The pristine paint jobs consumers see in future car commercials could actually be the digitized skin of a virtual chameleon.
That's because of an innovative vehicle called the Blackbird, a fully adjustable rig that can take the form of practically any car through computer-generated imagery and save automakers and their ad agencies precious time and money on shooting running footage.
The idea is for ad teams to roll out the Blackbird, shoot it driving down a picturesque highway one time, then add a layer of digital skin to it in the studio to match the car's real-life looks, whatever they might be. And when that sedan gets a slight design update, like a new grille or taillight trim, the same footage can be tweaked through CGI.
Conceived by London-based visual-effects studio The Mill, the Blackbird was developed over two years and built by fabrication company J.E.M. F/X in a hangar where the Blackbird SR-71 supersonic reconnaissance jet was once assembled. The Blackbird name, The Mill says, is a "nod to this legacy of stealth design."
But just how much sneakiness can automakers get away with?
Unless an ad calls for an outrageous, Hollywood-level stunt in which CGI is unavoidable, shouldn't consumers have a right to see the real metal in commercials?
Ideally, yes, but budget constraints can make CGI an appealing option for agencies, says Scott Rodgers, co-founder of ad shop Tier10, which does regional work for several dealer groups such as the Northern Ohio Honda Dealers Association and the New York Acura Dealers Association.
Tier10 says it resorts to computerized cars only when it needs to place vehicles in graphical environments that the agency created.
"As technology evolves, you can pull this off, and people don't know. Is it a morality question? I don't know," Rodgers told Automotive News, adding: "I want to say you should always use what you sell, but at the same time, the car itself starts in a virtual world [during design] anyway. To put it back into the virtual world, it's all the same to me."