When you're shooting an automotive commercial, why bother using the actual car being advertised? That's so 2015.
Wouldn't it save time, money and effort to employ a motorized, highly malleable rig that could transform into virtually any car on the planet? A rig you could use over and over to stand in for different makes and models?
Production and visual effects company The Mill—working in tandem with JemFX, Performance Filmworks and Keslow Camera—won a coveted Innovation Lion at Cannes last month (one of only nine such Lions bestowed) for developing such a vehicle.
It's called the Blackbird. At the push of a button, it can change its length by four feet and its width by 10 inches, as well as alter its wheels and suspension. This allows the rig to mimic just about any chassis design—plus, its programmable electric motor lets it adopt a wide range of driving characteristics.
Here's a film from the Mill that puts this fancy road warrior in perspective:
To make your commercial, pitch reel, action film or whatever, simply adjust the Blackbird's look and operations as required, capture your footage, then re-skin the rig with CG imagery of the desired car later on.
Thus the Blackbird simply becomes the new Honda Civic or Toyota Camry. You could even show a hard-to-find classic car, like a sleek 1966 Porsche 911S, or some futuristic self-driving robo-sedan that's still on the drawing board today.
The Blackbird's camera array also captures 360° footage for VR applications, allowing clients to build a library of footage that can be repurposed for model updates. There's even an augmented reality app that lets the production team see the intended car superimposed over the rig while shooting on location.
"The Blackbird is a tool to solve real problems for the advertising industry—it is no vanity project," says Mill vice president Al Thompson. "The Blackbird journey has only just begun, though, and the technology and the thinking behind it will evolve."
And if this amazing tech just perpetuates category clichés—like moody rides past glittering skyscrapers, scenic tours of yawning canyons or dusk arrivals at bikini beach parties—well, don't blame the Blackbird. After all, clients are still in the diver's seat.