The Martian — ARES: live | Ares 3: Chem Cam

Information elements and project structure

8 min readMar 11, 2020
Interplanetary experiments (8 October 2015) — Wounded in a severe storm and then managing to survive, Watney regularly records himself inside the housing unit (HAB) on Mars while continuing the scientific experiments initially scheduled for the 31 days of the Ares III mission.

1. Introduction

This document proposes an analysis of Ares: live | Ares 3: Chem Cam (2:06), promotional video of The Martian (R. Scott, 2015).
The research considers the product and its related materials by studying the creative choices, the informative properties, the modalities of visual representation and promotion.

Introductory note: The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015) is set in 2035–36. During the Ares III mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is mistakenly considered dead during a heavy storm, and abandoned by his crew. But Watney survives and wakes up alone on the hostile planet. With few supplies available, Watney must use ingenuity, intelligence and a spirit of survival to find a way to report to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to try to bring to program a bold — if not impossible — rescue mission. As these stories of incredible courage evolve, the world unites to support Watney’s return.[1]

1. Extended entertainment
During the articulated promotional campaign of The Martian, the series-prologue initiative called Ares: live developed into six main project interventions designed to introduce the fundamental narrative coordinates of the fictional world by outlining scenarios, people, environments, technological context, time intervals and existential conditions related to the film story. Considering the recent sectoral need — which has today become a priority — to transform the promotional campaign of a media product into an additional entertainment experience, the immersive strategies integrated in Ares: live have developed by fragmenting the information into serial videos, with the aim to stimulate commercial curiosity towards the primary product (The Martian), expanding the narrative context with collateral materials
and interdependent informative notions

2. Analysis

2.1. The Ares: live channel
Conceived as the official YouTube channel dedicated to its space program, Ares: live hosts 6 promotional videos interconnected with the film story of The Martian, published between June and October 2015.

The video series includes:

  1. Farewell
    7 June 2015
    On board the Hermes space station, astronaut Mark Watney personally records a live video to introduce the crewmembers a few hours before leaving the Earth’s orbit for Mars.
  2. The Right Stuff
    4 August, 2015
    During preparation for the Ares III mission, the crewmembers are interviewed by a NASA psychologist after a 10-day isolation period.
  3. Our Greatest Adventure
    27 August 2015
    The American astrophysicist Neil deGrass Tyson presents a brief fictional
    documentary set in 2035, illustrating the main features of the Ares III mission.
  4. Leave Your Mark
    9 September 2015
    Astronaut Mark Watney is filmed during the intense athletic training phase prior to the Ares III mission, promoting Under Armour’s technical sports apparel.
  5. Bring Him Home
    22 September 2015
    The world population mobilizes in a solidarity campaign requesting to bring Mark Watney home through a recovery mission.
  6. Ares 3: Chem Cam
    8 October, 2015
    Having succeeded in remaining alive on Mars, Mark Watney films himself on video inside the housing unit (HAB) intent on performing some scientific experiments planned during the Ares III mission, commenting on his condition and making fun of the other crew members.
Visualization and synthesis of Ares: live promotional materials in order of publication (June-October 2015) and in narrative order (2034–2035/2036)

2.1.1. Ares Chem Cam
8 October 2015

In The Martian, left alone on Mars starting from Sol 6[2], Watney lives inside the HAB (the NASA housing unit) managing to survive by cultivating a small potato plantation, sufficient to guarantee a limited but constant food reserve. Ares 3: Chem Cam (2:06)[3] is extrapolated from videos recorded daily by Watney to document his days of survival on Mars. Watney recovers (with two GoPros installed on the walls) intent on carrying out a series of scientific experiments (chemical reactions, microscope observations, cataloging of organic material) recording the research activities and turning to his crewmates Lewis, Beck, Johanssen, Vogel and Martinez with ironic jokes and comments.


  • Reassures commander Lewis, demonstrating that he is continuing scientific research, despite the interruption of the Ares III mission.
  • He underscores to Beck his difficulty in understanding the heterotrophic analysis process, but says that he is trying to study it anyway in order to conclude the series of chemical operations established.
  • Comically disobeys Johanssen, repeatedly touching with his hand the special sampling camera, equipment to be kept strictly sterile
  • Informs Vogel that he has found a new way of cataloging the collected soil
    samples, renamed Das Core Samples, making fun of his colleague’s German nationality.
  • Demonstrates comic perplexity towards Martinez, admitting that he does not know what his utility in the mission is.
  • In conclusion, he declares that he tries to keep all the scientific material documented and organized, inviting his companions to think of a university course in the future entitled The Mark Watney Syllabus where to explain how to create useful tools with recycled NASA materials and how to cook a potato in six thousand different ways.
Ares 3: Chem Cam: synthesis of visual development — 1) Watney reassures commander Lewis while preparing an experiment, continuing on with the days of research still to be completed; 2) Mark tells Beck that he is trying to continue the heterotrophic analysis experiments, despite his theoretical shortcomings; 3) Mark provokes Johanssen by touching the special camera with the sampling sensors, usually kept sterile; 4) Mark reassures Vogel about the soil samples collected, now cataloged with the German system “Das Core Samples”; 5) Watney ironically emphasizes the futility of Martinez in the mission; 6) Mark says goodbye to his colleagues and invites them to consider creating the self-referential “Mark Watney Syllabus” to teach the activities performed. Note: the reading order is lateral, starting from the top left. The number of frames shown does not represent the exact visual development of the video.

Main communicative properties:

  • The interface of the video camera system (probably GoPro) inside the HAB
    reveals a specific time interval (Sol 162) during the survival period, about 156 Sol after the accident. Watney recalls the date of Sol 6 as an evacuation day, calculating that he still has 13 Sol of scientific research to do to complete the 31 Sol of activity originally planned.[4]
  • Considering the story of The Martian, narratively begun on 2 October 2015 (first day of cinema distribution), on 8 October Mark Watney is already metaphorically lost on Mars, and trying to survive. The video then combines narrative time with the perception of real time, creating a relationship of meaning between the worlds.
  • Simultaneously with the preoccupations on Earth, Watney proves to be light-hearted, active and in good health, communicating an idea of ironic and reassuring survival, as opposed to the dramatic tones seen in Bring Him Home. In particular, in terms of commercial perception, it associates a humorous context with a science fiction and survival story, reassuring a possible critical audience.[5]
  • Concludes the series of promotional films provided by the Ares: live channel covering the entire time interval “training-departure-survival”; and particular scenic aspects (characters, central narrative elements, background, location, architecture, lighting, technological instruments, communication methods).
  • Describes and leaves a series of questions about Watney’s fate unresolved, continuing to intrigue the public.
Life on Mars (1 October 2015) — The official collaboration with GoPro also includes the GoPro promotional video: The Martian — Life on Mars (1:02) where Watney recovers during daily activities on Mars, revealing the growth period of the small potato cultivation that willtemporarily guarantee him worry-free survival while waiting to be rescued. Note: the shootings are shown without additional graphic interfaces (seen instead in Farewell and Ares 3: Chem Cam) and without color correction. Some excerpts are then found in The Martian. See

Notes List

[1] Official description on Youtube. The exclusive world premiere of The Martian was hosted during the Toronto Film Festival (10–11 September 2015). See

[2] The term Sol indicates the time value of a solar day on Mars. See

[3] The video is introduced in the Ares: archives category and, unlike Farewell and The Right Stuff, has a yellow separator thread (instead of orange, visible only in the final transition), and does not include an introductory sound. The song in the background is Hexadecimals, excerpt from the original soundtrack composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. See

[4] The original novel includes chronological segments between Sol 6 (first day of survival on Mars) and Sol 549 (rescue of Watney on the Hermes space station), but excludes the description of Sol 162.

[5] Irreverent and in good health, Watney is shown optimistic while awaiting the arrival of a shipment of food financed by NASA, in preparation after the destruction of his potato cultivation due to a pressure malfunction (Sol 119 in the novel, Sol 134 in The Martian). The situation will become critical only on Sol 186, when the load headed for Mars explodes during the departure phase, leaving Watney with insufficient food reserves for the coming months (Sol 561). In competition at the Golden Globes 2016, The Martian was assessed (generating controversy) as a comedy, rewarding Matt Damon as best leading actor. A story entirely focused on negative emotions (anxiety, loneliness, horror, despair) can discourage certain segments of the public, with significant financial repercussions. See, in contrast, the
creative choices of Gravity (A. Cuarón, 2013).

Study method and sources
This document is the result of a compilation process created with scientific and accessibility requirements. Special care has therefore been devoted to coherently structuring the texts and analysis sections, to selecting functional visual devices, and to providing verified information by correctly citing sources of documentation, with the final objective of sharing useful material for the purposes of study, criticism and information. References to all the sources consulted have been inserted using numbers in square brackets [] and reported in the references at the conclusion, with the relative explanatory notes. The hyperlinks’ accessibility was verified in November 2015, date of the document’s first publication. A final revision was made in May 2019.

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