#GREATShowcase 2018: How AR Transformed The Mill Blackbird into an Aston Martin

PressFebruary 8, 2018

very year, the UK Department for International Trade (DIT) hosts #GREATShowcase, an evening of British innovation and business held here in Los Angeles. The celebrated event features a wide spectrum of companies and individuals presenting groundbreaking technology, fine products, tasty food and signature spirits, all unified by their British origins.

With strong British roots ourselves – the first Mill studio opened in London in 1990 – we were thrilled to take part in the event for the second consecutive year.

Executive Producer Pete King says, “#GREATShowcase calls for a focus on tech and innovation, which fits perfectly with our augmented reality work in The Mill Blackbird and The Mill Cyclops. Because of the emphasis on UK companies it made sense to partner with Aston Martin, a premier British auto brand.”

With an aim to demonstrate The Mill’s innovations in an engaging, creative way, our Emerging Technology team set out to create an experience where guests would be positioned right in the mix of a real-time transformation by way of The Mill Blackbird, The Mill Cyclops, and a sleek, albeit 100% digital, Aston Martin Vantage.

The idea was to emulate the feeling and environment of a film set, and then put the audience into the picture, literally. Pete continues, “We wanted to combine Blackbird and Cyclops to generate a real-time render of the Vantage while filming the guests so they could see it for themselves on our monitors.  Not only would they be able to see it happening in front of them; they would also get to be the ‘actors’ in our film.”

From his workstation beside the display, VFX Artist Troy Barsness orchestrated The Mill’s custom Unreal Engine toolsets, Mill Stitch and The Mill Cyclops, and even took guests’ requests to make live updates on different paint colors – of which, recalls Tawfeeq, “British racing green was the crowd favorite!”

Troy explains the complex lighting and technical side of the project: “I used the CAD model of the Vantage AM6, provided by Aston, and applied realistic materials while further optimizing the geometry to run smoothly within Unreal Engine. All of the reflections for the car were captured using a 360-camera system mounted on top of Blackbird. With Unreal and computer vision, we tracked Blackbird and composited our real-time car onto multiple monitors for our audience and director of photography. It was really fun to see people pose next to the CG Vantage and notice their reflection on the screen, as if the car were actually there.”

Pete remarks, “The result was a fun night, but the bonus was that we were able to show how brands like Aston Martin and The Mill are pushing into the future of auto content and driver experience.”

“This is a pivotal moment for film VFX and the coming era of augmented reality production,” adds Tawfeeq. “Using both The Mill and Epic Games’ cutting-edge interactive engine technologies, we were able open the eyes of a fresh group of innovators eager to collaborate on uncharted possibilities.”

Many thanks to DIT for another fantastic evening at #GREATShowcase (and for the prime parking space).