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GIS Syndrome

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"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), 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.



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    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."
  • Some earlier Nodwick strips did this.

    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 
  • Political cartoonist Gordon Campbell uses this CONSTANTLY.
  • 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.
  • The Montreal Gazette's cartoonist, Aislin, has done this.
  • Between the Lines has been a horrible offender in the 2014 strips.

    Video Games 
  • 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 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.
  • 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, in which a mini-boss enemy uses a pixellated stock image of a carton of almond milk to heal itself.
    "K-ROUND practiced self-care!"
  • 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 
  • 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.

    Web Comics 

    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.

    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


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