The SUV’s wheels scoot outward as its bright blue body rises up into the air on telescoping legs. Then the whole car drives over a line of cars before sinking back down ahead of the traffic to zip away. If that sounds like something out of an Inspector Gadget movie, you’re not far off — the viral marketing stunt was created by a designer who specializes in jury-rigging wild apparatuses for Hollywood studios.
“Verizon was pushing for something that was innovative and different,” Scott Beverly, the Hollywood mechanical effects expert who built the car, tells _Inverse. “I’ve got about 35 years of designing the shots for feature films that are impossible to do for real, so this is kind of normal for me.”
Like the straddle bus, the elevating car itself isn’t going to be something you can buy anytime soon. The traffic-jam ignoring SUV was built as a viral marketing stunt for Verizon’s Hum car gadget. The gadget is made to turn older-model vehicles into connected cars, along with tracking your car’s trips and speed. “It is the first car in the world that can drive over traffic,” Sam Pezzullo, a producer for Thinkmodo, the viral marketing company that produced the ad for Verizon, told Inverse in an email.
Beverly engineered the extendo-car rig before he even knew what vehicle he would be lifting. The legs that lift the car and move the wheels were designed to be easy to put together. He says, “I laid out the assembly so the parts interlocked when they came off the laser cutter.”
The other trick was getting all the hydraulic movement coordinated with only three valves: wheels out, body up, and drive forward. This makes it easy for the driver, but it takes 12 hydraulic cylinders to get the car into its upright position and the cylinders had to be linked so they could lift evenly. “Those original constraints forced the size of the rig,” he says. “We shoehorned the rigging into the vehicle to make it work.”
The mid-sized SUV is not the large vehicle that Beverly originally wanted to use. “I have to admit that [Verizon’s] choice definitely paid off, it definitely looks much better,” he says. “My performance comes from people who have creative ideas and I make those creative ideas work.”
The build for the commercial was very similar to the film technology work that Beverly does on movies like Inception or Interstellar. “I specialize in getting shots that are either cost-prohibitive or physically impossible to do,” he says. An example is the shot in Inception with the castle collapsing on a mountain. Beverly and his team built a “miniature” that was five stories tall with hydraulics designed to get the exact timing for how the hotel collapses. “Basically you design the rigs that are going to do the action and then you build the set around the rig,” he says.
If everyone had a car that lifted itself over traffic, it wouldn’t be quite as useful, and the SUV drives over a line of cars that is clearly aligned for the stunt to work. But before you start trying to build one of these for yourself, Beverly points out that it doesn’t move very quickly. He had to use a hydraulic motor to create the forward speed for the car while it was lifted up. “But that’s just the nature of the beast,” he says. “The producer, James, I think he wanted things to go a little bit faster, but every director wants it to be bigger or faster.”