Press play on a recent video out of the U.K. and in about half a minute, you might be tickled, a little horrified and most likely thoroughly confused.
On April 24, Private Island, a production company based in London, England, posted a 30-second clip to its website and Instagram that almost instantly went viral, spreading across the web like wildfire.
The spot, which is titled “Synthetic Summer,” is meant to evoke the backyard vibes and good times of a beer commercial — except, since it’s generated by artificial intelligence that has never taken a sip of lager, stout or pilsner, everything in it is more than a little odd.
“No real people are featured in this video,” reads the caption under Private Island’s video. “You can’t fight the future — but you can probably drink it.”
As the dulcet tones of “All Star” by Smash Mouth soundtrack the video, you see a raucous outdoor party with people milling around, fire emerging from a barbecue and a plethora of beer cans.
Viewers may then notice that things are very off — people are talking to floating beer cans, laughing in a way that jaws won’t allow, taking beer cans to the face and many more indecipherable actions.
For some reason, everyone has four to upwards of 14 fingers. Suddenly, plumes of flames sprout from more than the grill and by the end, the Smash Mouth CD is skipping and everything is on fire. Please lose my invite to this shindig.
This fake commercial for an unnamed beer brand went viral around the same time as the similarly beyond-peculiar AI-generated commercial for a fake pizza place called "Pepperoni Hug Spot." It's been reposted on just about every social media platform, racking up millions of views on Reddit, Twitter and TikTok.
Thousands reacted to the video with a mixture of amusement, shock and horror.
“Night terror trip inducing,” tweeted one person in response to the video.
“The story arc from backyard barbeque to apocalypse was pretty cool,” wrote another Twitter user.
“Very Soundgarden imho,” wrote a commenter on Instagram, mirroring the many folks who remarked that the clip evokes the same vibe as the 1994 hit “Black Hole Sun.”
“It’s like a bad acid trip,” wrote one person on TikTok, while another wrote, “I don’t want AI to improve. I want it to stay like this forever.”
Chris Boyle, the co-founder of Private Island, which has created ads for Nike, Adobe and Fifa starring David Beckham, says his shop has garnered a reputation for producing unusual commercials for plenty of brands.
“Generally, our work is mixed media, combining live-action and animation, so using AI tools seems like a natural evolution,” Boyle tells TODAY.com in an email. “We’ve been investigating generative image for the last 12 months — exploring new ways of working and new mediums of visuals powered by Machine Learning.”
Along with co-founder Helen Power, Boyle directs a team of animators, who he says are the ones responsible for the creation of this fake advertisement set between the hills of the uncanny valley. And while it’s true that Private Island has created an actual commercial for Bud Light, Boyle says any similarities between them are purely imagination.
“I think because Bud is in the news, people make the connection, but it’s just a generic beer or soft drink advert,” he says.
Boyle says the ad draws its inspiration from American TV commercials in general, but the visuals specifically focus on the aesthetics of alcoholic drink commercials, which don’t typically show people drinking on television.
“That’s where a lot of the weirdness comes from as the process tries to extrapolate what that would look like,” he says.
Using AI technologies Runway Gen2, Stable Diffusion and ModelScope, Private Island was able to whip out this truly cuckoo clip in a few days.
Boyle says that outside of the company’s commercial work, they create shorter-form experiments and films in the hopes of entertaining new ways of storytelling, investigating digital culture as it evolves.
“We’ve spent much of the last year playing with these tools as we’re extremely interested in the aesthetic of emulating humanity — what that looks like artistically but, more importantly, what that feels like to the viewer,” Boyle says.
“Humans generally are very good at multitasking,” he continues. “When we perceive the world around us, we extract a load of information whether you’re playing football or eating out with friends … My instinct is that whilst, on first impression, this film looks fine, subconsciously, you flag the extra fingers and oddness that enhances the weirdness.”
It's true: When you first watch the video, the very first frame doesn't seem that odd — then you watch it a few more times and notice that the grill has several cans of beer cooking on it.
As one Reddit user put it, “It took me a second to realise something was terribly, terribly wrong.”
Boyle says that while the studio has had its work go viral before, it’s never quite been on the "wild" scale of this one.
And yes, Private Island does indeed plan on making more of these AI-generated videos.
“We’re releasing a few short films this year exploring the complex relationship between ourselves and Artificial Intelligence,” he says.
Boyle and his team also plan on continuing their practice of making commercials for the sports world, as well as fashion and tech, while they explore everything AI has to offer.
“That diversity means there’s always an opportunity to explore something new with every brief,” Boyle says. “These experiments all feed into that work.”