One of a kind!

It’s unlike anything else on Earth. It’s an incredible feat of Design, Technology, Artistry, Engineering, Lighting, and Model Work. It stands a huge 24 feet tall by 20 feet wide. It’s a highly unusual Baseball Scoreboard. What’s unusual about it is that the Score is called by... trains! Big, beautiful model trains! And it took the incredible team at The Character Shop, headed by their innovative leader, Rick Lazzarini, to create it.

There are two undeniably proud American institutions: Baseball and Trains. Who doesn’t melt at the sight of a well-built, smoothly running model train layout? And who disagrees that Baseball has long been "a unique paragon of American culture”? The study of either is evocative of pride, tradition, and integrity. To combine the two is as delicious a combination as…well, apple pie and ice cream. Hot dogs and beer. To then bring the nostalgia of these up to date with modern engineering and sleek technology equals: any Baseball Fan or Model Train Fan’s geek dream come true.

Commissioned by the esteemed Norfolk Southern Railroad, this project had a very unique mission goal: to create an engaging Kinetic installation, using the visual appeal of model trains… to tell the constantly changing story of of a Baseball Game. The Score, the Inning, which Bases are loaded, how many Balls, Strikes, Outs… all portrayed by a dynamic, beautifully rendered wonder of imagination and manufacturing excellence.

The Scoreboard was designed to live in the Norfolk Southern Club at the incredibly modern Washington Nationals Park, in Washington D.C. Norfolk Southern’s Ad Agency RP3’s Chief Creative Officer Jim Lansbury came up with the original idea, and was met with a challenge: how to actually achieve it. No one had ever created anything like this before. Who would have the skills and talents and know how to make it happen? Luckily, Film Director David Jellison, who had worked with the Agency before, had a recommendation of someone he’d worked with before, someone who had that combination of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and love of a challenge: Rick Lazzarini and his amazing team of Artists and Technicians at The Character Shop.


After meeting with Lazzarini and hearing his enthusiastic ideas, Lansbury selected Lazzarini and TCS to design, engineer, and create the Scoreboard. RP3 Associate Creative Director Chris Sheldon provided the artistic reference and illustrations to work from, and Lazzarini and crew made it happen. The process went through many iterations and changes, and lasted 5 months. There were countless aesthetic, technical and logistical challenges: How does one tell a score with trains? How does it “know” what to display? How will it display that? How large will the trains be?

It was decided to use “G”-scale trains, because of their large size and robust, long-lasting build quality. They would be actuated by stepper motors, with pinion gears attached to their shafts, which would then drive flat rack gears, giving the trains a linear motion that could be precisely located for every position they needed to be in. While the TCS crew worked on the hardware side, RP3 Creative Technologist Kurt Roberts worked on the software side. TCS supplied duplicates of the stepper motor, driver, and power supply configurations, and Roberts and his team worked with the Nats to figure out a way to siphon from the data feed going to the actual Ballpark scoreboard, through to a standalone computer, which would translate those signals into a “G code” the steppers could understand.

Flanked by gleaming aluminum structural truss, part of the beauty of the installation is the bare, essential engineering functionality. A 250 watt stereo system and an amazing array of high-definition video screens, up to 80 inches in size, add to the pop and punch of the Installation. Careful scouting and measuring of the venue was a must, so that when the items were tested, packed, shipped, and delivered, it took less than a week to install and finish.

In addition to the amazing Kinetic Scoreboard, TCS also designed and created a beautiful 100 foot long overhead train layout, spanning across 30 feet of open air, featuring Norfolk Southern Trains, cleanly logo’ed containers and cars, complete with a sleek Anti-Derail containment fence, plus an impressive illuminated sign.


The results are amazing, and as such, a clever and masterful branching out from The Character Shop’s “normal” supply of puppets, robotics, and animatronics for films and commercials. Indeed, an expansion of TCS’s capabilities had already been in place prior to this project; between refurbishing and updating new technology and controls at the Skirball Center’s “Noah’s Ark” attraction, and creating a live, 200 foot by 70 foot Rube Goldberg Machine for MTV’s “Fantasy Factory”, The Character Shop has been moving into live, large-scale, real-time, interactive Kinetic Art Installations with great results. The success of this particular venture, as ambitious as it was, simply provides proof to TCS founder Rick Lazzarini’s eager, wide-eyed, and oft-quoted statement: “We can build ANYTHING!”


Whether you're a Producer, Art Director, Prop Master, or Production Designer, you can have an an incredible robot for your Production. Need incredible imagination and technological wizardry for your Film, Television Show, or Live Event? Call The Character Shop at 805-306-9441!


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