Home / Tech / A cinematographer reveals one thing you probably don't know about how car commercials are made

A cinematographer reveals one thing you probably don't know about how car commercials are made

the mill blackbird

  • The Blackbird is a small vehicle without windows or body panels that works like a “digital stunt car.”
  • Directors can use the Blackbird — which was created by The Mill, a visual effects studio — while filming a car commercial and digitally overlay the exterior of the vehicle being advertised in post-production.
  • The Blackbird’s width, length, and suspension are adjustable, so it can stand in for a wide range of vehicles.
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When you’re watching a car commercial, the vehicle you see on your television or computer screen might not look anything like the one that was used during filming.

That’s because some car commercials use the Blackbird, a small vehicle without windows or body panels that works like a “digital stunt car,” said Scott Shepard, a cinematographer who has worked on car commercials, but has not filmed the Blackbird himself.

Read more: We drove a $31,000 Nissan Altima to see if it’s ready to take on the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Here’s our verdict.

Directors can use the Blackbird — which was created by The Mill, a visual effects studio — while filming a car commercial and digitally overlay the exterior of the vehicle being advertised in post-production. The Blackbird’s width, length, and suspension are adjustable, so it can stand in for a wide range of vehicles. The Mill also created an augmented-reality app that allows directors to see what the Blackbird’s CGI exterior might look like while filming a commercial.

“You can set this car up to, say, match an Audi A8 or something, and then you can drive it in real time, and then come back in with CGI and mask a car on top of it in motion,” Shepard said. “The average person would never know that that was a CGI car.”

The Blackbird has been used in commercials for the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, according to The Mill’s website. Shepard said the Blackbird is also used for TV shows and movies to replicate expensive cars that would be risky to shoot in some situations.

“You’re not going to get a McLaren racing through, I don’t know, South Central Los Angeles going all over potholes and jumping, but you might be able to do it with this rig without sacrificing a half-million-dollar car,” Shepard said.

 

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