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Inside AMD’s Partnership With “Alien: Covenant,” And The Dark Dichotomy of AI

Because Michael Fassbender’s creepy android is definitely evil, right?

Inside AMD’s Partnership With “Alien: Covenant,” And The Dark Dichotomy of AI

Androids in the Alien franchise don’t have the best reputation. For every noble, self-sacrificing Bishop, there’s an Ash or a David out there making lives harder for the humans who just want to get through their mission without being impregnated by an alien xenomorph.

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We don’t know exactly what role Walter, the synthetic human played by Michael Fassbender in Alien: Covenant, will play in the next installment in the series. (The fact that Fassbender played a similar synthetic in the semi-prequel Prometheus, though, isn’t a great sign!) But if you want to know how the Alien synthetic people are actually built, you now have that opportunity: in the short film “Meet Walter,” we get a look–through the lens of an advertisement–at exactly what it looks like in the Alien universe when an android first wakes up. You also get a look at the chip that powers them, which is helpfully manufactured by AMD.

“Meet Walter” was directed by Alien: Covenant second-unit director Luke Scott–son of Alien, Prometheus, and Covenant director Ridley, and member of RSA Films, the production company founded by Ridley and his late brother Tony–and conceived in partnership with agency 3AM, AMD, and AMD’s agency 48 Communications.

“When Zack [Eller of Fox] and Chris [Eyerman of 3AM] and the team came to us with the opportunity, this one struck a chord,” explains Karl Stewart, President of 48 Communications. “Because it allowed us to show AMD not only in the right light, with machine intelligence and artificial intelligence, but it’s an elevated story that allows us to show AMD both through the fictional use of where AI could be, as well as the application of real-world-today technology in application and other facets. It wasn’t just ‘let’s put a logo on an android,’ it’s the full 360.”

The idea for the film quickly centered on the character of Walter, and on creating an in-world advertisement that would show how the AI technology in the Alien universe might be marketed to people looking for a possibly-evil sidekick.

Once the brief made its way to Scott, he set about refining the idea, aware that he wasn’t just creating a piece of branded content–he was also expanding the very nature of the Alien franchise by showing fans, for the first time, how the synthetics are made. “I took a lot of reference in the bio-medical world about 3D printing limbs and organs, going down to the molecular level about how Walter is produced from a genetic level and grown traditionally in an artificial womb, or is he–is it–created as an adult version, and then the information is implanted via the AMD chip?” Scott says. “We decided he was an adult, and 3D printed an exo-skeleton. There was a desire to put red and fleshy stuff in there, and we said, ‘No, no, no,’ to the designer. ‘You can’t do that.’ This goes back to 1979 and Ash, he was all white liquid and weird organic milky fluid. So we had to take the technology out of it.”

Of course, when you start playing with an in-world concept in the Alien universe, you have to accept that you’re operating in a dystopia. It’s a franchise that means a lot to people in part because it’s bleak, things aren’t what they seem, and people (artificial or otherwise) tend to have a hidden agenda. That’s perhaps a dicey world to drop your brand into. While Alien: Covenant is still a few months from release, it’s safe to wonder if maybe Walter is going to turn out to be a villain in the film–and if so, does AMD really want to be the brand that’s responsible for the chip that created yet another evil android?

That’s something that the brand actually does take into account when making decisions for partnerships like this, but they decided that the chance to be in business with Ridley and Luke Scott, Fox, and the Alien franchise was worth potentially associating their brand with the creation of a treacherous fictional AI. “We spend a lot of time with the filmmakers and the studios to figure out if there’s going to be a positive or negative coming out of it. And in this case, we thought it was a positive because it really does show artificial intelligence in a light where, when the android comes to life, it makes its own decisions,” explains Stewart. “It doesn’t matter if it’s good technology or bad, but we’re looking at Walter being one of many–he’s just the one we see on the screen.”

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Plot risks aside, the rewards for AMD here are clear–they get to explain what they do, what their chips are capable of, establish themselves as a leader in the AI space, and get a compelling brand piece starring Michael Fassbender doing good work–but there are rewards for Fox and the Alien franchise, too. Having a real company tie into the Alien franchise lends it some grounding that helps the veracity of the world–something that’s always been very important to Alien–front and center, and that makes for a more immersive experience for audiences that don’t think much about brand partnerships.

“A lot of times, science fiction makes 100 years from now unrecognizable. You don’t even recognize the world that you’re living in anymore.” says Zachary Eller, 20th Century Fox’s senior vice president of marketing partnerships. “What’s so cool about the Alien universe is that it’s the future, yes, but it’s still very much our world. So having AMD build the chips for a Weyland-Yutani android is not an unreasonable thing that could happen. That’s why it all makes sense—it’s not just to shove a product placement in something, it’s to root fantasy in reality and create a real world where people say, ‘This could actually happen.'”

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.

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