Tonight at SXSW, director Ridley Scott will appear onstage with actors Michael Fassbender and Danny McBride to tease the upcoming "Alien: Covenant" during a special late-night screening of his original movie. He'll also be showing "Meet Walter," a beautiful, eerie short film that also happens to be subtly branded tie-up with technology firm AMD.
Directed by Mr. Scott's son Luke out of RSA, the film was created out of 3AM in partnership with Fox and AMD. It shows a pair of technicians from the movie's fictional tech firm, Weyland-Yutani, carefully assembling Mr. Fassbender's character, an artificially intelligent "synth" named Walter.
In a museum-like clinical setting, they meticulously put together Walter's 3-D-printed polycarbonate skeleton, a muscular system made of the "latest reactive polymer materials," internal organs composed of the "latest electrochemical wetware" and skin membrane, according to details provided by 3AM.
The most important piece? An electrochemical brain "turbo-boosted" by an AMD neural processor powered by the company's SenseMi technology.
This technological minutia, however, isn't spelled out in the short film. Rather, it comes together elegantly and unobtrusively, the focus remaining on the beautiful, ritualistic process of Walter's creation. AMD's logo appears quietly on a chip placed reverently atop Walter's head, and the company's name doesn't show up until the very end, with the line "Intelligence powered by AMD."
Some might recall from Mr. Scott's 2012 film "Prometheus" that Mr. Fassbender played an earlier version of Walter, the "synthetic" named David, who goes rogue from his "manufactured" emotions and sets off a lethal chain of events. Walter is a step up from David, a "highly advanced appliance" whose focus is on consumer needs and is "made to serve." Think Siri or Alexa on steroids, in handsome, humanoid form.
"We had David in the last film, and here is the latest version," explained Alison Temple, managing partner at 3AM, an entertainment marketing venture between Ridley Scott's production company RSA Films and Wild Card, one of Hollywood's theatrical advertising hotshops. "This is the evolution of Weyland-Yutani, it shows how they made Walter different, less emotional, [and] added a series of things to 'reduce risk' of harm."
The film itself is a fictional ad for Weyland-Yutani, promoting its latest model after the cataclysmic failure of the previous version. "We talked about, how do you make it trustworthy?" said 3AM Creative Director Chris Eyerman. "It's showing that humans are making this, it has a human touch, not just other robots in a factory."
The development of Walter's backstory involved close collaboration from the beginning of the main film's production itself, with all the partners involved: 3AM, the Scotts and the "Covenant" production team, 20th Century Fox, AMD and AMD's marketing/strategy agency of record 48 Communications.
When it comes to entertainment marketing opportunities, AMD and 48 have staffers meeting with studios regularly to scope out potential partnerships. "When we heard about 'Covenant' and then when we heard a little more about Walter, we very quickly drew parallels to the things AMD was already enabling and driving," said AMD Director OEM Marketing Raymond Dumbeck.
And it dovetailed perfectly with the company's own developments in deep learning and machine intelligence: AMD recently debuted its Ryzen SenseMI processor, and late last year it introduced Radeon Instinct, a suite of hardware and software designed to optimize machine learning and deep learning applications.
"There are very few ideas we would latch onto unless they tell a true story," said Karl Stewart, president at 48 Communications. "The one thing we're very against is product placement that doesn't have an opportunity to tell a part of the story."
On the part of the filmmakers, "we worked with the promotional department at Fox and we wanted to find a real partner," said Ms. Temple. "It had to be a real partner that was working in the space of AI and doing hardware too. We also thought they were interesting too because they're not consumer-facing."
On "Walter" himself, 3AM worked closely with both the filmmakers and AMD to ensure continuity of all elements -- film, branded short and product. "AMD consulted on the design of the chip and how it might be integrated into Walter," Mr. Eyerman explained. 3AM and Luke Scott worked hand-in-hand with the "Covenant" production team, including art, VFX, creatures and costume, on what Walter's makeup would be. "And of course Ridley had input on everything," he said.
The campaign also includes a "Meet Walter" poster, which will be distributed at SXSW, a Twitter activation as well as a website, MeetWalter.com, where viewers can reserve their own Walter -- "kind of in the same way you'd reserve a Tesla," Mr. Eyerman said. Those who reserve will get updates about their "Walter," who, over time, will evolve in line with their own personalities and preferences -- an idea reflecting AMD's AI tech.
The film represents one of the major phases of the "Covenant" marketing rollout. In late February, the 3AM team and Fox debuted a prologue film introducing viewers to the characters of the new film.
AMD, which is the official tech partner of the "Meet Walter" campaign, is also the official CPU/GPU chip partner of "Alien: Covenant." Its tech supports some of the post-production on the film, and the company will also be unveiling a "Covenant" VR experience closer to the movie's launch.