Something very interesting is going on over at The Mill—you could even call it revolutionary for automotive advertising.
Just days ago, London-based VFX studio The Mill unveiled the Blackbird, a car rig built with a fully adjustable chassis, a programmable electric motor, as well as onboard cameras and lasers that produce "100% realistic CG renderings" of virtually any car in the world. Essentially, this thing can become whichever car you want—past, present, or future.
Knowing that the Blackbird can shapeshift into virtually any car imaginable, car manufacturers won't be forced to reshoot commercials every time a new model comes out.
With its array of cameras and custom stabilization unit, the Blackbird uses a combination of high dynamic range imagery and 3D laser scanning to create a virtual version of the environment in which it's driving. This allows users to apply photorealistic CG overlays in order to transform the Blackbird into whichever car they desire. The suspension can be modified at the click of a button in order to mimic any real-world vehicle, with a wheelbase that can be adjusted by 4' in length and 10" in width.
The Blackbird also accepts wheel lugs from all car manufacturers, which means it can be outfitted with any type of wheel of the market. The electric engine can be programmed to emulate the driving characteristics of almost any vehicle.
Furthermore, The Mill developed a bespoke Blackbird AR application "that allows you to see the intended vehicle in CG, tracked live over the rig on location." This means users (and clients) can see what different cars would look like in the recorded shot.
The Blackbird spent two years in development with the help of JemFX, Performance Filmworks, and Keslow Camera. It'll be interesting to see how it will be used in advertising. The Mill's International Executive VP Alistair Thompson says:
We can unequivocally say that The Mill BLACKBIRD® is a tool to solve real problems for the advertising industry. It is no vanity project. It was the genuine needs of our advertising clients that made the Blackbird happen and their constant support and input have shaped its design and made it the game-changing innovation that it has become. The Blackbird journey has only just begun though and the technology and the thinking behind it will evolve.
Knowing that the Blackbird can shapeshift into virtually any car imaginable, car manufacturers won't be forced to reshoot commercials every time a new model comes out—in fact, footage shot with the Blackbird can be repurposed with new CG overlays of current vehicles. But though it may have been created with automotive advertising in mind, we may also see a huge change in how action films that feature car chases are made. Only time will tell.