Car Commercials Without a Car: Meet the Blackbird
Shooting car footage, like any film, is a complex process. You have to get all the gear to the location, including the vehicle, to record the scene. If it’s a commercial and an automaker changes something about the car, new video has to be shot to keep it current, which can be a pricey adjustment. If the ride in the commercial hasn’t been revealed yet, the crew might be trying to get video of the vehicle while also fending off any curious onlookers with a team of security and a careful network of sheets and curtains. However, a company in England has just the way to make taping commercials and movie footage simpler than ever.
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The solution is a complex car rig called the Blackbird. It is built by UK Company The Mill, and is basically looks like a black dune buggy with an array of cameras on top. What this simple setup hides is a complex tool that can eliminate the need for real cars to be present for shots in commercials, and make things incredibly easier when models are upgraded. Take a look at the video below for the full story from Top Gear.
The Mill knows that the hardest thing for CGI artists to recreate is wheel movement and driving characteristics such as how a car’s weight shifts around turns. That’s why the Blackbird is built with an adjustable chassis to match almost any wheelbase and width of the vehicle being imitated. The rig can then complete a course with its electric motor programmed to mimic the actions of a traditional engine with shifting gears.
After the footage is shot, artists can go in and add the body of the vehicle that is supposed to be driving down the road. Those cameras we mentioned on the top of the car capture the environment around it to make sure that when the car body is added, the metal surfaces are showing the right reflection of the world around it. It’s a win for The Mill, but it’s also a win for advertisers that can now reuse B-roll footage of vehicles in their commercials as models change and also keep new generations or redesigns under wraps for as long as possible.
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We’re not going to lie, The Blackbird is pretty cool. While we’re sad it’s probably not really a Nissan Altima cruising down the road in that promo video, it’s fun knowing the intense amount of thought that went behind its appearance on screen.