point to Jakub’s canvas paintings as evidence that his talents do not require photobashing.”

Stegmaier added that he would expect an artist to use reference material, but that any specific images should be credited. He said that he had spoken with Rozalski and that the artist would attempt to credit any photographers whose work he had used.

In response to the allegations that the artist created fake tutorials, which Stegmaier called the “most troubling accusation”, the designer said that he was yet to be presented with evidence that justified the claims.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Stegmaier’s response has failed to lay the debate to rest, with hundreds of comments spanning multiple BoardGameGeek, Reddit and social media threads still continuing to discuss the matter.

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