A video production can quickly turn into a very expensive endeavor. This is especially true when you're dealing with a shoot that calls for certain vehicles driven in certain manners. Perhaps Ford wants a commercial for a car that's not even out yet? Mercedes-Benz would like to shoot an updated video on a car that's received a mild refresh? Maybe someone wants to shoot a music video with a priceless vintage machine?
All of these are possibilities, and that just got a lot more possible thanks to a vehicle called the Mill Blackbird.
The visual effects team at The Mill have created what is essentially an electric go-kart transformer. It doesn't turn into an Autobot or a Decepticon, but it can become nearly any car you need it to be. That's because it rides on a wheelbase that's extendable, has interchangeable hubs to accept different lug patterns for different wheels, and, the most important bit, is that it's packing serious tech and taking note of every bit of the environment around it.
That's important because that's how The Mill uses the Blackbird to create a virtual version of any car out there. A series of stabilized cameras sit on top of the Blackbird and take a picture of the world around the vehicle. They work together with a lidar system that is also scanning. When all of that data is received, it allows the visual effects artists to mimic the surrounding world correctly on the virtual car.
This means that shadows, reflections, and any other aspect that makes you believe you're looking at the real deal have to be calculated and recreated effectively. Beyond the wheelbase, the Blackbird can adjust its suspension and how its electric motor behaves so as to mimic torque curves and other aspects of the target car's performance.
It's a truly wild bit of engineering, and the folks at Top Gear got a chance to see just how wild. Watch the whole video, because the end is pretty funny.