Follow TV Tropes


GIS Syndrome

Go To

"I retire to my heavily processed photograph of Andrew Carnegie's study, painstakingly retrieved from a Google image search."

A common shortcut that creators use is to collect pictures from Google Image Search and use them as a background. These images are usually run through a filter (almost always some type of blur) on Photoshop, either to lessen focus or to make the image more congruent with the art style. This is often utilized for complex designs (book and video game covers are common examples), or done for intentional stylistic choices, but can be seen as a sign of laziness if the artist comes to depend on it.

In some cases, the artist is lazy enough that he picks the first fitting image from the first results page, thus allowing bored fans to guess their search query and find the original images easily. Laziness and ignorance can also get authors in much more serious trouble — for some reason, people tend to think that anything found via GIS is fair game, when of course it's still all covered by copyright law.

Note that GIS Syndrome isn't limited to Google Images as lazy creators also use Bing Image Search and DuckDuckGo Image search.

No relation to Geographic Information Systems, which aren't used by artists nearly as much, unless artists want to create their own real-world modern-day maps.

Not to be confused with a Photo Comic, which uses photographs as the art instead of an embellishment. See also Real-Place Background. Contrast Matte Shot, where real people stand in front of a painted background. Compare Traced Artwork, when a creator copies existing art by hand. For when this intentionally used as a stylistic choice, see Medium Blending.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The King of Fighters: Kyo manga by Masato Natsumoto makes heavy use of this, even in scenes like Kyo and Iori coming across each other in the street.

  • Some art critics have pointed out that George W. Bush's series of amateur portraits of world leaders, on display at his presidential library, bear a striking resemblance to pictures that appear on the first page of Google Images results for their names.

    Comic Books 
  • The Free Comic Book Day issue of Scott Pilgrim contains a lampshaded example of this.
    "Okay, this background looks really hard to draw and I don't think I'm getting paid for this comic, so enjoy this stock photo."

    Fan Works 
  • Evangelion 303: Grummancat is perfectly capable of drawing backgrounds, so this mostly crops up for large-scale backgrounds like the desert and city scenes.


    Newspaper Comics 
  • Working Daze has been starting to use photo backgrounds to depict areas outside the office along with other art experimentation. The writer and artist team encourage readers to guess where the photo came from.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The kaiju collectible card series, Pachimon, have half of them being made using this trope, by painting kaiju artwork on top of existing pictures, especially notable in the series' "World Tour" collection. One of those cards is simply a pair of monsters painted on Mount Rushmore, while another overlaps with Unusually Uninteresting Sight by pasting the painted image of a rampaging monster across a postcard depicting London, so Londoners are simply unfazed at the sight of a fifty-foot monster in the streets.

    Video Games 
  • The 1992 fantasy-themed arcade game, Agony (not to be confused with a 2018 game sharing the same title) extensively uses photographs of real-life environments with fantasy elements painted upon, mostly because of budget issues and also because of it's limited employee due to being an indie game. The graphic artist, Frank Sauer, actually revealed the title screen was made from a photo he took from his apartment.
  • The Rail Shooter Gaia Attack 4 pretty much runs on this. Each and every stage is in live footage, with computer-animated monsters and aliens showing up to attack the players.
  • The "creators" of Limbo of the Lost have apparently used Google Image Search themselves to take various images for use as inventory items.
  • The original release of RE: Alistair had real photographs for backgrounds; subsequent releases had them replaced by drawn images.
    • Many low-budget or freeware Visual Novels use stock backgrounds, actually, probably because actually drawing one would take time and resources the artists don't have.
  • Stock images make up many of the backgrounds in the Visual Novel-style Charon RPG Maker games.
  • CrazyBus features stock photos of buses for its backgrounds. They also look rather ugly, as they had to be compressed to be put on the Sega Genesis.
  • The iPad adventure game Lechuza was made almost entirely with art assets found on Google Image Search, as noted in this playthrough video from our friends slowbeef and Diabetus of Retsupurae. In the respective Something Awful thread, the goons managed to track down almost every single stolen art asset using Google Image Search.
  • In Mass Effect 3, there were two cases of taking images and modifying them, one being the post-ending epilogue image, and the other being the photograph of Tali's face.
  • Apparently, the art of Civilization V had been redesigned shortly before release, forcing the developers to rely on this technique for their button graphics, which drew some ridicule from the community.
  • Happens during an event in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver where you have to take Arceus—basically the verse's equivalent to God—to a certain room and he proceeds to recreate the universe from scratch to give you an egg containing one of the cover legendaries for the other Gen IV games. This process is illustrated starting with stock images of space and stars and how the Earth may have looked, up to single-celled organisms and finally civilizations by showing overhead satellite shots or skylines of big cities. As one YouTube commenter put it: "Arceus used Google Image Search!"
  • Androx Demon of Fire, a hilariously terrible (and now cancelled) RPG mocked by Retsupurae in this Kickstarter video series, used a hilariously out of place volcano background from Google Images in part of the lava area. It doesn't work with the top down graphics style in the slightest.
  • Ōkami had an infamous example where the cover of the Wii version was pulled from a search engine. If you look carefully at the cover, you will see an IGN watermark. This was, of all things, because they had lost the original image file.
  • FTL: Faster Than Light uses some NASA photographies for backgrounds. They are properly credited in the readme file.
  • The banner ads for Evony (and others that have followed its example) oft included scantily clad women who never appear in game, chiefly because many of those images were lifted from various other sources, from uncredited artists to copyrighted material.
  • Played for Laughs in Deltarune. The explosion effects used are a stock image rather than proper pixel art. Additionally, the two pacifist-enforced mini-bosses in Chapter 1 and 2 (K.Round and Sweet Cap'n Cakes) use a pixelated stock image of a carton of almond milk to heal themselves.
  • Kang Fu mostly uses compressed stock images for level backgrounds or background objects.
  • PAYDAY 2 has one heist taking place inside an FBI headquarters. The medical room has cabinets that act as health kits for the player to heal with. Inside the cabinets are common medicines for colds, stomachaches, and so on. The textures for said medicines are directly ripped from the Kirkland Signature brand without any alterations on the textures.

    Visual Novels 
  • In contrast to the usual Visual Novel use of GIS for backgrounds, Hatoful Boyfriend uses stock photos for all the bird characters, and for loading screens between chapters. Stock photo resources are cited and thanked in the credits.
  • Used pervasively in Psycholonials. All the backgrounds in the game are real photographs, with heavy pixelation and color filters applied, and only the characters actually drawn. One scene featuring a character traveling outside even uses a Google Maps satellite street map from a real place as the backdrop.

    Web Animation 
  • Happens just as often as in case of webcomics, whether directly in Clip-Art Animation or traced in Flash. Any time a pistol appears, it's this picture of a CZ-75. More egregious, if a shotgun is supposed to appear, it's usually this airsoft shotgun. A bomb? Likely this one. And so on.
  • Zero Punctuation consists of exactly four visual elements: A stubborn refusal to ever change the yellow background, white figures with Floating Limbs, imps, and pictures he took off Google images. One in particular that keeps cropping up is the Thomas Ruff portrait that, according to Word of God, he found by searching for "expressionless man".
  • Other than effects and characters, Taiwanese illustrator VOFAN's animated film 1/60 is composed entirely of photographs. Because the film is all about photography, it's an interesting deconstruction of this trope.
  • Homestar Runner:
    • In the Strong Bad Email "isp", an Easter egg shows Homestar's weight in sign-up CDs in a generic empty room.
    • On the FeedBurner page, the entry about donating to the Homestar Runner Wiki is accompanied by an edited image of a telethon.
  • GoAnimate: It's not uncommon for users to insert familiar characters into the GoAnimate/Vyond setting via stock images of them from off the internet. Here's one such example of this.

  • 8-Bit Theater: Early comics used a combination of original but very low-quality digital art and sprites, but it eventually transitioned to using image-search backgrounds in almost every comic.
  • A Beginner's Guide to the End of the Universe: Exaggerated. Grayscale photographs are used for every element of the comic, from backgrounds to items and creatures, except for stick figure people and interface elements.
  • Candi did this for a while before going back to drawn backgrounds.
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del, usually for various movie posters hanging on the walls. Game consoles also used to be this, most notably Ethan's Gamecube.
  • Irregular Webcomic!, a LEGO comic, uses (copyright-free or self-taken) photo backgrounds when LEGO isn't enough.
  • Used by the comic Jayden And Crusader frequently, almost always to make up for lack of artistic ability
  • Spleen Tea, specifically the mugshots. Justified somewhat, as it is a review site using pictures of the product in question.
  • MS Paint Adventures uses black-and-white (usually pixellated) photos for most background objects. It's used for comic effect since the photo detail contrasts so highly with the stickfigure-esque characters.
    • Sometimes, mostly with landscape from Homestuck Act Four onward, pictures are recolored to match colors. In a few cases this ends up looking odd, to say the least. Also, there's a tendency for such images to be the underlay for additional background illustrations, for example the Land of Wind and Shade (which draws certain features like rivers and mushrooms on top of pictures of landscapes).

    Web Original 
  • In a Let's Play of Donkey Kong 64, Dazzling Addar changes day to night for the first time in the Fungi Forest level. When they look at the moon:
    Vicas: Oh, wow, they, they, like... If Google had, like, had an image search back then, they would've just Google image searched the moon and stuck it right there.
  • Lampshaded on Third Rate Gamer, where an image of a castle is labeled "Castle of Google Images".
  • Googlebrains explicitly and proudly uses stock images of quite a few of his characters.
  • The Weather: Everything from backgrounds, to objects, to characters, are just Google stock-images. The Wham City members are green-screened into the scene, either with their full-bodies or just their faces, and the callers take on immobile clip-art characters with moving faces.
  • The image of Super Mecha Death Christ 2000 from The Angry Video Game Nerd is stitched from variety of sources, including but not limited to Picard's Borg implant, as well as the rocket launcher and the APC vehicle from Red Faction.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • BBC News once used the logo of Halo's United Nations Space Command instead of that of the United Nations Security Council, probably because searching for "UNSC" online only returns results for the former.
  • A Turning Point USA student summit introduced a speech by President Donald Trump by projecting a parody version of the Presidential Seal filled with jokes at Trump's expense. An event organizer blamed "a rushed online search" for the graphic.
  • Not quite fitting the trope, since it's not an image, but after a Kazakh athlete won a gold medal at a sporting contest in the Middle East, the organizers played the Borat version of her country's national anthem rather than the real one. They blamed a too-cursory Internet search.

Alternative Title(s): Stock Photo Background