Man’s best friend is getting an upgrade. We’re all familiar with the bond between kids and their four-legged friends, but the movie A.X.L., opening August 24, imagines the concept on a whole new level.

Director Oliver Daly imagined a young man and his unlikely friendship with a robotic dog. The dog is the product of advanced military technology, which is appropriate for a movie that was created in an unusual and fairly cutting-edge way. Daly made the first version of A.X.L. as a short film funded in a Kickstarter campaign, and the interest generated there helped make the feature version a reality.

Crowdfunding The Perfect Canine

[Credit: Global Road Entertainment]

A.X.L. is based on Daly’s proof-of-concept short film, Miles. That short was initially funded with a Kickstarter campaign in 2014. The short was backed by 190 supporters and garnered a little over $43,000 during its month-long campaign. (The goal was $40,000.) The Kickstarter page pitches Miles as “a movie about blurring the boundaries between humanity and technology, set in the off-roading world of Central California.”

The project was clearly inspired by Daly’s interest in off-road biking and motocross. The Kickstarter page explains the story’s origin in the Inland Empire, “a series of vast valleys where everything is big: the roads, the trucks, the industry.” One of those industries is the military, and the idea of a piece of military tech changing the life of a young man connects right back to the great movies of the mid-’80s, like Short Circuit, Batteries Not Included, and even (if you stretch the idea a bit) Gremlins. (1999’s The Iron Giant is also an obvious touchstone.)

Big Goals

[Credit: Global Road Entertainment]

Daly always intended the short as a proof of concept for a larger feature. “We’re creating a proof of concept film for MILES because it has become one of the best ways to get an original idea for a feature film noticed by studio executives and financiers,” he said at the time.

The plan worked. By 2016, Lakeshore Entertainment got on board to produce the film. Global Road Entertainment co-financed the feature. Alex Neustaedter was cast in the lead role, while singer and actress Becky G was hired to play Sara. A.X.L also stars Alex MacNicoll, Dominic Rains, and Thomas Jane.

From the start, the biggest challenge was bringing the robotic military canine to life. Once the project was reworked for a feature film, Daly had access to better CGI technology. That didn’t change the main task, however: creating a personality and a sense of movement that could be equivalent to a real dog. The feature film just had a lot more resources to throw at the concept.

A Bond Between Man And Machine

A.X.L. follows Miles Hill, a teen outsider. While dirt biking alone in the desert, he finds a canine-like robot in a junkyard. It’s a weaponized military instrument created to protect soldiers, code-named A.X.L., for “Attack, Exploration, Logistics.”

Miles accidentally pairs with the robotic dog; imagine setting up a really powerful Bluetooth speaker, with guns and a personality attached. The two quickly create a strong bond, and Miles finds that A.X.L. is transforming on an emotional level. Before Miles can fully understand what his new best friend is capable of, he learns that keeping the canine might be more difficult than he first thought. Naturally, the government scientists who built A.X.L. want him back. To keep his companion safe, Miles has to keep it out of the hands of those who view the robot solely as a weapon.

Whether or not Miles succeeds is open to question, but we already know that director Oliver Daly has hit the best stretch goal imaginable. His crowdfunding concept worked exactly as he hoped, and now we get to see the result.

A.X.L. hits theaters on August 24.