Marvel's oozed-up AI credits sequence for Secret Invasion came out as horrid as you'd expect. Originally a comic storyline centred around the Skrulls—sinister alien shapeshifters—and their infiltration of the superhero community, a Marvel Cinematic Universe retelling could've been interesting. Unfortunately, the studio's decision to work with an "AI Vendor" has left many fans furious.
"Imagine developing an entire show that is LITERALLY about displacing people and mimicking/imitating them with the goal of ultimately disempowering and replacing them, and then doing this," dekubrush—a senior character artist at Blizzard—wrote on Twitter, going on to call it an "utter embarrassment" and an "absolute failure of the highest magnitude."
Jeff Simpson, a senior concept artist who worked on the show itself, also commented: "Secret Invasion intro is AI generated. I’m devastated, I believe AI to be unethical, dangerous and designed solely to eliminate artists' careers."
Meanwhile in an interview with Polygon, executive producer and director Ali Salim defends the decision as a matter of theme. "It just came right out of the shape-shifting, Skrull world identity, you know?" Salim later goes on to admit he doesn't quite understand the technology. "We would talk to them about [ideas], and then the computer would go off and do something. And then we could change it a little bit by using words."
It's mind-boggling to hear that a director's understanding of the controversial tech they're using apparently boils down to 'the computer does things', especially in the background of ongoing Hollywood strikes where AI has formed a part of the conversation. It's reminiscent of the controversy caused by Prime Matter—publisher of the System Shock remake—when it used Midjourney to recreate Shodan, losing the faith of many kickstarter backers in the process.
What's the result of taking on all this controversy? Something pretty vile-looking, all told. A bizarre, dead-eyed Samuel L. Jackson stares ahead before blurry acid splits his gaze down the middle. Alien architecture (that could be visually interesting with some fine-tuning) is completely spoiled due to a lack of consideration as to where it's actually put. A blurry skyline of something that's maybe London is stamped by two Big Bens, and of course: none of the hands have the right amount of fingers. It's a mess: visual soup with very little rhyme or reason beyond 'this looks alien and weird and green'.
Even so, whether or not it looks good is beside the point. Salim's wish for a shape-shifting visual identity is something that could, objectively, be achieved by human artists. The concept offered up by the machine has occasional glimmers of potential which could be expanded upon by a human touch, but it currently looks cheap and nasty. Which, for Disney's Marvel Studios, is damning, especially with how little good-will it holds among the VFX community at large.
Gaming has its own industry issues rearing their melty Midjourney heads, with the Shodan stunt just the tip of the iceberg, with senior creatives citing AI as a good reason to retire and lunky AI scripts leaving players confused in Myst's spiritual successor Firmament. There have however been some interesting ventures such as the upcoming Hidden Door. If Secret Invasion's AI sludge is what we can expect out of cutscenes in the future though, I'll be reaching for the skip key.