The world of Secret Invasion is decidedly sketchy. With thousands of shapeshifting Skrulls on Earth, you can’t trust what you think you’re seeing. One second, you’re looking at Nick Fury or an esteemed world leader; the next, you see their face morph into something (or someone) else entirely.
This is a description of the plot of the new Marvel Cinematic Universe show on Disney Plus (as well as its comic book counterpart), which follows Nick Fury as he uncovers — what else? — a secret invasion by the Skrull population on Earth. But the concept of shape-shifting is also seen in the series’ very different approach to its opening credits, which look like a sort of watercolor rendering of the key players and themes of Secret Invasion.
As we see a sort of jittery and ominous sequence of the Skrull green taking over more and more of the world, it looks a lot like if an AI was prompted with the concept of “Skrull cubism” — which, actually, isn’t that far off of what it is. As director and executive producer Ali Selim tells Polygon, the intro sequence was designed by Method Studios using artificial intelligence, something he thinks plays with the very themes of the show.
“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 says.
Like many people, Selim says he doesn’t “really understand” how the artificial intelligence works, but was fascinated with the ways in which the AI could translate the sense of foreboding he wanted for the series. “We would talk to them about ideas and themes and words, and then the computer would go off and do something. And then we could change it a little bit by using words, and it would change.”
Method Studios, which previously worked on Marvel shows like Ms. Marvel, Loki, and Moon Knight, did not respond to Polygon’s request for comment about how exactly it designed the sequence (the staff for the credits includes producers, designers, and an AI technician). But in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Method Studios stated that “no artists’ jobs were replaced by incorporating these new tools.” The statement notes they were seeking an “otherworldly and alien look,” which they achieved by utilizing a “custom AI tool” for the project:
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.
The entire process, guided by expert art direction, encompassed the initial storyboard phase, illustration, AI generation, 2D/3D animation and culminated in the final compositing stage.
The concept of AI art is certainly a hot-button topic at the moment, with concerns ranging from the rights of artists over their styles and how their work is used to the demands of those striking with the Writers Guild. But others, like Selim or Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragusa — a streamer using AI to build a chatbot version of herself — see AI as a tool that can prosper in the uncanny valley buffer of real life and artifice.
In the case of Secret Invasion, Selim says he was excited by what Method Studios brought to the show: “It felt explorative and inevitable, and exciting, and different.”
Update (June 22): This story has been updated with Method’s statement to The Hollywood Reporter.