Once Upon a Time

The story of how IE created Commuterland, a campaign aimed at getting commuters onto more sustainable forms of transport through humourous, compelling films. 

Last year, the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority, CENTRO, approached IE with a challenge: how could they deliver the message of sustainable travel (getting people out of their cars and onto buses, trains and trams) to their corporate partners through a series of films? IE had just the ticket.

CENTRO had their hearts set on ‘going viral’. We told them that there’s no golden rule to achieving an overnight hit, but that if the content was authentic and compelling (and absolutely not corporate and contrived), our films would find an audience. We used the metaphor of a joke – if someone makes you laugh, you’ll immediately want to share that feeling by retelling the joke to your friends and colleagues. You’ll want to bask in reflected glory! But, if the joke’s a stinker, nobody’s going to share it, and embarrass themselves by being seen to endorse it. It’s exactly the same with ‘viral’ campaigns.

We settled on humour as the best delivery method for the campaign.  We’d sell the corporate message to the audience, but with our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks – we pitched a series of four episodic films set in a fictional miniature world. In the vein of classic television series like Thomas, we’d tell the story of the inhabitants of Commuterland: Boris the Bus, Tony the Train, Mike the Metro and, true to the client’s Midlands heritage, Nelsie the Narrow boat. We won the competitive pitch and, needless to say, we were stoked!

Scripts were written, and storyboards were drawn up by IE’s talented creative team, all overseen by our very own fat controller. Once the concept was approved, production began in earnest. Our first stop was to source the location for our Commuterland. While we’d allocated a large share of the budget to the construction of models – we didn’t have the luxury of building our own sets. After an extensive search of UK attractions, we found the perfect candidate, Merrivale Model Village in Great Yarmouth. With a location came a scale for our models, which had to run on the attraction’s model railway. This dictated a scale of 1:22 (G Scale railway). For those of you who aren’t enthusiasts, that’s BIG. These aren’t your attic-sized Hornbys – our largest model was over 7ft in length! To begin the model making process, we purchased off-the-shelf electrified models, which we could use as our starting point. They were then sent to our model makers, who customised and repainted them to resemble their real life counterparts. Our talented sculptor then supplied a number of beautifully crafted faces, in a range of expressions. Finally, a professional voice artist was commissioned to record the narration and, with the van loaded, we headed off to Great Yarmouth.

Principal Photography was completed over an intensive two-day shoot (recording from dawn until dusk), filming on 2x Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras. Needless to say, the stars of our show were well behaved on set – they came off the rails once or twice, but after all, that’s showbiz! With footage in the can, we assembled the films – adding effects, digital matte paintings to replace certain backgrounds and added music. The final result was one of the quirkiest projects we’ve worked on for some time, and the client was delighted they’d decided to choo-choose IE.

Get a ticket to ride and see the films on YouTube