- Friday, Aug. 24, 2012
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Directors Angus Kneale and Ben Smith of The Mill NY teamed on this spot out of agency RP3 in Bethesda, MD, which opens on a boy playing with his train set. His dad comes into his room and tells him it's time for bed. But once the lights are out, the toys in the room come to life, the catalyst being the Norfolk Southern toy train.
A large building is erected, atop of which is a toy gorilla. Numerous other toy characters get to work as their world becomes busy and bustling thanks to railroad shipping. A city is built before our eyes. Dinosaurs, pirates, jellyfish, robots, dump trucks, cranes all spring into action. A lion leads a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening of the train line through this multi-faceted toy world.
A voiceover relates, "Wherever our trains go, the economy comes to life. Norfolk Southern. One line. Infinite possibilities."
For the spot, produced and designed by The Mill NY, Kneale and Smith extensively researched rail freight and spent time on the ground in Roanoke, VA, a major hub for Norfolk Southern. In addition, Mill artists created extensive storyboards, character design and pre-viz prior to the shoot.
Veteran DP Bill Pope was brought in for his expertise in shooting miniatures on Team America, and his VFX experience on The Matrix trilogy and Men in Black 3 was an added bonus. The set was built at Steiner Studios in New York, constructed five feet off the ground in a modular approach that allowed sections of the floor to be removed in order to get the camera into "toy perspective." All of the featured characters were created digitally and custom designed by the Mill design team led by Tim Haldeen. The 3D animation team, led by Chris Bernier, spent months creating and breathing life into all of the toys seen in the final piece.
"We wanted to soften public sentiment about an industry easily dismissed as outmoded, and position it as innovative and future-minded. We did that by balancing state-of-the-art visual effects and a quirky low-fi charm that keeps the story warm and tangible, never cold or technical," said producer Boo Wong of The Mill.
Kneale added, "As we were unable to use brand name toys, it challenged us to create and design our own toys. There are about 22 individually designed main characters with an additional 25 to 30 background characters. Our cast of characters is a contemporary ensemble of timeless and modern toys that includes robots, action figures, stuffed toys, dumper trucks, cranes, diggers, etc. Between the charm of the character designs, the fun, surprising ways they all collaborate to build a city, and the fact that they all act rather human, each toy, whether it's high or low-tech, has an expression, a personality, and a purpose."
Directors Kneale and Smith worked closely with RP3 and Norfolk Southern on the overall storyline and sentiment of the commercial. The directors didn't just want to bring to life a NS train but give it added depth and purpose by placing it front in center and as a driving force for the unfolding world of possibilities that the toys create.
Production Company: The Mill, New York Angus Kneale, Ben Smith, directors; Ian Bearce, exec producers; Nic Barnes, live-action producer; Boo Wong, VFX/post producer; Bill Pope, DP; Ryan McKenna, editor; Alex Trierweiler, assistant editor; Chris Bernier, project lead artist (CG); Jeff Lopez, animation lead; Tom Bardwell, lighting lead; Joji Tsuruga, FX lead; Zang Chen, Alex Cheparev, Maxime Cousseau, Sam Crees, Sean Curran, Justin Diamond, Stanley Ilin, Nicholas Johnnides, Christina Ku, Justin Kurtz, Jeffrey Lee, Paul Liaw, Ivan Luque Cuellar, Laurent Makowski, Justin Maynard, Ross Croble, Navdeep Singh, Hassan Taimur, Olivier Varteressian, Sauce Vilas, James Williams, John Wilson, Zhenting Zhou, CG; Kyle Cody, 2D lead artist; Erin Nash, compositor; Naotaka Minami, Corey Brown, shoot supervisors; Tim Haldeen, lead artist; Tom Losinski, Gap Sangpattharamatee, Jae Kim, Bryan Louie, Jane Ro, Morgan Schweitzer, design; Damien Van Der Cruyssen, colorist. Music: Human Audio: Sonic Union Steve Rosen,