Lights, Camera, Crash! Inside the IIHS Vehicle Research Center

The car you drive has been crashed dozens of times. Not by you (we hope) and probably not the specific car that belongs to you, but the model you own has been totaled over and over. Every car you see on the road has a ghost, battered and crumbled, sitting in a scrap heap somewhere. There’s a reason for these systematic crashes, and it’s all for the greater good. We’re talking about the crash tests that happen every day at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Vehicle Research Center.

As Pini Kalnite says, the crash hall at the Institute’s VRC is more than just a scientific laboratory. It’s also a high quality production studio. Kalnite is the Director of Film Production and Media Services at the IIHS, and he narrates this video talking about what he and his team do to capture the extensive range of crash tests on film.

Film in this case is used figuratively, as all of the IIHS’s footage is recorded digitally. The Institute uses a network of high-definition digital imagers to observe every crash from a series of angles. Each camera has a designated spot so that video of one crash can be compared to another. This includes the “ruggedized” cameras that are attached to the cars themselves, such as the ones that record how the driver reacts to a collision.

Beyond the cameras, the hall itself is specially designed like a Hollywood set, with customized lighting that doesn’t cast hard shadows, and methods for controlling sound. Once each test is recorded, it’s then sent to an editor to enhance footage and splice different shots together for the best illustration of the crash results.

In the end, the wreck is put in a display studio complete with seamless background and rotating floor so that it can be photographed and studied. While that happens, the staff of the VRC cleans up all the shattered glass, paint chips, and fluids leftover from the last car so that they can crash another one.

Of course there’s more to it than that, so you should watch the video for a full look at how the IIHS records crash-tests and what they do with their videos. The IIHS is working toward a world standard of vehicle safety, and we think the sacrifice of a few is well worth it before you get behind the wheel of your next car.

Lights, Camera, Crash! Inside the IIHS Vehicle Research Center was last modified: December 29th, 2014 by Leith Lincoln

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