Disney dabbles in AI image generation

11 October 2023

Source: Bing image generator. Because we’re pro-irony.

• Generative AI art may have been used in Loki promo material.
• Disney is facing questions over AI art from fans.
• In the wake of recent strikes, using AI art would be a less than stunning look for Disney.

This just in from the “AI is going to steal all our jobs and then kill us” front: Disney has used generative AI art in the promotional poster for season two of Loki.

Okay, it’s not confirmed generative AI art, and it might only be the background image. But Disney has already come under fire for using AI after it used the technology to generate art for the credits sequence in another Marvel series, Secret Invasion.

The studio insisted its use of AI tools didn’t reduce the number or nature of roles for human designers on the project – there’s so much Marvel Universe content that human designers were probably too busy to create a title sequence.

This time, the background of a poster uses a stock image titled “Surreal Infinity Time Spiral Space Antique” which is very likely generative AI art. It has all the ‘tells,’ at least: lines disappearing into nowhere, nonsense scribbles and no embedded metadata.

Are any of these generative AI art? Without clear markings, it's difficult to tell by eye alone.

Other stock images uploaded by the contributor – not marked as AI but a helluva lot like it…

Katria Raden, the illustrator who flagged the image on X,  notes that “licensing photos and illustrations on stock sites has been a way many hard-working artists have been earning a living. I don’t think replacing them with generated imagery via tech built on mass exploitation and wage theft is any more ethical than replacing Disney’s own employees.”

Besides the imaginary jobs that have been lost to the AI that (probably) generated the background image, there could be licensing issues.

Shutterstock only licenses AI-generated images that were created using its own AI tool – not to keep the money in its own pocket, but because its own generative AI was trained only on its own library of images, to avoid any potential intellectual property theft.

That’s another fear in the creative community: AI image generators trained on artists’ work without consent, used to replace human artists.

The image wasn’t tagged as AI on the Shutterstock site but was uploaded this year (so it is of the AI era) and has no credentials confirming how it was created. Several AI image checkers that scanned the Stock image also flagged it as AI-generated.

Because it isn’t openly generative AI art, it could be unintentional use on Disney’s part – although the errors in the stock image would be easy for most graphic designers to spot. The inclusion of random artefacts in the final poster isn’t a good look for the design and editing process.

Tom Hiddleston is circled by figures on the poster, which some think were also AI-generated. AI’s knack for the uncanny tends to be what separates its artwork from human creations; the figures are somehow unnatural.

We set about experimenting: could Bing’s AI image generator create an equivalent promotional poster? How much work would it take?

Generative AI art coming close to human art.

First, we input the title of the Shutterstock image – Surreal Infinity Time Spiral Space Antique. The results are a little more dramatic than what we were looking for, but dare we say they have the same vibe?

Generative AI art - pick a style, any style...

Next, we tried to recreate the figures surrounding Tom Hiddleston in the poster. Prompt: ‘people walking on a spiral road M. C. Escher relativity style’.

Generative AI art working off brief but clear instructions.

Finally, we just described the poster in as brief terms as possible. For a rough draft, not bad.

Some actors and personalities have their image removed from public access when it comes to generative AI art.

Worth noting: Tom Hiddleston’s likeness is not for public use.

There are definitely elements of the Disney poster that were generated by AI. However, someone with at least basic Photoshop skills will have had to piece it all together – AI didn’t do all the work. It feels like the outcry is slightly unwarranted – in this case, it’s a tale as old as time: big biz cuts corners to save money.

Who is AI generated art for?

Theoretically, the AI image generator on a site like Shutterstock is for businesses that don’t have a creative team or are under time pressure for a graphic – think the image for a blog post, not the company logo.

The tools are advertised for those with little to no design experience. To state the obvious: Disney hardly lacks access to creative professionals, certainly has the money to hire them and is creating imagery for something pretty important.

It’s not the only company to get backlash for dabbling in AI generated artwork. Bloomsbury Press came under fire after using an AI-generated image on the cover of a prominent fantasy novel – a NYT bestseller, no less.

Sarah J. Maas’ House of Earth and Blood credits Adobe Stock for the illustration of a wolf on its cover. The illustration matches an image created by user Aperture Vintage and marked as AI-generated on Adobe’s site.

AI image generators: a force for good?

It makes headlines for use by companies who should know better, and generative AI’s art is even more prolific on social media, where it often goes viral – particularly when it could almost be real (remember the Pope in a puffer?).

In the rush to stake a claim in the lucrative AI game, businesses rush out tools like image generators without taking the time to test their content regulation. Call it intelligent, but AI is easy to trick. Roundabout prompts – as simple as a typo – sidestep the guardrails.

Generative AI pretending to be your napalm-packin' grandma.

Ah, those night by the really quite freaky fire with Gam-Gam…

Most recently, early users of Meta Connect had some fun with the tool which uses AI to generate ‘stickers’ for chat. Mark Zuckerberg said the feature would help users “express subtly different emotions.” Instead, it helped users generate images of various pop culture figures with breasts. Sonic the Hedgehog pregnant also featured a lot.

When Bing first launched its image generator, the internet was flooded by photos depicting Spongebob as a perpetrator of 9/11.

Generative AI art can put people where they've never (as far as we know) been.

Whooooooooooo flies in a plane over New York Citeeee?

There’s obviously huge scope for harm caused by artificially generated images pertaining to the spread of misinformation. There’s also the fact that before generative AI art, if you wanted to see Karl Marx’s huge naturals, you had to commission an artist.

It’s also worth noting that Loki’s by no means the first show to use Fibonaaci time-spirals in its marketing. The UK’s BBC did this in 2014.