The Martian — ARES: live

Brief analysis of the promotional campaign

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This document examines in brief the narrative structure and other primary information elements of Ares: live, promotional marketing initiative of The Martian (R. Scott, 2015). The research considers the product and its materials by studying the creative choices, the informative properties, the modalities of visual representation and promotion.

1. Introduction

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]

1.1. 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.

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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.
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Visualization and synthesis of Ares: live promotional materials in order of publication (June-October 2015) and in narrative order (2034–2035/2036)
Departure (7 June 2015) — Turning on a video camera (GoPro) without understanding its instructions (written in Armenian), NASA astronaut Mark Watney begins broadcasting live from the Hermes space station, introducing the crew before leaving the Earth’s orbit for destination Mars. Informal tones, jokes, curses and ironies respect the original novel by Andy Weir (2011) and anticipate the comic-dramatic atmosphere present in the film story.

2.1.1. Farewell
7 June 2015

Ares 3: Farewell (3:30)[2] inaugurates the series-prologue of The Martian by presenting the Hermes space station and the Ares III mission crew to the public during the hours before the departure for Mars.[3] Using a portable mini-camera[4], astronaut Mark Watney broadcasts live the images recorded while interviewing his astronaut colleagues (Martinez, Lewis, Beck, Vogel, Johanssen) in different environments (storage room, navigation station, flight deck, kitchen, Apollo laboratory)[5].

The images integrate textual elements in real time simulating the dynamic interface of a plausible social platform[6], including user comments, dominant hypertext references on the Net, technical information and personal biographical notes on each member.[7]

In concluding, Watney addresses a friendly goodbye to the public, wishing everyone an extraordinary year on Earth, and recalls the importance of the Ares III mission for all humanity. He says goodbye his parents with affection and stops the transmission.

“We were inspired by a simple idea: depict the Ares III astronauts as celebrities and follow the events of the mission in a manner that blurred fiction and reality. […] We asked ourselves what it would look like if we took the pop culture appeal of Apollo and Mercury-era astronauts and infused that world with today’s hyper-connected social media culture. […] This idea ended up being a ripe territory for content that allowed us to develop an emotional bond with these characters and also capture the humor, drama, and science that people loved in the book.”[8]

Combining the information shown between the dialogues and the 14 animated captions, the biographical profiles of the characters begin to take shape:

  • Mark Watney
    Astronaut specializing in botany, he has participated in sustainable agriculture programs in developing countries. He thanks his mother for her strong professional ethics and sense of humor. He is a fan of the Cubs, the Chicago baseball team. Before suspending the signal, he says goodbye his parents, promising, once he returns, to have dinner with them at Gino’s for a deep dish, the typical Chicago pizza. [9]
  • Rick Martinez
    Pilot, he graduated the best student of his class at the Air Force Academy and won a national award in the military institute’s boxing team. He is married to his high school sweetheart. Interviewed by Watney on navigation, he quantifies a period of 150 days and a distance of 36 million miles to reach Mars, pretending to confuse the chosen travel direction by incorrectly indicating the planet Uranus.[10]
  • Melissa Lewis
    Commander of the Ares III mission and Hermes space station, she is passionate about disco music and a great collector of vinyl records. Interviewed by Watney while she is intent on consulting documents at a station in the Apollo laboratory, she mentions astronauts Laurel Clark (1961–2003), Christa McAuliffe (1948–1986) and Eileen Collins with admiration.
  • Chris Beck
    Surgeon, he appears briefly, sitting at his station and then in the kitchen with Vogel, intent on eating a food defined as “chewable” (apparently similar to pasta). Note: simultaneously an animated information quantifies the daily calorie consumption of an astronaut in 1900–3200 calories. Another animated caption reveals the presence of a coffee machine on board the Hermes.
  • Alex Vogel
    Of German nationality, he appears sitting at a station interacting with a touch screen. Filmed in the kitchen with Beck, he greets the audience by showing Watney’s camera a plate with two sausages, pronouncing the corresponding term in German (wurst). His operational role is not stated.
  • Beth Johanssen
    A telecommunications expert, at the age of 17 she won the most important
    computer science competition organized by NASA and then graduated from MIT with a double degree in computer science and mathematics. Gamer and passionate about classic martial arts films, she is a coffee addict and a night owl. Unaware of being filmed by Watney live, she expresses her enthusiasm for the mission by cursing. She then addresses a personal warning to Watney, telling him to ignore the negative opinions about him because he is actually a good person. Watney instinctively thanks her, but then remains perplexed and says that he wants to talk about it in private.

“Just remember. What we’ll do up there, we will doing it for everyone on Earth. This gonna be an amazing journey. For all of us. We’re all in together.” — Mark Watney

Main communicative properties:

  • Explores a time interval preceding the story of The Martian, stimulating the user to imagine a hypothetical chronology of events during the journey to Mars (about 150 days, with related daily actions) and scientific research activities on Mars (up to day Sol 6 of forced evacuation).
  • Establishes elements of reality with the fictional world, combining recognizable visual and informative modes (such as the simulated social platform), with the result of increasing the level of plausibility perceived with narration through metacommunication methods.
  • Presents the characters for the first time, their primary psychological profiles and their personal biographical backgrounds (useful for establishing an initial emotional contact with the user by expanding a secondary narrative and prior to the main story).
  • Shows the technological context, the main architectural spaces (inside the
    Hermes space station), and some iconographic elements of the Ares III mission (including logo, official emblem, interfaces, and NASA logo).
  • Brings together stylistic aspects of the cinema, of visual communication and digital media languages, seeking promotion and high media visibility through the experimentation of innovative combinations.
  • Intrigues an extended audience, recalling the imaginary, the visual style and the informative value of other scientific materials published by the social channels of space agencies (such as NASA, ESA, Canadian Space Agency).
  • Together with related initiatives, it reaches diverse audiences by combining the experience of Mark Watney (and the popularity of Matt Damon) with a truly existing technological product (GoPro) to promote its qualitative characteristics and creative potential.

New technologies like GoPro give filmmakers the opportunity to really push the language of cinema forward and introduce audiences to new perspectives and layers of storytelling that can really be quite engaging. […] Small details that helped drive aspects of the story forward and gave the world an extra layer of authenticity and familiarity.”[11]

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Farewell: visual development synthesis — 1) On the Hermes space station, Watney turns on a GoPro and starts recording, broadcasting the video live on the Net; 2) Mark presents his astronaut colleagues (Martinez, Lewis, Beck, Vogel, Johanssen) exploring the different environments of the station; 3) The colleagues and Watney say greet the public shortly before starting the maneuver operations to leave the Earthìs orbit and head towards Mars; 4) In concluding, Mark affectionately says goodbye to his parents and ends the broadcast. 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.
Isolation test (4 August 2015) — Training for the Ares III mission included a 10-day isolation period, carried out with the intention of verifying the psychophysical effects on the astronauts in the event of situations of extreme individual survival. NASA’s confidential archival material shows Watney, Martinez, Lewis, Vogel, Beck, and Johanssen during the conclusive talks with a psychologist.

2.1.2. The Right Stuff
4 August 2015

The Right Stuff (3:15)[12] reveals the interviews on personal aptitude held between the Ares III astronaut candidates and a NASA psychologist after a 10-day isolation period, in a time interval prior to the departure for the Hermes space station (shown instead in Farewell).

In an observation room [13], the astronauts are seated at a desk and are being interviewed by the formally dressed therapist. An internal video camera system records conversations while a dynamic graphic interface analyzes the biometric data of the subjects being interviewed (nationality, serial number, date and place of birth, status, recruitment group, operational role, superior in charge, professional skills, psychological components, heart rate, internal temperature, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and other data), revealing
through the tests some previously unpublished biographical information.

Before leaving for Mars, each member of the Ares 3 crew spent 10 days in isolation as a training exercise. Upon release, they were interviewed by a NASA psychologist.[14]

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The Right Stuff: visual development synthesis — 1) Watney answers by wondering how Aquaman can control the whales; 2) Martinez talks about perfecting his own auto-erotic techniques and cites the role of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas (M. Scorsese, 1990); 3) Lewis perceives a sexist question and responds by telling about his experience in the Military Naval Academy; 4) Vogel declares that he never feels fear because he is German; 5) Beck is used to making extreme decisions in the medical field and answers with a demented joke; 6) Johanssen, bored and sprawled, briefly describes the main qualities of her colleagues; 7) Watney ironically thanks for the period of isolation; 8) The NASA psychologist (Sam Spruell) places the pen on his desk, concluding the interviews. 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.
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Biometric analysis — The crew’s dynamic data shown during the interview include: freshman; registry information; geographical origin; company status; NASA/ESA recruitment session; operational role; professional specializations; psychological components and physiological functions.

Evaluating character profiles:

  • Watney
    Data: born in Chicago (Illinois) on 12 October 1994. NASA 27, 2032 group
    selection. Primary role: botanist. Specializing in botany, mechanical engineering and public relations.

    Invited to share his thoughts on the isolation test, Mark begins an ironic logical speech about the superhero Aquaman, pointing out that despite his marine powers, he could not control whales, because they are mammals. He then points out that perhaps this false condition can work with an audience of children, because usually they do not know that whales are mammals, but concludes that the issue does not make sense anyway.[15]
  • Martinez
    Data: born in Brooklyn (New York) on 21 January 1996. NASA 26, 2029 group selection. Primary role: pilot. Specialized in space navigation, astronautical engineering, maneuvers with MAV/MDV vehicles.
    When the psychologist underscores how the isolation test constitutes an
    important time to reflect in solitude, Rick answers with a metaphor, saying that he has studied how to relieve tension for the mission, but referring to new practices of auto-eroticism. He then cites his great cinematographic imagination, hinting at a scene from Goodfellas (M. Scorsese, 1990), praising Joe Pesci’s performance.
  • Lewis
    Data: born in Missoula (Minnesota) on 15 July 1995. NASA 25, 2029 group selection. Primary role: commander. Specialized in geology, coordination and operations management.
    Answering a question with an implicit sexist discrimination (the additional
    responsibility of being the first “female”; commander in the ARES program), Melissa answers firmly by telling of having graduated first in her class at the Naval Academy and describes the regressive experience of psychological resistance inside a submarine, thus managing to intimidate the interlocutor.
  • Vogel
    Data: born Künzelsau[16] (Germany) on 3 November 1996. ESA 2030 group selection. Primary role: navigator. Specialized in chemistry, navigation systems, astrophysics.
    When the psychologist asks if he is afraid of the imminent mission, Vogel
    answers negatively with serious humor, motivating the reaction with the fact that he is German, hence naturally fearless.
  • Beck
    Data: born in Hartford (Connecticut) on 2 August 1999. NASA 26, 2029 group selection. Primary role: surgeon. Specialized in aerospace medicine, biology, EVA outputs.
    As a doctor, Chris proves to be professional and accustomed to a daily context of tension and immediate decisions. But then he plays down with a vulgar joke, embarrassing the psychologist.
  • Johanssen
    Data: born in San José (California) on 9 May 2006. NASA 27, 2032 group
    selection. Primary role: computer operator. Specialized in computer science, system engineering, nuclear technology.

    Lounging and with the hood of her sweatshirt over her head, Beth is invited to briefly describe her impressions of Watney, Martinez and Lewis, emphasizing Watney’s congeniality, Martinez’s comedy and Lewis’s charisma.[17]
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Personal information and professional specializations of the ARES III astronauts. Note: the photos shown are taken from the dynamic biometric interface present in In The Right Stuff, found published — either individually or in a team photo portrait — also on the promotional document of the official description of the ARES III mission with lots of additional information. See

Main communicative properties:

  • Deepens the psychological profiles of the characters, continuing the definition of personal relationships, types of individual behavior and professional hierarchies that are then recognized — extended — in The Martian. The user establishes his/her own emotional affiliations between the characters and is oriented to an empathic identification.
  • Explores a time interval before the story of The Martian, but also of Farewell, describing an event during the training period (thus prior to the departure for the Hermes station). Chronologically rearranging the series of promotional material for Ares: live, The Right Stuff can be considered the first content.
  • Presents to the public an apparently marginal fact that happened during the training period (a previous exercise in survival in isolation mode), later ironically destined to become the main existential condition of the protagonist on Mars.
Futuristic disclosure (27 August 2015) — In a study set up through a holographic system, the American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson conducts a plausible special episode of StarTalk set in 2035, introducing the public to the scientific context, to the risks of interstellar travel, to the functions of the HAB and to the potential developments of spatial colonization associated with the Ares III mission.

2.1.3. Our greatest Adventure
27 August 2015

In Our Greatest Adventure (3:33), the famous American astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson presents a plausible documentary dedicated to the Ares III mission. Conceived as a special TV episode of StarTalk[18] set in 2035, the video briefly introduces the public to the various operational phases, the scientific implications, the logistic functioning and the risks associated with the planned Mars mission. Film sequences, photorealistic holograms and three-dimensional animations complete the presentation, simulating an immersive scenic space entirely dedicated to the space mission.

The holo-room set was a creative choice that allowed us to go on a journey with Neil that would keep the focus on the Hermes and its voyage, bringing the cosmos directly to our host in a futuristic 360° mixed reality setting.”[19]

The information presented concerns:

  • Aircraft
    The description of Hermes, the most complex and costly orbiting space station ever built, presumably inaugurated in 2029 on the occasion of the first human landing on Mars, with the first mission of the Ares program.
  • Period
    The duration of the interplanetary journey to Mars (225 million kilometers in about 124 days) and the calculated potential risks (cosmic radiations, genetic mutations, solar storms, asteroids, meteoroids and possible consequent aircraft failure).
  • Habitability
    The function of the HAB, the earthly housing unit designed to ensure the
    survival of the astronauts on the surface of Mars and to withstand extreme
    conditions (oxygen, radiation, dust storms and glacial temperatures).
  • Research
    The scientific activities[20] conducted during the mission (planned 30 days/31 Sol) to study the biological history of the planet and the possibilities of sustaining life for the development of a future human colony.

Earth, a magnificent world to which we owe our creation no longer seems destined to be our final resting place. […] Our adventure is just beginning.”

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Our Greatest Adventure: visual development synthesis — 1) A mountain landscape of Mars; 2) Neil deGrasse Tyson recalls the primordial dream of landing on Mars, which came to fruition with the first human mission on Mars in 2029 after decades of sectorial competition and with the Ares international space program; 3) The Hermes orbiting station is the main aircraft for Mars; 4) The dangers and duration of interstellar travel; 5) The landing on Mars, the function of the HAB to survive on Mars, the hostile meteorological characteristics, and the scientific activities planned for the 30 days of stay. 6) The important scientific implications for studying the potential foundation of future space colonies. 7) Conclusion, saying goodbye and blessing for the Hermes station and for the crew of Ares III (with a team portrait also present in the official Ares III guide). 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:

  • Extends general knowledge about the Ares III mission, providing a historical global background, scientific notions and updated information.
  • Supports a parallel secondary narrative (on Earth) revealing informative
    elements on the sociocultural context of the fictional world (media interest, linguistic, historical, scientific, and technological aspects), simulating the representation of realistic contents.
  • Combines the authority and professionalism of a real subject (Neil deGrasse Tyson) and an existing television program (StarTalk) to present fictional and realistic notions, surprising the expectations of public entertainment with contaminated communication methods.
  • Integrates creative and information methods related to the documentary genre and to television science programs produced by National Geographic, such as StarTalk and Cosmos.
  • By intercepting a diverse audience, it can increase the perceived emotional
    value in regards to National Geographic, underscoring the company’s initiative to experiment with innovative promotional ideas and increase sectoral competitiveness by interacting with similar media products.
Trained to survive (9 September 2015) — Filmed during intense training sessions at a NASA facility, astronaut Mark Watney is in reality also chosen as Under Armour’s commercial testimonial to promote the technical clothing used during Ares III’s athletic training.

2.1.4. Leave Your Mark
9 September 2015

Leave Your Mark (0:58)[21] portrays Mark Watney during the intense athletic preparation phase prior to the Ares III mission of 2035. While in training at a NASA facility [22], Watney is filmed intent on performing a series of physical exercises (running, weights, pull-ups, jump rope, push-ups) wearing Under Armour technical clothing [23], presented as the official technical provider of the Ares space program. The futuristic video is in fact the result of a synergistic collaboration between RSA Films, 3AM, Droga 5 and Under Armour, renowned American sportswear brand interested in creating an advertisement related to the fictional world of The Martian.

“Our goal was to explore the cultural impact of a fictional manned mission to Mars by asking a simple question: what if Astronauts were sponsored by brands in the year 2035?”.[24]

Athlete and astronaut, Watney represents an extraordinary example of strength (physical, moral, mental), a model of will and personal success: the ideal testimonial to underscore the values linked to the world of sports (dedication, perseverance, sacrifice, well-being) and the aesthetic and identity qualities associated with Under Armour.

“Under Armour isn’t an interruption into the movie’s fictional world, it’s realistic and actually adds credibility. The brand helps make their future world seem real, and of course that’s what the movie makers want. For the movie and the brand it is a win-win.”[25]

“This gives brands the ability to create meaningful, culturally relevant content, tied to a property that people care about. And in return, the studio gets to reach an audience that they might not have reached otherwise. And it all works together to form an excellent way to capture interest and get audiences excited without spoiling the entire story or the moviegoing experience.”[26]

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Main communicative properties:

  • As an interdependent intervention, it broadens the background of the film story and strengthens the protagonist’s stage presence, showing Watney’s training prior to the Ares III mission.
  • Together with Our Greatest Adventure, it bears witness to a further experiment in immersive promotional strategies and new commercial synergies.
  • Spread through the official Under Armour channels (website and social platforms[27]), it reaches a diverse audience, increasing the visibility of company’s products and promoting The Martian.
  • Encourages an instinctive identification with Watney’s psychological profile (a desirable quality in terms of existential condition, aesthetics, physical strength, intelligence, determination) and a feeling of belonging to a specific social group (people involved in sports) favoring positive emotional results (in line with the solidarity required of the survivor Watney).
  • Includes a motivational speech with metaphorical references to sports themes (type of functional training, fatigue, performance) and existential themes (choices, perseverance, self-esteem, meaning, path, success) resulting particularly suitable for reinterpretations and personal connotations, in line with the promotional language of Under Armour.
  • Contaminates the real world with fictional elements, defining Under Armour as the official technical supplier of the Ares space program, publicizing the extreme quality of the company’s technical products.
  • It can stimulate participatory practices involving new types of audiences by encouraging the creation of independent content (e.g., a sports training video to emulate Watney’s athletic performance, or that of real astronauts, also combining scientific or nutritional information).
  • Encourages technological migrations on at least 3 domains (Ares: live YouTube channel, Under Amour domain, The Martian official website + related social platforms), helping to increase media visibility of the movie product and related products on the Internet.
  • Explicits the descriptive phrase associated with the program Ares III: Advancing the Future of Humanity.
  • Shows for the first time in Ares: live material (thus excluding the first official promo), the integral space suit worn by Watney, revealing: small touch screen with biometric functions on the left arm; helmet with internal lighting and two external directional torches; astronaut’s surname (written on the back of the helmet reproducing the original typeface of the NASA logo adopted in 1975); mini video camera (GoPro; seen in Farewell) mounted on the rear module via a metal bar; a variant of the Ares III logo (written vertically on the chest); the current NASA logo (right shoulder); and the US national flag (left shoulder).

“Progress doesn’t come overnight. Long before you achieve your dream, you have to make the decision to start the journey. You take a step. And another. Each day your journey will bring you closer to your dream. It will be difficult, but carry on and one day you’ll be there.”[28]

Leave Your Mark is a celebration of those that understand that greatness isn’t in the destination itself, but in the journey to get there. […] because when you’re an astronaut, you have to train like survival is your only option.”[29]

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Leave your Mark: visual development synthesis — 1) The astronaut Mark Watney trains with an apparent expression of difficulty and demotivation; 2) Watney resumes and continues training with increasing intensity; 3) Excited, Watney is finally equipped and ready to start as an Ares III astronaut; 4) Ares logo with promotional phrase + Under Armour logo with company role description. 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.
The world is waiting for Mark (22 September 2015) — Retained dead during the early evacuation of the Ares III mission, Watney managed to survive and contact NASA. After the incredible revelation, the whole world mobilizes in support of Watney, requesting a recovery mission to bring him home.

“I’ve always thought about how much more we can learn, if we just dare to go further.”[30]

2.1.5. Bring Him Home
22 September 2015

Waiting for the recovery mission to save Watney[31], the video Bring Him Home (1:28) documents the global mobilizations and international solidarity demonstrations for the missing astronaut, who has become a hero and a symbol of courage for all of humanity. Combining NASA fictional archive material with mixed sources from television broadcasters and channels on the Net, the video simulates an advertisement by raising awareness of the campaign to bring Mark Watney back to Earth, making the drama parallel to the film story plausible.

People around the world are rallying behind one simple, endearing notion: bring him home. We have seen hundreds of messages of support of this brave astronaut. […] NASA is doing everything they can to figure out how to save him.”[32]

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Bring Him Home: visual development synthesis — 1) In a fictional archive video, Watney prepares to leave for Mars (the scene looks like a true extract from Leave Your Mark); 2) Watney’s story gets incredible media visibility, summarized also in the events that took place in Paris, London, Hong Kong, Chicago, China and Latin America; 3) A crowd of people demonstrates by showing their phones with the phrase “Bring Him Home”; 4) Appeal sentence (The world is waiting, Mark) + hypertextual keyword (#BringHimHome) + Ares logo. 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:

  • Explores narrative situations parallel to the primary story and deepens the
    media and cultural context of the fictional world, emphasizing the narrative priority issue of the story: Watney’s rescue.
  • Encourages the use of the hypertextual keyword #BringHimHome to search for promotional information, standardizing sharing and research practices.[33]
  • Simulates an official advertisement for civic education focused on humanitarian issues (solidarity, empathy, transnational unity, participation) by stimulating an emotional reaction to shared issues.
  • Reproduces graphic interfaces of social platforms (Tumblr and Instagram) imagining the plausible communicative applications and related cultural phenomena tied to Watney’s rescue.
  • It shows recognizable geographical spaces (London, Beijing, Hong Kong[34]); space agencies (NASA, China National Space Administration), television stations (CNN, present in The Martian also with the fictional daily in-depth program entitled The Mark Watney Report), social platforms, editorial and commercial products within the fictional world (flyers, clothing [35], manifesto with Watney, newspapers and magazines [36]) potentially replicable, shareable on the Internet, or purchasable.
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.

2.1.6. Ares Chem Cam
8 October 2015

In The Martian, left alone on Mars starting from Sol 6[37], 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)[38] 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.
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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.[39]
  • 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.[40]
  • 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.
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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

3. Conclusions

3.1. Promotional narrative
The cinematographic, documentary and advertising application solutions created for Ares: live (in promotional collaboration with NASA, GoPro, StarTalk/National Geographic, and Under Armour) testify to the growing tendency to seek intersectoral synergies contaminating the communicative dimension between reality and the fictional world, to amplify the impact of a product and related intellectual property. The functional management of narrative information therefore represents a fundamental design issue to
support an effective process of immersive promotion.

Reviewing the Ares: live initiative, let us consider the main communicative properties:

  • Multilinear narration
    The broadening of the background of the main story with interdependent information connections between collateral materials, and the prediction of distinct time intervals between the film narrative and the original novel, repeatedly stimulate the public in a continuous entertainment experience with cyclical processes of research, analysis, processing.
  • Scientific realism
    The highly realistic sci-fi context of The Martian describes relatively plausible events, real historical-scientific notions, and contains references to truly existing situations and objects, with the ability to activate relevant processes of information interaction between multiple analog and digital communication systems.
  • Metacommunication and immersion
    A promotional activity featuring diversified narrative scenarios and in
    continuous evolution increases the level of perceived immersiveness, offering opportunities for emotional involvement (psychological identification in situational contexts and subjects) and cognitive involvement (personal research and analysis of information) with relevant collective implications as far as intellectual property (birth of user communities and participatory media practices). Indeed, a strategic planning of the contents generates surprise, interest, expectation, a sense of discovery and the desire to share on the Net, supporting the growth of an audience affiliated in a previous time period, simultaneous and subsequent to the distribution of the film story (including phase of the sale of DVD / Blu-ray).
  • Extended audience
    Intersectoral sales promotions (readers, online users, television audiences, sports fans) promote attracting different user profiles: the result is an increase in the number of viewers motivated to get to know intellectual property.[41]
  • Media and cultural influence
    Quickly becoming an exemplary case of fictional literature with a high scientific orientation, the original novel by Andy Weir[42] managed to generate wide interest above all for the credible plausibility of the story, written using fundamentals of astrophysics, computer science, mechanical engineering, mathematics, biology and chemistry. The editorial publication (2014), the literary awards, the subsequent cinematographic visibility and the promotional collaborations directly with NASA have contributed to generate curiosity also towards the aerospace sector, with the result of positively promoting the STEM culture (interdisciplinary study paths in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), related career opportunities, scientific activities dedicated to Mars, and the reputation of the US space agency.[43]

The value of Ares: live is a further, important testimony to observe how the design of the immersive narrative manages to combine diversified communication systems to create engaging and lasting entertainment experiences, with the extraordinary creative potential of being able to conceive intellectual properties sometimes destined to become authentic collective images of contemporary digital culture.

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 See the official description by Wild Card Creative Group.

[2] Directed by Luke Scott. The official description on YouTube reports: Astronaut Mark Watney introduces the Ares 3 crew before their mission launch. The video anticipates the first film promo of The Martian by 24 hours, where the identical shot of the orbiting space station Hermes (2:11) is again visible. The video was also published with the support of the social channels of NASA and some NASA astronauts. e

[3] Watney declares two distinct time intervals before departure: about six hours (0:37), few minutes before (2:37). Looking at the opening scene (0: 08–0: 13) Matt Damon wears a Nike shoe model.

[4] The collaboration with GoPro is officially declared in a GoPro communication and in the promotional video GoPro: The Martian — Life on Mars [1:02; 1 October 2015), where Watney is shown in some daily actions during his survival period on Mars. The video is made entirely using GoPro Hero 4 video cameras, initially used in The Martian as a simple device supplied with the suits. Director Ridley Scott then decided to consider the filmed material as an integral part of numerous scenes. Note: the shootings of Life on Mars are shown without additional graphic interfaces (seen instead in Farewell and Ares 3: Chem Cam) and without color correction. Looking at the scenes at 0:40–43, two operators can be identified. See also the interview with Nick Woodman, CEO of GoPro. The soundtrack is The Martian Core Suite. The opening scene of Life on Mars (Watney coming out of the shower) is present in a modified version in The Martian. See (0:46).

[5] Storage Bay, Cockpit, Flight Deck, Galley, Apollo Lab Room. The words are visible in the graphic interface of the camera.

[6] Creative director Chris Eyerman cites the Periscope application and Facebook Live. Comments are given in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French and German. Hypertext references (#) appear in the order: Hermes, AresLive, Ares3Farewell, yum, hotbotanist, areslive, astronaut, space, stunning, synthetic, Ares2, Johanssen, itsonlylive, Knackwurst, Vogel, skills, importantquestions, NASA, flyhigh, journeytomars, womeninspace, Lewis, uranus, martinez, wearefamily, apec3, Cubs, mars, forallmankind.

[7] There is no information on Vogel and Beck.

[8] Interview to Chris Eyerman and 3AM. See

[9] The food clue suggests Watney’s geographical origin, later explicitly revealed in The Right Stuff (3:26; 4/8/2015).

[10] Martinez creates a linguistic joke with the English word Uranus, literally pronounced as UrAnus, informal transcription of Your Anus with the double meaning of pretending to be unprepared before the audience, taking the wrong flight direction and making fun of Watney.

[11] Interview to Ridley Scott. See

[12] Directed by Luke Scott. The official synopsis on YouTube reports: NASA offers a declassified look at the psychological testing involved in preparing the ARES 3 crew for their #JourneyToMars. The title The Right Stuff contains an element of assonance between the words stuff (matter, material, talent/fabric) and staff (employees, team) referring to a double interpretative reading between “The right thing/fabric” and “The right team”. The choice of the title is perhaps also a reference to The Right Stuff (P. Kaufman, 1983), a dramatic film story centered on the history of the astronauts of the Mercury project, a NASA space program dedicated to the first US astronauts (1961–1963).

[13] The setting is an observation room, with windows adjacent to the space set up for the isolation test. Beyond the wall, a heavy vehicle (a rover) is visible: Mark’s main means of exploration during the future survival period on Mars. Watney’s conclusion, while ironically thanking the psychologist for his enlightening isolation experience, anticipates his dramatic destiny. See

[14] Official introduction text.

[15] The joke is a reference to the text of the original novel, contained in the description of the logbook at Sol 61.

[16] As a curiosity, it is the same hometown of Alexander Gerst, ESA astronaut recently on I.S.S. mission. The ESA logo is visible in Vogel’s profile photo during biometric analysis. See

[17] Johanssen does not describe Beck and Vogel. The future secret romantic relationship between Johanssen and Beck may perhaps motivate the attitude of discretion (probably also in contrast with NASA regulations).

[18] Founded in 2015, the program produced by National Geographic and conducted by Neil deGrasse Tyson proposes scientific conversations by interviewing international experts and scientists. The video is written and directed by Chris Eyerman in collaboration with Ash Thorp, Michael Rigley, Will Melton, RSA and Juice. The publication was coordinated with the social channels of NASA, National Geographic, StarTalk and broadcast in a reduced version on the National Geographic Channel during commercial breaks. A further project conceived by imagining existing initiatives but projected in future scenarios is Peter Weyland’s 2023 TED Talk, video of a fictional TED conference realized for the promotional campaign of Prometheus (R. Scott, 2012), exploring an interval of 70 years of the film story.

[19] Interview to Chris Eyerman. See

[20] See the references in Ares: Chem Cam (8 October 2016), where Mark Watney records himself while performing an organic chemistry experiment.

[21] In addition to the literal meaning of “Leave your mark”, the title also refers to the actual name “Mark” (Watney). Combined with the imperative form of the verb [to leave] “leave” creates an immediate reference to Watney’s condition, left/abandoned on Mars. See

[22] The logo of the US space agency is briefly visible inside an elevator used by Watney (0:35).

[23] The Under Armour domain includes a promotional section entirely dedicated to The Martian. The user can directly purchase the technical clothing worn by Watney in the video, or view the entire original clothing collection inspired by the Ares III mission. See

[24] Chris Eyerman, 3AM. See

[25] Nick Phelps, Droga5. See

[26] Alison Temple, 3AM. Vedi

[27] The full video (9 September; 0:58) is previewed on 7–8 September 2015 with 2 images with Watney in semi-darkness. On 14, 21, 28 September 2015, 3 short alternative videos are aired (0:20) featuring some unpublished shots. Like other sports companies, Under Armour’s promotional activity on official social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest) includes numerous photos of athletes combined with motivational phrases to spur users during training. See

[28] Motivational phrase recited in the background while Watney trains. It was not possible to identify the actor involved with certainty — believed to be Morgan Freeman or, more likely, Josh Robert Thomson, or Jason Stephens, both professional voice over actors and excellent imitators. See

[29] Chris Eyerman. Vedi

[30] The opening sentence pronounced by Mark Watney (in a hypothetical interview) underscores the courage of the astronaut.

[31] Watney’s survival and rescue are the central issues already revealed by the official promos (8 June; 19 August 2015).

[32] The first promotional phrase “Bring Him Home” is entered as a predominant textual element also in the official poster of The Martian.

[33] The simulated shot shows the search results in Tumblr related to #BringHimHome, shown at the top left as a suggestion (0:17). On Instagram (0:48), the plausible official NASA profile presents the profile photo with Watney and publishes a photograph of a child (probably Mexican or South American) intent on demonstrating.

[34] Chicago (Watney’s hometown) is also briefly visible. Paris is shown in an image of the French capital visible on the simulated Tumblr page (0:17) and evoked by a journalist’s voice and a wall of solidarity messages written in French (0:19).

[35] The t-shirt briefly visible in the video is a reference to the models that can be purchased on Under Armour’s official website. See

[36] The illustrated poster of Watney (0: 28–30) and the word Hope (0: 10–13) may also allude to Shepard Fairey’s famous manifesto dedicated to President Barack Obama during the US election campaign (2008). Visible names and titles of editorial products (0:14–16): Alt4: (image of Watney) The Watney Issue, top left, shows two separate photographs where Teddy Sanders, director of NASA, is recognizable; (The I)nformer: How will they bring him home? ; Minute: (the logo is written in Bourgeois, the same typeface
used for The Martian logo) Sanders takes on space disaster; GlobalNews: bravest man in the galaxy. Will Mark Watney be lost forever? Another failure for Teddy Sanders; Gild: Exclusive investigation. He’s alive. Find out what Nasa plan to (-). Annie Montrose gives her side of the story. Mark’s Mars training. Q: (image of Watney).

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

[38] 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

[39] 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.

[40] 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).

[41] See also the video game initiative in virtual reality The Martian VR Experience (Robert Stromberg, 2016)

[42] Initially published periodically on Weir’s personal website during 2009, following the requests by some users The Martian is self-published entirely in digital format Kindle on Amazon in September 2012, at the asking price of $ 0.99 (minimum mandatory amount). After the growing visibility on Amazon (over 35,000 purchases in the first three months of availability), Weir is contacted by an editorial agent and in March 2014 signs the contract with Penguin Random House/Crown Publishing and, in the same week, the movie contract with 20th Century Fox. The second Weir novel is Artemis (Crown Publishing, November 2017), set on the first human city on the Moon. See (usually not working in Chrome, try Firefox or Safari). e

[43] See the numerous interviews and common initiatives: See also the exclusive preview of The Martian on board the International Space Station (ISS).

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.

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Humenhoid is a creative research unit specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling, with focus on cinema, tv series, and video games.

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    A comprehensive case study on information management and narrative design in the Alien (R. Scott, 1979) and Prometheus (R. Scott, 2012) interconnected franchises (120 pp; available upon request)Preliminary

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