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With some help from CGI, the shape-shifting Blackbird can look like any car

When CGI rose to prominence in the late 1970s, it changed the way we looked at film forever. Movies like Star Wars, Alien, and TRON led us to ask questions like, “Are the images we’re seeing on screen actually real?” From that moment on, the lines between fiction and reality were blurred.

CGI isn’t always used to depict psychedelic landscapes or space battles, though, as the technology has countless more subtle uses. In advertising, for instance, companies use CGI to render environmental backdrops and even simulate their own products, but pretty soon, they might not even need those.

Related: How Mercedes borrowed Hollywood CGI for its futuristic Project Dash

Visual effects company The Mill has officially debuted The Blackbird, a fully adjustable vehicle rig designed specifically for car commercials and automotive video content. The Blackbird can increase its length by 4 feet and expand widthwise by 10 inches — and, using CGI, it can be re-skinned to look like just about anything. The suspension and wheels can be altered as well, and even the electric motor can be programmed to emulate the driving characteristics of a particular automobile.

The Mill Blackbird

The goal, The Mill says, is to streamline and simplify automotive video production, as vehicle availability and constant model year revisions make filming car advertisements very expensive and time-consuming. By using a stand-in, automakers can digitally render their products over the Blackbird’s frame but still benefit from authentic ground shadows and realistic physics.

Mounted atop the car is an array of cameras and laser scanners, which work together to capture high-definition environmental data. That information can prove invaluable when assembling the final video cut, and the same technology integrates perfectly for virtual reality applications.

As the name would suggest, the road-going Blackbird was built in the same hangar as the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. In total, the project took two years to complete.