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The Mill's Blackbird; it can turn into any car you'd like it to

What do you think of when you think of a blackbird? Chances are you think of… well, a bird that’s black. But what about a super cool machine that can appear as any car in the world? Well, that’s another story.

The Blackbird is a rig which can adjust its length and width – as well as its acceleration curves, gearing shifts and suspension - to match that of most cars. But while it can copy the way most cars drive, what about looks? The length and width do not a Ferrari make, after all. And how can one rig look like a variety of cars?

The Blackbird is no ordinary machine. Built for advertisers and movie makers, on screen the rig can easily turn into any car desired through CG (computer graphics). Alistair Thompson, leader of the team who created The Blackbird, described it to Top Gear as “motion capture for cars”.

The Blackbird can be filmed and then “reskinned” with almost any car you like, in a way that makes us slightly weak at the knees. The only visible part of The Blackbird left is its wheels - and they can be changed as well. Now there’s no need to use real cars which can be expensive, sometimes hard to track down and a shedload of money to insure. The Blackbird gives you the reality of a car interacting with the road and its environment without the need for the actual car itself. The body of the rig is full of cameras, allowing it to capture its surroundings. These can then be turned into realistic reflections on the surface of the CG car.

Made in collaboration with JemFX, Performance Filmworks and Keslow Camera, The Blackbird was created by The Mill, “a visual effects and content creation studio”, according to their Facebook. The name is a reference to the fact that The Blackbird was made in the same hangar as the incredibly fast SR-71 Blackbird jet. Alistair Thompson says “The Blackbird is a tool to solve real problems for the advertising industry. The Blackbird journey has only just begun though and the technology and the thinking behind it will evolve... Most importantly, in turn, our clients will create ways of using it that we have not even comprehended yet. This is what excites us the most!”

Well, even if it does mean that the next car we drool over in a film might really be the Blackbird underneath, we’re pretty excited too. There’s something a little bit magical in watching the Blackbird transform. Practical and gorgeous? Now that’s our kind of vehicle.

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