The idea is simple: instead of using a rare or priceless car on a film shoot, you use a blank model of a car and render the desired vehicle on top of it in post production. It’s called the Blackbird, and thanks to Top Gear, we know more about how it works.

I’m diggin’ how those 3D points on the front make a kind of face. Screenshot from Top Gear Magazine

The Blackbird’s creators, the London-based agency The Mill gave Top Gear Magazine a tour of their rig, going over many of the points they first advertised a few months back. I’d embed the video right here, but the embed isn’t working right. You’ll have to go to Top Gear’s own web page to see the car moving around.

Unlike a completely-digital model, the Blackbird is physically manifest, so it genuinely does kick up dust and bump over bumps, making any rendering added in post look all the more real.

A rendering of how the wheelbase extends. Credit: The Mill

Where it differs from a normal car is that it has variable suspension so it can mimic any other car’s handling, and the wheelbase and track width of the car can get stretched out so it mimic another car’s dimensions. But we knew that already.


What’s interesting and new is that The Mill explains that the car’s electric drive can be programmed to be variable, too, so that it can mimic another car’s engine characteristics and gearing. Noise, they did not mention, would have to get swapped in.

A view of the rear-wheel drive system and some of the very neat inboard pushrod suspension. Screenshot from Top Gear Magazine

Also new to us is how the car itself interacts with the digital world. The Mill explains that the car has a large hookup of stabilized cameras for a full view of everything around it. Here’s what the cameras see:

It’s like a 360 cam! Screenshot from Top Gear Magazine

It looks like a really, really high-res version of the multiple-camera 360-degree view systems we’ve seen for a few years.

Look at all of that hardware! This is more than a box on wheels. Screenshot from Top Gear Magazine

And most interesting and most new is that the Blackbird has a LIDAR system. This wasn’t even on the Blackbird the last time The Mill showed it off. The LIDAR does what the cameras do, only they digitally map everything around the car in 3D.

A view of the very Google Car-esque top. Screenshot from Top Gear Magazine

Here’s a little view of what the car sees through its digital eyes:

It looks like you can see all the people standing around the Blackbird itself. Screenshot from Top Gear Magazine

This is the sort of tech you see perched on top of Google Cars and other Level 4 driverless vehicles, and I guess that it’s what you need to get a seamless overlap between how the world sees the Blackbird and how the Blackbird sees the world.

Screenshot from Top Gear Magazine

Honestly, the Blackbird is starting to look cooler than the cars it’s trying to mimic. How much would it cost to drive around in one of these single seaters, do you think?

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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