Lionel Messi meets young Messi in Mastercard ad that gave him 'goosebumps'

Spot by McCann and The Mill used AI-based 'neural rendering' similar to deepfake and promotes brand's UEFA Champions League sponsorship

Published On
May 17, 2022

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Mastercard's new ad celebrating its UEFA Champions League sponsorship brings soccer legend Lionel Messi face to face with his younger self, by way of some pioneering VFX.

The spot, by McCann, begins with the present day Messi reflecting on the question "What's priceless to you?" as he walks off the pitch through the players' tunnel. We then whirl back in time as it recreates the journey of a young Messi flying to Barcelona (he relocated from Argentina to Spain at age 13), nervous about flying, wondering if he will fit in and whether he'll miss the family he left behind. As he walks off the plane and on towards his playing career, he passes the older Messi and the two exchange a glance. Messi reflects that what's "priceless" comes with you "as long as you do what you love."

The younger rendition of Messi was created by The Mill using neural rendering, an AI-based technique similar to deepfake technology. It involves leveraging A.I. to render imagery based on data in the form of thousands of references of young Messi such as photos, videos and sound data of his likeness and movements. Together with additional video captured of actors with his likeness, the AI was then able to generate the final digital image we see in the commercial.  It was then integrated into the live action footage, which was directed by Peter Thwaites at The Corner Shop.

According to The Mill, this is the first time this VFX process has been used to this fidelity in a commercial. It was pioneered by The Mill’s VFX supervisor, Thiago Porto. While some might find the exchange between the two unnerving, the effects are undoubtedly realistic; Messi himself is quoted in the campaign's release as saying the likeness gave him "goosebumps" on viewing it. 

The spot airs in the run up to the UEFA Champions League final on May 28, which will see Real Madrid face off against Liverpool.