Tapping into our childhood fascination with trains, Norfolk Southern: City of Possibilities, presents railroad shipping in a new light. As one of the nation’s largest commercial train companies, Norfolk Southern required something special for their new ad campaign. Turning to RP3 Agency and The Mill, the collaboration produced an imaginative way to showcase rail shipping as a powerful force for economic growth.
Produced, designed and directed entirely by The Mill NY, Directors, Angus Kneale and Ben Smith, did extensive research into the world of rail freight and spent time on the ground in Roanoke, Virginia a major hub for Norfolk Southern. In addition, Mill Artists created extensive storyboards, character design and Pre-Viz prior to the shoot.
Veteran Director of Photography, 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 and was built 5 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 lead by Tim Haldeen and the 3D animation team, lead by Chris Bernier, spent months creating and breathing life into all of the toys seen in the final piece.
“Norfolk Southern is basically a live-action world in which we created mesmerizing CGI characters that live seamlessly within it, high end VFX meets naïve toy world with a healthy dose of Mill magic sprinkled in,” shares Director, Ben Smith.
“We wanted 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,” adds Producer, Boo Wong.
“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 – 30 background characters,” explains Director, Angus Kneale.
“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,” adds Kneale.
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.
City of Possibilities is a beautiful film that positions Norfolk Southern as a freight company of tomorrow.