When you go to design school near Detroit, instructors seem to kick off every project with: “When you work in the auto industry.” That’s because almost every agency in the Motor City has a piece of their most notable hometown export. Oddly, my instructor never said, “This project is for when you move to Buffalo and work on a financial client,” but maybe I missed that day. And while I’ve moved on to Western New York, I’ve never abandoned my passion for automotive marketing and the constant innovation necessary to make chrome, glass, and steel appear fresh and exciting year after year.
One of the critical design skills I learned when studying automotive marketing was the ability to photo edit paint, glass, rubber, and other materials. Why? Because most of the time, the next year’s model is not complete before its marketing materials need to be created. So photo editors need the tools to make this year’s car look like the soon-to-be new model. This may work for still photography, but what about commercials? You can’t Photoshop video, and CGI editing—while a viable option—has been viewed as complex and cumbersome. The solution: innovation.
The Mill is an animation and design studio that has worked with many automotive manufacturers, creating videos for television and content marketing. They know the challenges of automotive advertising, but rather than stick to the old formula of bringing the future into the present, they came up with some new and creative wizardry. Meet the Blackbird, a fully adjustable, shape-shifting vehicle. Wait, what?!
The Blackbird is filmed just as you would shoot any car; then it’s digitally reskinned to create the appearance of any vehicle—making physical, new-model updates and car availability non-issues. Need next year’s Honda Civic for a commercial or a classic Ferrari for a movie? No problem. The Blackbird simply becomes those cars. The technology is still CGI based, but it’s easier than it was in the past. It allows the Blackbird to assume the form of any car, enabling the studio to adjust the size and the way it drives at the push of a button.
On the surface, there is nothing inherently innovative about a video of a car. The innovation is: you don’t need the specific car. In the marketing industry, we’re always creating, and coming up with new ideas. The Blackbird illustrates one of the most fascinating and inspiring aspects of creativity: how innovative thinking allows us to make our great ideas even better.
The Mill took a problem and kept looking at in different ways, pushing what was possible until they created something that had never been done before—earning them a Cannes Lion Award for Innovation. This type of fearless thinking is driving the future of marketing, encouraging all of us to think differently in order to spark change.