If a certain famous spy ever requires a high-tech vehicle to help bring environmental villains to justice, something tells me the filmmakers for the new documentary "Racing Extinction" will get a call.
The new film from director Louie Psihoyos premieres this month at the Sundance Film Festival and offers an unprecedented look at endangered species “on the edge of life,” leveraging new technologies and gear to take us behind the scenes and into dangerous worlds. Such a thrilling approach to environmental activism is nothing new for Psihoyos and his team. Back in 2009, his film “The Cove” used innovative high-tech gadgets to covertly document the tragic slaughter of dolphins in Japan, eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
In an interview last year, Psihoyos told me that "Racing Extinction" was the result of “watching too many Jacques Cousteau specials and James Bond movies,” adding that the “technology illuminates the message.” And as we’ve seen in the trailers, one of the big highlights of that high-tech message is a modified Tesla Model S. And oh, what an incredible car it is.
Designed and engineered by Obscura Digital, this "undercover mobile eco-projection vehicle" integrates cutting-edge software and hardware to both record and deliver content. Below are five of the high-tech features dreamed up and made real for "Racing Extinction". (MI6, 007 and even Q might want to take some notes.)
1. Electroluminescent paint
Photo: LumiLor/Darkside Scientific
One of the most head-turning modifications to the “Racing Extinction” Tesla is its electroluminescent paint job. Called LumiLor, and developed by the villain-esque sounding Darkside Scientific, this innovative paint allows a driver to custom-animate the vehicle’s exterior. According to professional racer Leilani Munter, who drives the vehicle in the film, she can “turn the color on and off by turning the electric current on and off. When it's off, the car just looks like a normal car.”
[Author's note: We had originally featured a quote here from Ms. Munter pertaining to the cost of this unique paint job as in the hundreds of thousands. According to Darkside Scientific, this is not the case. "Including the utterly insane discount Darkside tossed in because we support "Racing Extinction's" message, Ms. Munter's guess is off by roughly a factor of 8, plus or minus some loose change we found under the seats," they write. Check out their full explanation in the comments below.]
2. Integrated eye-searing projector
Photo: Racing Extinction
OK, so I made up the "eye-searing" part, but the motorized projector that rises from a hidden compartment in the Tesla's rear could just as easily double as a ray gun. The unit, controlled via joystick, is a visual tour de force, projecting videos of threatened species via an impressive 15,000 lumens. To overcome variable architectural surface areas, the team at Obscura Digital developed a custom video projection system that allows the "Racing Exintction" team to display content on just about any surface. You can see it in action in this scene from the trailer here.
3. Integrated FLIR camera
With the rear of the Tesla occupied by the projector, the filmmakers turned to the vehicle's hood (which includes generous storage space) to place their FLIR (forward looking infrared) camera. Equipped with a special optical filter, the FLIR SC8300 is used in the film to visually show how much CO2 is being emitted by our planes, cars, factories and industrial plants.
"The camera is a game changer," Psihoyos says in a preview of the technology below. "It allows the world to see what scientists have been talking about for decades."
4. Smart Tint license plate cover
Photo: Racing Extinction
While the context for why one would need a license plate that can go from crystal clear to opaque at the touch of a button is not yet clear, I'll assume it has something to do with the dicey areas the filmmakers ventured into. Such "smart films" for license plates have actually been around for several years now (with some digging, you can purchase them online), but while owning them isn't necessarily illegal, using them likely is.
These are just a few of the gadgets we're likely to see in "Racing Extinction." As Psihoyos recently declared in an interview with Outside, his car is even better than the fictional ones that inspired it. "I’ve seen the Bond cars before — Hollywood magic," he said. "Well, ours is real, and it’s much more important."
"Racing Extinction" is expected to debut sometime later this year. The first full-length trailer is below.
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