This week, The Mill, a visual effect company based in London, unveiled a new vehicle it developed in order to replace cars for commercials and other filming purposes. The vehicle called Blackbird, is described as a “the first fully adjustable car rig” and the company says that the vehicle’s electric powertrain can emulate the performance of most cars around today.
The Mill claims that it is as simple as adjusting the length and width, changing the wheels and programming the performance setting of the vehicle you want to emulate. Then the company will be able to drive it around to get some shots while animating the actual body of the desired car on top of the rig – without ever needing the actual car.
“Until now, automotive content has often been dictated or hampered by car availability, model revisions, limited access to locations and footage that can quickly become irrelevant. In collaboration with JemFX, Performance Filmworks and Keslow, The Mill has created The Mill BLACKBIRD® which sets out to transform the way automotive advertising is made – it’s a car rig that can be shot at any time, in any location, without the need to rely on a physical car.”
The company released an impressive video showcasing the features of the vehicle:
It takes its name from the BLACKBIRD SR-71 supersonic jet as a nod to its stealth capacity, but also because it was hand built in the very same hanger as the plane.
The Mill ‘s International Executive Vice President, Alistair Thompson, has big ambitions for the project:
“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 has 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. We hope it will continue to provide inspiration for the whole industry and most importantly, in turn, our clients will create ways of using it that we have not even comprehended yet. This is what excites us the most!”
The camera array on top of the vehicle combined with high dynamic range imagery and 3D laser scanning generates a virtual version of the environment, producing 100% realistic CG renderings, according to the firm. The CG can even be tracked live on the vehicle for a preview while filming.
The electric powertrain aspect is also especially important to the concept. The Mill says that it can be programmed to “imitate acceleration curves and gearing shifts and the adjustable suspension alters ride height, rigidity and dampening to replicate typical driving characteristics”. The system is not unlike Tesla’s vehicles, which can now emulate other less powerful models through software.
Here are a few shots of the Blackbird (courtesy of The Mill):