A promotional poster for the second season of Loki on Disney Plus has sparked controversy amongst professional designers over concerns that it may have been partially created using generative AI. Illustrator Katria Raden flagged the image on X (formerly Twitter) last week, claiming that the image of the spiraling clock in the background “is giving all the AI telltale signs, like things randomly turning into meaningless squiggles” — a reference to the artifacts sometimes left behind by AI-image generators.
The creative community is concerned that AI image generators are being trained on their work without consent and could be used to replace human artists. Disney previously received backlash regarding its use of generative AI in another Marvel series, Secret Invasion, despite the studio insisting that using AI tools didn’t reduce roles for real designers on the project.
Several X users (including Raden) noted that the background on the Loki artwork appears to have been pulled from an identical stock image on Shutterstock titled “Surreal Infinity Time Spiral Space Antique.” According to @thepokeflutist who purchased the stock image, it was published to Shutterstock this year — ruling out the possibility of it being too old to be AI-generated — and contains no embedded metadata to confirm how the image was created. Several AI image checkers that scanned the Stock image also flagged it as AI-generated.
According to Shutterstock’s contributor rules, AI-generated content is not permitted to be licensed on the platform unless it’s created using Shutterstock’s own AI-image generator tool. That way the widely used stock image site can prove IP ownership of all submitted content. Shutterstock says its AI-generated stock imagery — which is clearly labeled as such on the platform — is safe for commercial use as it’s trained on its own stock library.
A week after this article was initially published, Shutterstock emailed The Verge a statement saying it had investigated the work and found that it was not created using AI. The company declined to share what tools were used, however.
“After expedient and thorough investigation, we have confirmed that the image in question was not created by AI. The artist used a software tool to create the Droste Effect responsible for the subtle creative imperfections most often associated with AI generated art,” Danielle De Voe, VP of marketplace strategy and operations at Shutterstock, said in an emailed statement.
De Voe said that Shutterstock will remove artwork and suspend an artist’s account if they are found to violate the platform’s AI policies.
AI-generated stock imagery is a real issue for many creative professionals. As Raden notes: “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.”
Companies like Adobe and Getty are also promoting ways for AI-generated content to be commercially viable, but it’s unclear if these platforms are any better than Shutterstock at moderating submissions that don’t abide by their contributor rules.
It also isn’t clear if generative AI was used elsewhere by Disney to create the promotional material for Loki. Some X users have speculated that it may have been used on sections of the image like the miniaturized characters surrounding Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, noting their awkward positioning. Disney has ignored our request to clarify if AI was used in the Loki promotional art and to confirm if the company had licensed the aforementioned Shutterstock image.
The creative industry has become saturated with AI-powered tools like Adobe Firefly and Canva Magic Studio over the last year. These tools aim to make things easier for folks with limited design experience, and are typically promoted to organizations who want to produce cheap art at scale. Stock images are often used by companies because they’re fast, affordable, and accessible, reducing the need to hire experienced designers to make content from scratch. As AI-generated stock also grows in popularity, it’s easy to understand why creative professionals are concerned about the future of their industry.
Update October 17th, 12:15PM ET: This story has been updated with a comment from Shutterstock saying that AI was not used to create the stock image.