The intro to Secret Invasion is putting AI animation front and center in one of media’s most popular franchises.
In Secret Invasion, the mood is supposed to be one of distrust and unease. Viewers met the shapeshifting Skrulls in Captain Marvel in 2019 as refugees and potential allies, but we haven’t seen very much of them since then. In this new series, there are thousands living on Earth, and there’s no way to tell who is one or isn’t.
The intro to Secret Invasion is meant to set that mood. In an animated sequence made both by Disney artists and artificial intelligence, images we think we recognize morph and reveal that they aren’t what they seem, in ways that don’t match what we think of as human-made art.
“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?” director and executive producer Ali Selim said in a phone interview with Polygon.
The use of AI-generation in television is controversial, as writers and artists are legitimately concerned about their jobs. AI cannot produce a quality product on its own, but it’s so much cheaper than skilled work that it’s easy to predict companies making that sacrifice. But the intro to Secret Invasion isn’t that.
The intro’s scenes and animations were story-boarded, illustrated, and animated by humans, with AI generation only being a single stage of the whole, used to push it beyond the uncanny valley into truly alien.
Method Studios, which made the introduction, addressed concerns about AI replacing people with the statement “no artists’ jobs were replaced by incorporating these new tools.”
“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, artists, and developers, who employed conventional techniques to craft all the other aspects of the project. … AI is just one tool among the array of toolsets our artists used.