The Mill Blackbird: Is Anything Real Anymore?

The Mill Blackbird

Roughly a year ago, the CarGurus team began producing professional video reviews to accompany new car test drive reviews. We release two full test drive videos and one short “first impressions” video per week, and although we’ve been able to maintain an aggressive publishing schedule, the development process hasn’t been perfectly smooth. As with any new venture, we’ve hit plenty of snags along the way. Chief among our struggles has been the ability to secure press cars for filming and reviewing.

Of course, this isn’t a problem unique to CarGurus. The logistics behind automotive press fleets are daunting, and well worth exploring in a future article. It behooves automakers to get cars into the hands of journalists, as good, objective reviews of their vehicles can be a boon to sales. The trouble, however, is that automakers also need to contribute resources to their direct advertising campaigns. That means money, people, and, of course, cars. Now, however, a British post-production visual effects company has stepped in with a possible solution.

The Mill has won several awards for editing work in film, television, and advertising (the majority of 2001’s Gladiator was handled by The Mill, earning the company an Academy Award). Recognizing the exorbitant costs associated with providing actual vehicles for advertising shoots, Alistair Thompson and The Mill has created The Blackbird, a fully adjustable rig purpose-built to remove the need for actual cars in car videos.

The Blackbird’s capabilities are astonishing. The greatest challenge in rendering cars is properly replicating wheels and physical dimensions. With a telescoping chassis frame and interchangeable rims, the Blackbird eliminates these challenges, and a fully electric powertrain allows engineers to dial in performance specifications to match whatever car they’re supposed to be mimicking. It can be a 2016 Chevy Spark as easily as it can be a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL. An on-board camera array allows the Blackbird to capture its own footage, which can be used to create its computer-generated environment. The Mill also pioneered the process of “re-skinning,” wherein a vehicle’s appearance is retouched and tweaked to match generational changes, using a stand-in vehicle. With the Blackbird, this process becomes even more streamlined.

For all its brilliance, however, the Blackbird raises important questions about truth and reality. Automotive journalists pay as much attention to driving dynamics as they do cabin comforts and infotainment (although the balance seems to be skewing ever more toward the latter), and I have to wonder if the Blackbird will be able to accurately portray the nuances of the vehicles it’s being used to mimic. Coming from someone who battles with the logistics of cars and content on a weekly basis, the Blackbird’s convenience factor is undeniable, and its ability to create infinitely adjustable and customizable content is nothing short of a revelation. But as a consumer of advertising and, frankly, as a person, it forces me to ask, “Is anything truly real anymore?”

Do you think The Mill’s Blackbird represents accurate advertising?

-Matt Smith

Find Certified Pre-Owned Cars and Used Cars in your area at CarGurus.

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