Mercedes' Invisible Car Makes Visible Waves
To tout its upcoming F-Cell technology, which produces water vapor instead of gas emissions, Mercedes-Benz found a way to make an invisible car drive through Germany. The concept, developed by agency Jung von Matt, mirrors the tagline that the car is "invisible to the environment."
In order to pull off the stunt, the car was fitted with a panel of LED lights on the driver's side displaying live footage from a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera on the passenger's side. To a passerby on the driver's side of the road, the car would look see-through.
Director Daniel Schmidt of Markenfilm Crossing was brought in to create the corresponding video for Mercedes, which shows off the car's magic trick both in still-life type environments and driving through streets filled with gasping passers-by. We spoke to Schmidt about his work on the viral hit.
What were your responsibilities on the project?
I directed and edited the film and also operated the B camera. The A-camera was operated by our great director of photography Jakob Suess.
Did you have the logistics of the project figured out from the start or was it a matter of trial and error?
Our goal was to figure it out as comprehensively as possible before filming, but even during the actual shoot there were things we had to adjust and react to. There was indeed some trial and error involved.
The whole thing sounds simple enough when you are sketching out the basic idea, but once you get into the specifics it gets complicated very quickly. There was also a lot of technology and logistics involved in just getting the LEDs to work the way they were supposed to—the whole car was packed with electronics and cables.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
One problem we had to face was that, for a perfect illusion, the image captured by the camera on the backside of the car would have to look like it is a continuation of the field of view of the person looking at the car. But it can never be that, because its field of view emerges from its own single point and thus the sightlines cannot match. That means that you can only get a good illusion by adjusting the car camera's focal length in a way that is relative to the distance of the viewer from the car and the distance of the object behind the car that you want the illusion to work for.
I literally got headaches trying to wrap my head around this stuff.
What cameras did you use to shoot your video?
We used a Sony FS100 as our main camera and a Canon 5D Mark II as a B-camera. The one on the car was also a 5D Mark II.
We chose these cameras because they were practical and within budget. I personally like to shoot on Canon DSLRs anyway, probably—apart from all the other reasons that people like them—because I also use one for my still photography and am intimately familiar with them. The FS100 was chosen mainly for its reduced moiré compared to the 5D.
Did you ever think the project would be such an international viral hit?
I had always hoped it would get attention; after all that's probably the main reason films like this get made. But this degree of attention completely surprised me. It is very weird to suddenly see something you created appear in blogs you have been reading daily for years, or to see people you respect tweet about it. I am very thankful for the exposure the film has gotten, but I am not kidding myself: I know that it has very much to do with the great idea and concept by client Daimler [Mercedes-Benz's parent company] and Jung von Matt, not only with the execution.