The Blackbird: More than Meets the Eye

Nicholas El Bizri, Aug 15 2017

When filming automotive vehicles, whether for an ad or a movie, the logistics and costs are difficult for many to bear. Furthermore, the continuous obstacles that often hamper the production of automotive content are always difficult to handle.

Production studios have to deal with car availability, replica vehicles, stunt vehicles, model face-lifts/updates and the obvious hassle of limited access to locations. Getting a number of cars on location is never an easy task – but one company believes it has found the solution to put moviemakers and marketers at ease.

The Mill, a VFX & Creative Content studio, has created an automotive rig that takes automotive filming to the next level - they call it Blackbird. The Mill is one of the most highly respected studios for their high-end visual effects, fulfilling the needs of numerous industries such as advertising, gaming and music. The Blackbird has gained a lot of praise by producers due to its ease of operation, mobility and cost-cutting employment.

About Blackbird
The Blackbird sets out to transform the way automotive advertising and filming is produced. It is basically an electric-powered, fully adjustable roll cage outfitted with a camera and four wheels to serve one simple purpose: film a car without having to go through the hassle of actually obtaining a car.

What makes the Blackbird so special is that it can be shot at any time, in any location. It also obtains the capability of quickly transforming its chassis to match the exact length and width of almost any car.

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Being powered by an electric motor gives it the ability to be programmed to imitate any vehicle’s driving and handling characteristics. This includes acceleration curves, gearshifts, suspension and whether the car is rear or front wheel drive.

It is capable of reaching a top speed of around 130 km/h and can cover approximately 195 km on an overnight charge – which makes the Blackbird outstandingly versatile.

It can be charged quickly during filming breaks and also comes with regenerative braking to add some more battery life. Given how much torque electric motors are capable of producing, the Blackbird provides quicker acceleration than most ordinary petrol cars.

All these features allow the Blackbird to be greatly adaptive, standing in for low and high performance vehicles. Furthermore, by altering ride height, rigidity and dampening, the Blackbird can replicate almost any vehicle’s driving characteristics.

The Blackbird aims to make CG vehicles look as realistic as possible. Therefore, The Mill has given the Blackbird a adjustable chassis. It can match anything from a Fiat 500 to a limousine by extending its width by up to 10 inches and its length by about four feet.

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The Blackbird is practically ready to go “out-of-the-box”; all that has to be done to complete the setup is install manufacturer wheels and tires for extra realism. According to The Mill, the ability to swap wheels and tires is the Blackbird’s greatest feature since it eliminates the biggest issue when rendering CG vehicles.

Take a look at The Mill’s Blackbird overview:

What’s Under the Hood?
The reason why the Blackbird is a better mousetrap than current vehicle CGI production procedures is due to the fact that the Blackbird is a real vehicle. It thuds over potholes and splashes through puddles in the real, physical world, helping the final result look as close to real life as possible.

The Blackbird is able to achieve superior realism thanks to its numerous technological components. First of all, it carries a suite of high-definition cameras and LIDAR sensors responsible for capturing snapshots of the world around it. A set of four 6K RED Dragon Cameras mounted on the Blackbird are responsible for capturing the outside world.

These images are then stitched into a 360 view of the world using the company's  "Mill Stitch" software. Along with the combination of high dynamic range imagery and 3D laser scanning, a virtual version of the environment is generated and reflections of buildings, people, and other cars are produced and reflected on the virtual car.

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What makes the Blackbird even more revolutionary for producers is the Blackbird AR software. The software provides the ability to see the intended CG vehicle, tracked live over the rig on location. Any vehicle can be rendered and composited seamlessly into footage in real-time, allowing directors to instantly see the final look and composition of each shot.

Here’s an in-depth look at how Blackbird works:

Why the Need?
Whether for automotive advertising/filming or visualizing the latest advances in car design, the Mill Blackbird encourages and expands creative opportunities, offering producers a truly flexible production tool without sacrificing quality, time and money.

With the Mill’s introduction of the Blackbird, filming automotive vehicles will never be the same again. Moviemakers try hard to meet budget and time constraints, which is what makes Blackbird such a need and desire.

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The Blackbird is truly an incredible cutting edge production tool that addresses the most fundamental problem most film producers face: automotive car availability on location.

Even in the world of automotive advertising, Blackbird leaves the same impression. Selling cars is difficult and convincing people to buy a car even more so. There’s much more to advertising than revealing vehicle design, specs and prices - ad agencies have to sell an idea, a lifestyle.

They have to convince customers that their car, more than any other, will satisfy your needs. More often than not, they do so by filming cars in exotic locations, portraying luxury, class and superiority. Thanks to Blackbird, this whole process is reduced to a couple hours and lower bill.

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Another critical selling point of the Blackbird is that the entire rendering of a vehicle occurs live in real time. Digital cars can be overlaid and rendered into a scene, composited with effects and then played in real time. By working live while on set, producers, directors and visual effect artists can watch and evaluate the scene as it is happening instead of going through the process of postproduction amendments.

Conclusion
While the Blackbird does exist, unfortunately there is only one in the world. The Mill does plan to produce a Blackbird II but as of yet, just one exists with incredibly limited access. The Mill is currently using the Blackbird for its own personal projects, but it does hope to one day supply many more to the market. The Blackbird is still considered a concept/prototype but with all of the positive feedback from the CGI community, we can expect more Blackbirds in the future.

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Blackbird opens up a wide range of potential future applications. Cars are becoming increasingly customized and made to order. Such technology provides automakers and consumers tremendous opportunities to display and visualize actual vehicle configurations in real time before making a sale or purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

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