Home » ‘Massively concerning’: Under Armour’s ‘AI-powered sports commercial’ sparks controversy

‘Massively concerning’: Under Armour’s ‘AI-powered sports commercial’ sparks controversy

by Marko Florentino
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A sports advertisement posted by Under Armour sparked a debate among directors concerned about the future of the industry.

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An “AI-powered” advertisement for the sportswear company Under Armour has become the subject of a fervent debate on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to repurpose commercials.

Wes Walker, the director behind the one-minute-long spot called it an “AI-powered sports commercial”. It was posted on social media by Walker, Under Armour, and British boxer Anthony Joshua.

Yet several directors and others in the industry were quick to criticise it as a spot that used previous footage of the British boxer shot two years prior.

Director Gustav Johansson wrote in the comments of the social media post that “all the stuff with the athlete,” was directed by him and shot by cinematographer André Chemetoff for a previous Under Armour advertisement.

Both are now credited in the social media post under “licenced footage” for this previous work, but Johansson said that while Under Armour can use the footage as they want, it’s a “slippery [slope]” to say it’s AI when it’s “actually humans behind it”.

While some called the commercial “incredible” and iconic, others were quick to say this was the future of the industry. The online debate was first reported on by the digital media sites Ad Age and TechCrunch on Thursday.

‘It’s massively concerning’

Hermeilio Miguel Aquino, a UK-based fashion photographer and filmmaker who goes by the name Kino, has directed commercials for several large brands and said the advert takes a sequence from a previous director and “repurpo[ses] it for this new campaign”.

“Let’s say, I’ve done a car ad, and all of a sudden I see my car ad done in an animation style, and another director is saying, oh, I directed that. That is quite concerning,” he said.

“I’m a photographer. I’ve taken shots and photographed campaigns for huge brands. Am I going to start seeing my photographs put on an AI engine and turned into a video?”

Kino said that examples like this might prompt directors and cinematographers to change their contracts with brands over the full rights of the footage.

“It’s massively concerning. I feel like there need to be some regulations put in place. I think cinematographers and directors need to start charging their clients a much more premium [fee] if the client wants total copyright of the work that’s being done or at least a license fee,” he added.

Many of the comments on the social post reported concerns that those responsible for the previous footage were not initially credited. Another photographer argued that reusing footage for new commercials is nothing new.

Walker, the director of the commercial who has also produced sports advertisements for Gatorade, Jeep, and Nike among others, said that he was asked to “build a film from nothing but editing assets, a 3D model of Anthony Joshua and no athlete access”.

He responded to criticism that this was a “mixed media piece predominately AI with several live-action cutaways” of what Johansson and others “brilliantly shot”.

Under Armour previously used AI to write an advertisement where an athlete reads an inspirational speech.

Walker said Under Armour and production company 72 and Sunny owned the rights to the footage and officially requested and licenced their use.

“Times are shifting, we adapt,” he added.



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