What Those Perfect Cars You See On TV Ads Really Look Like

It might surprise you to discover that the auto imagery in movies and advertising has never truly been real. Everything is staged, lit to perfection and color graded so that every frame is perfect. It’s all thanks to a car called Blackbird. The Blackbird is a visual effects stand-in that can be tuned to match pretty much any car, and its onboard 360ยบ cameras can be used to generate perfect reflections when the real car body is overlaid on to it post production. It works like this: First, you adjust the Blackbird to meet the physical dimensions of the car you’re going to replace it with. You can alter its wheelbase by up to 4 ft. and its width by up to 10 inches. The power curve of the rig’s electric drive can also be tuned to match the target car, whether it’s a rear-wheel drive V8 or an all-wheel drive flat four. Then, you put the right wheels and tires on and you’re ready to film. The above picture shows a real environment, and the wheels, tires and shadow of the vehicle are true to what was shot. The results are incredibly realistic, so much so that you would likely never know that the filmmakers didn’t use a real car. So, why use Blackbird instead of the real thing? One reason is because most car commercials are shot before the car has actually been manufactured. That means the final details may not have been finalized, and the cars that go to market might not be identical to the ones shot earlier in the process. In addition, car releases are often kept under extreme secrecy, so shooting with Blackbird gives keen-eyed auto paparazzi nothing but a set of rims to work with. Finally, there’s the issue of location. With a Blackbird setup, it’s possible to film absolutely anywhere, without having to transport the brand new vehicles. So, the next time you see a car commercial for a new model, just remember……what you’re seeing is likely not real.
The Blackbird