Fan favorite Transformer Bumblebee returns to theaters on Friday in a spin-off of the film franchise, so Paramount Pictures is bringing the car-robot back into the homes of fans via augmented reality.
On Thursday evening, Snapchat launched a Sponsored World Lens featuring Bumblebee in car form transforming into its robot form in the user's physical space.
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The front-facing Lens consists of a "Decepticon scanner" that performs its function when users raise their eyebrows. The scanner cleared me as human, but your mileage may vary.
For both experiences, the single "Back to Life" by the movie's female lead, Hailee Steinfeld, plays in the background.
And for some reason, Paramount is also sponsoring a very different set of Lenses for international audiences. In that version, the front-facing camera dresses the user as a Christmas tree, with an animated Bumblebee hanging out in the foreground (users can decorate themselves with ornaments, too). The World Lens for this experience consists of a 3D Bumblebee laying a present in the user's physical space.
The AR experience isn't the only thing that's different for international audiences, as these AR Lenses are actually built on the Shoppable AR e-commerce platform, which enables users to jump to a website and buy tickets.
Snapcodes are available below for those eager to try these Lenses out for themselves.
Of course, this is a Transformer that we're talking about, so why not let fans transform themselves into the character as well?
In a collaboration between Paramount International Digital and leading Chinese internet provider Baidu, users of the Facemoji Keyboard Android app in the US — along with Simeji keyboard in Japan and the Baidu keyboard in China — can apply a Snapchat-like face effect to their selfies and record the experience to share with others.
"This is the first partnership of its kind between Baidu's global business unit and a major Hollywood studio, and it couldn't be more fitting," said Jiang Feng, director of Baidu's global business unit in a statement. "The Transformers films have nurtured a thriving community of fans, and Baidu prides itself on fostering a similar environment for its keyboard app users, where technology can be as fun as it is sophisticated."
The apps also bring some interactivity to the usual AR selfie experience. When users nod their heads, the digital Bumblebee mask transforms into battle mode. A blink of the eyes changes Bumblebee's mechanical pupils, and a flick of the tongue causes those eyes to bug out of their sockets.
In addition to the AR Emoji (not to be confused with Samsung's flavor of Animoji knockoff), users of the apps can access two Bumblebee sticker packs for use in the messaging apps of their choice.
"We are always looking for ways to connect with the fans and bring the characters into their world and vice versa," said Mo Rhim, the senior vice president of international digital marketing at Paramount. "The fandom for Bumblebee with the reach of Baidu's platform is a powerful combination to drive deeper engagement ... So we were excited for this custom integration that gives fans a fun and shareable opportunity to connect with Bumblebee and with one another."
Unfortunately, compared to Snapchat or other facial recognition-based experiences, the tracking is a bit poor. In limited testing with a preview version of the app, the digital mask tends to drift away from the face. The video quality of the recordings, as displayed in the images embedded along with this story, is also lacking.
It's not the first time the popular character has made its way into augmented reality to promote the film franchise. For the theatrical release of Transformers: The Last Knight, Paramount commissioned a Snapchat Lens that is very similar to the experience published via Baidu's apps.
Then, for the home video release of the same film, Paramount Home Media Distribution published Transformers: Cade's Junkyard on the App Store, which was an app that brought Bumblebee to life in a user's environment via ARKit.
It is becoming fairly common for movie studios to publish AR experiences on multiple platforms to promote blockbuster films, but, in this case, the marketing strategy makes even more sense. Paramount's continued coziness with Snapchat is to be expected, considering that its parent company, Viacom, struck a multi-year deal in 2016 to sell ads for Snapchat. Meanwhile, considering how well Transformers films do in China, the Baidu partnership is similarly a fairly logical move.
The end result is that there are plenty of options for Bumblebee devotees around the world to express their fandom, even if the quality of those experiences are uneven in some places.