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Backlash for Marvel’s new series opening credits made with AI

As the credits rolled for the inaugural episode of Marvel's "Secret Invasion”, controversy sparked across the internet. For the first time, artificial intelligence had been used in a major production, causing serious backlash from critics, the industry and fans alike. But why? And what can history tell us about the use (and arrival) of new technologies in art?

CREDIT: Marvel - "Secret Invasion" opening credits

Now, this will be a lengthy article, but if AI is a topic that frightens or fascinates you, please bear with me…

As artists working in the film field – with Joe being initially a CG artist, and me, being more from the writing side of the creative process – we found ourselves confronted with the possibility of extinction. With technologies like Wonder Dynamics, which integrates CG characters into real footage or Chat GPT, we've even wondered if we should start learning to make bread, or perhaps arepas. Since the first time AI crawled its way into our studio, a year ago when Midjourney was in beta testing phase, we have been on a rollercoaster of emotions. But instead of looking the other way, we started experimenting with many AI tools, and... good news! While some enable to create images or texts with ease – though not necessarily great – we realized it will not replace human creativity.

AI is a new tool in a filmmaker’s arsenal, like a personal minion you can overwork and it'd be happy about it. But it's not a magic tool (a misconception many seem to have); it takes time, patience and a lot of editing. Plus, it needs to be trained or told what to do. This means the ideas (and the final product) are still coming from your little brain, which, actually is the scary part. But I digress…

So, let's gain a little perspective here… When you look back, the history of art itself testifies to the fact that new technology can also engender new forms of creativity.*

*note to our readers, this is about technology, not copyright - which deserves another article.

When photography was invented, painters were upset

Rewind to the 19th century, when Nicéphore Niépce, a French pionner, inventend photography. It was 1822. The art world took a hit and was in turmoil, as traditional artists (mostly portrait and landscape painters) worried that this new mechanical piece of technology, able to capture reality as none of them could, would make them obsolete. Yet, instead of replacing traditional art, photography evolved into an art form of its own and pushed painters to explore new artistic styles like Impressionism, which celebrated the human interpretation of the world in a way a photography could not.

Digital animation vs. traditional animation

The introduction of digital animation in the 90s was similarly impactful. Prior to its introduction, animation was an intensive process, that took hours and required artists to draw each frame by hand. Digital animation significantly streamlined this process and allowed for new techniques and styles. Unsurprisingly, many traditional animators initially resisted this shift due to concerns about job security and the potential loss of the hand-drawn aesthetic. But don’t take it from us. Here’s a reaction from Disney animator, Aaron Blaise, to Corridor Crew’s manga AI short film “Rock, paper, scissors”.

Similarly, when Jurassic Park was made, creatures were traditionally animated in stop motion. Phil Tippet was the Maestro of this specific, time-consuming art. Having worked in classic movies like King Kong, Star Wars and Robocop, it was only natural that he was part of Spielberg’s team. But then came Steve 'Spaz' Williams, who was so sure CG animation was the future, he worked his a** off to make a walk cycle for the T-rex. It was thought to be impossible, yet he did it. And… CG animated dinosaurs were used in the movie!

When he saw it, Tippet got very sick and said to Spielberg that this "made him feel extinct" (line that was later used in the movie when archeology was in danger, by the way), but on the contrary! He had such a deep understanding of how creatures should move, that he guided the CG team and helped them understand movement, in order to animate the dinosaurs in a believable, life-like way. Instead of going extinct, he evolved. He was now the "Dinosaur Supervisor" of the movie.

Images from "Jurassic Punk" trailer

“AI will replace us”, “AI artists are not real artists”

In our present day, we find ourselves at a crossroads again with AI-technology disturbing our status quo. Many see AI as a threat, while others, view it as a new tool to play with, to explore, to further the narrative of their work, to question even reality… that is what artists do. The controversy surrounding AI in art recalls the initial reactions to photography and animation. While it's crucial to acknowledge and address the issues of AI (ethical, moral, copyright, how it's going to be exploited by big corps, etc.), we should also recognize its potential as a new medium for artistic expression, creating new breeds of artists and pushing the boundaries on how we create things. Refik Anadol, who uses AI to create immersive installations, is a perfect example of this new kind of creative individuals.

Here’s another interesting video made by the MoMa itself about AI in art.

Marvel’s AI opening credits

Now… don’t get us wrong. We are certainly not defending Marvel or any other big studio that have been notorious for mistreating their artists – hence the ongoing writers’ strike, or the complete and utter disrespect for VFX artists –.

So, why did they do it? According to the Executive producer and Director of the series, Ali Selim, the decision to use AI for the opening credits was a conscious artistic choice, echoing the show's themes of alien infiltration and identity uncertainty. At least they are being open and direct about it.

Now, was this done to cut costs? Well, that's (unfortunately) how the world works. Could this have been accomplished by a traditional artist (2d or 3d)? Certainly. Would it have had the same impact? Not sure.

The sequence was made by Method Studio, an award-winning VFX studio, who told the Hollywood Reporter that "the production process was highly collaborative and iterative, with a dedicated focus on this specific application of an AI toolset. It involved a tremendous effort by talented art directors, animators (proficient in both 2D and 3D), artists, and developers, who employed conventional techniques to craft all the other aspects of the project. However, it is crucial to emphasize that while the AI component provided optimal results, AI is just one tool among the array of toolsets our artists used. No artists’ jobs were replaced by incorporating these new tools; instead, they complemented and assisted our creative teams".

In conclusion, the story of art is a story of evolution - of new technologies and techniques challenging and transforming the way we create and perceive art. It is sometimes scary, other times exciting... but one thing is sure, AI is out of the box and here to stay. So, how are we going to use it?


Alex Iwanoff

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