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Sun 11th Mar 2012

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noclothes commented on Feature: The Making of Unirally:

Amazing that, all these years later, the guys at DMA still find it necessary to mischaracterize Pixar's lawsuit and how it went down. Dailly says, "We modelled the unicycle exactly, based on a real life unicycle. The problem with Pixar was that they seemed to think that any computer generated unicycle was owned by them. They took footage from Red's Dream and compared it to Unirally and the unicycles were virtually the same; this isn't a big surprise as there’s not a lot of ways you can bring life to a unicycle without looking like the one Pixar did. The judge - being the moron that he was - agreed. While it was a unicycle, and did look similar, I think he should have looked at the game as a whole. If he had, then he would have noticed that the game was a completely different environment, and the ‘character’ of the unicycle just wasn't the same.”

In fact, you need to go no further than the court records, which are public, to see that virtually none of this is true. No "moron judge" ever decided (or had an opportunity to decide) anything; the copying was apparently so demonstrable and obvious that Nintendo (which is not known for backing down from a fight) capitulated almost immediately after the case was brought, before any judge had an opportunity to look at the evidence, much less make a decision, even a preliminary one.

Pixar's claim was not that they owned the concept of animated unicycles, or even that the unicycles looked the same. The claim was that the animation of the Uniracers cycles (particularly for turns, acceleration, and deceleration) was slavishly copied, frame by frame, from the animation of Red, the unicycle in "Red's Dream." There are, in fact, a multitude of ways that a unicycle could be animated, but DMA chose (as Pixar had) to anthropomorphise their cycles by making the seat analogous to the "head," and, for example, having the seat pivot in anticipation of the cycle's turns, so that it would appear that the cycle was "looking where it was about to be going," and to have the seat/head "crane its neck" forward as the cycle leaned in the direction of travel, in order to give the appearance of "intelligence" to the cycles. The problem wasn't so much that the unicycles were "computer generated," or "looked alike," but rather that DMA appeared to have replicated Pixar's specific animation choices in order to convey the personality of the cycles, rather than coming up with their own expression.

It also doesn't help things that the author of this article didn't look to the source material, saying "Pixar accused DMA of copying the idea and promptly sued." Pixar didn't accuse DMA of copying an idea. Pixar accused DMA of having copied the specific expression embodied in Pixar's animation of Red... and apparently Nintendo (which at the time dwarfed Pixar in size and resources, and could easily have defended itself and DMA if there were any doubts about Pixar's claims) felt it was sufficiently obvious that Pixar was right that Nintendo opted to immediately take the product off the market rather than go before a judge.

It's easy and fun to blame "moron judges" for outcomes you don't like; everyone knows that judges make mistakes, and it's compelling to claim to have been the victim of such a mistake. Here, though, the fact that Nintendo backed down to tiny little Pixar rather than risk putting the evidence in front of a judge, speaks pretty loudly.