Exploring Ethical Boundaries: Alternative Approaches to AI Art beyond the ‘Secret Invasion’ Title Credits

If the use of AI art in the title credits for “Secret Invasion” is deemed unethical, what alternative approaches can be considered for the ethical use of current generative AI in a famous public artwork?

This question raises legitimate concerns and remains unanswered. Exploring ethical ways of integrating generative AI into significant public art projects is important. The controversy surrounding Marvel Studios’ utilization of AI to create the main title sequence for “Secret Invasion” has sparked discussions about responsible AI implementation, particularly when a company with significant financial resources is involved. However, the initial characterization of this as a secret AI invasion is not entirely accurate.

Contrary to the initial perception that Marvel simply employed platforms like Midjourney or Runway to generate the opening sequence using AI, the reality is less nefarious. The title credits were conceived and executed as a stylistic choice by a team of professional artists from Method Studios, known for their VFX work in various Marvel films and shows such as the final battle sequence in “Black Panther.” Method Studios has also produced intros for other notable productions like “Godless,” “Warrior,” and “The Twilight Zone,” each tailored to reflect the distinct themes of the respective shows.

While TechCrunch reached out to Method for comment, they provided an exclusive response to The Hollywood Reporter. According to Method, the creation of the title sequence involved a collaborative effort by skilled art directors, animators proficient in both 2D and 3D, artists, and developers.

They employed conventional techniques for all other aspects of the project. Although the AI component played a role in achieving optimal results, it is important to highlight that AI was just one tool among many that artists used. The incorporation of AI did not replace any jobs but rather complemented and supported the creative teams.

In the context of “Secret Invasion,” a show centered around the concept of alien beings impersonating humans, Method likely proposed AI-generated imagery as a visually fitting parallel. It serves as a means to evoke a sense of eerie imitation and the accompanying discomfort. It is also worth noting that this artistic direction was probably pitched well in advance, around 2021 or early 2022, to ensure timely delivery. This contradicts the notion that Marvel resorted to AI as a response to the writers’ strike or as a cost-cutting measure.

While it is indeed a valid concern whether Method utilized generative AI tools that scraped artists’ works without proper acknowledgment or compensation (Method did not provide explicit details, only mentioning the use of a “custom AI tool”), the extent of this grievance requires careful consideration.
Which forms of art involving generative AI should be deemed permissible, if any? Is it only acceptable if the final outcome does not employ unaltered generated imagery, or is it also exploitative to utilize it during the conceptual stage? Are there ethically trained generative models available for use, or is the entire creative process compromised?

These questions are neither rhetorical nor facetious but rather open inquiries. Depending on individual perspectives, one may argue that the title sequence created by Method either does or does not serve as a “good” example of utilizing generative models to produce original art.

This particular use case is appropriate. There is no attempt to conceal the fact that AI-generated content, addresses one of the concerns raised by people. The entire visual aesthetic intentionally aims to be unrealistic and unsettling. Could an AI produce a more accurate likeness of Samuel L. Jackson? Undoubtedly.

However, the intention of the artwork is not to supplant “real” art but to explicitly demonstrate its inadequacy as a creepy imitation. The choice to represent stars and landscapes using distorted imagery generated by flawed and peculiar AI is an artistic decision, a style chosen to reflect the show’s themes.

Admittedly, the timing of the release is unfortunate, given the ongoing strike and broader questions surrounding artistic exploitation. Ethical considerations aside, the titles feel out of touch at the moment. Nonetheless, one could argue that this is because the very themes they seek to express have become mainstream.

Had the title sequence featured subtle AI-generated elements, such as stills of Nick Fury with an AI-generated backdrop only discernible upon closer inspection, it would have been a different scenario. At this stage of the debate, any attempt to replace an artist’s contribution must be handled cautiously, akin to Indiana Jones replacing the golden idol with a bag of sand. Just as Indiana Jones did not succeed, AI art encounters similar challenges (albeit without the rolling boulder, for now).

Significantly, if one watches the show until the end, they will find proper credits, with a multitude of artists involved—hundreds of them, working across various VFX houses and units. Marvel is not circumventing artists—in fact, it is likely the largest employer or customer of professional artists worldwide (especially when considering Disney).

It is worth mentioning that Marvel’s treatment of artists, which often involves low payment and excessive workload, is an entirely separate matter (one deserving of scrutiny). The approach taken for the title sequence misjudged the current climate and there remains the question of whether the AI tools used co-opted other artists’ creations to achieve the final result, regardless of how carefully they were “guided” and composited. Consequently, Marvel does not receive a free pass in this regard.

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