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Marvel Studios has been a global entertainment juggernaut for the last 15 years, turning beloved but sometimes obscure comic book franchises into massive successes in film and TV.
But its latest TV series, Secret Invasion, debuting on the Disney+ streaming service and starring Samuel L. Jackson in his iconic role as former S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury, has been met with an immediate backlash upon its premiere today, June 21, 2023 — over the use of AI to generate the imagery of the title cards in the opening sequence of each episode.
“Very disappointed that Marvel Studios decided to use AI for the opening credits of Secret Invasion,” tweeted a photographer with the handle “@HairyShortStack,” including screenshots of the title sequence showing a variety of eerie, green-tinged images of city skylines, explosions and deformed human figures resembling Nick Fury.
Other Twitter users called the opening credits “ugly,” “disgusting” and “repulsive,” lamented the company’s treatment of human visual effects (VFX) artists and concluded that Marvel had chosen to use AI in this case to replace human artists.
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Even a former Marvel concept artist who claimed to have worked on the series itself, Jeff Simpson, joined in the dogpile, tweeting “Secret Invasion intro is AI generated. I’m devastated, I believe AI to be unethical, dangerous and designed solely to eliminate artists careers. Spent almost half a year working on this show and had a fantastic experience working with the most amazing people I ever met…”
Human artists from Method Studios credited
However, at least one Twitter user countered these objections by noting that Method Studios, a VFX and motion graphics subdivision of Company 3, had been credited in the end credits as the creators of the Secret Invasion main title sequence, and that real human artists’ names were listed among the team that worked on the sequence.
Marvel has worked with Method Studios and Company 3 previously on such hit projects as Spider-Man: Far From Home and Avengers: Infinity War. Method Studios also lists Top Gun: Maverick, Blade Runner 2049 and Elvis among the diverse set of Hollywood films for which it has helped create graphical elements.
In an interview with Polygon, Secret Invasion director and executive producer Ali Selim confirmed that Method Studios used AI to design the opening titles of the series, and stated that AI was chosen as a creative medium because it reflected some of the series’ themes — in which shapeshifting aliens called Skrulls masquerade as human beings, much like how AI can sometimes produce convincing impressions of humanity or human creativity.
Creative justification for using AI
“When we reached out to the AI vendors, that was part of it — it just came right out of the shape-shifting, Skrull world identity, you know? Who did this? Who is this?” Selim told Polygon.
Selim did not elaborate on exactly which AI tools Method Studios deployed for this project, and the VFX production firm had not responded to the reporter’s questions at the time of the article’s publication.
VentureBeat also reached out to Marvel Studios and Method Studios and some of the artists credited with the title sequence to get more information on how it was designed and their reaction to the backlash on Twitter, and we will update if and when we hear back.
The use of AI to create Secret Invasion’s opening credits comes at a particularly fraught time period between major Hollywood studios and the creative community: As of the time of this article’s publication, the Writers Guild of America union representing Hollywood film and TV writers has been on strike for more than seven weeks over disputes about renewed contracts and residual payments in the streaming and AI era, with no immediate resolution in sight. SAG-AFTRA, the union representing film and TV actors, remains in negotiations with the studios over some of the same issues with authorization to strike if a resolution for their guild is not met by June 30 — nine days from now.
Meanwhile, it is worth pointing out that leading creatives within the massive Marvel moviemaking operation believe that it is inevitable AI will disrupt the filmmaking businesses. Joe Russo, co-director of several of Marvel’s most financially successful films including Avengers: Endgame, told the outlet Collider at a panel discussion earlier this year that he believed AI would be able to create a feature film within two years, and that he himself sat on the board of several AI companies.
“The value of it [AI] is the democratization of storytelling,” Russo was quoted as saying. “That’s incredibly valuable. That means that anyone in this room could tell a story, or make a game at scale, with the help of a photoreal engine or an engine and AI tools. That, I think, is what excites me about it most.”
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