A snapshot of humankind in Royal Ontario Museum advert

The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has launched a new spot, Immortal, that guides us through the history of planet Earth and the civilisations which have shaped it.

Directed by Mark Zibert, the film is set underwater, offering an ethereal, dramatic quality to the historic reenactments, and takes an unborn child’s point of view – its mother being Mother Earth. If the scene didn’t already sound like a Nirvana reference, the band’s iconic album cover for Nevermind gets a proper nod as a dollar bill floats into the picture.

Unusually, it comes with a content warning since it includes potentially triggering references, from the Holocaust to more recent acts of terrorism, plus references to slavery, starvation and stolen land (the museum acknowledges it sits on ancestral lands of indigenous people). The stark contrast between these significant events and instances of strength, kindness or talent emphasises the constant push and pull between the wonderous and the horrific throughout the history of humankind.

The film also touches on the pandemic, reminding us of the enormity of the past two years and their certain entry into history books, despite its effects being very much in the present.

The art direction and use of VFX make the film stand out, deftly bringing to life historic events that can be hard to relate to for many museum visitors, particularly the parts of history that date back millennia. An accompanying making-of short documents the intricate process behind the film, from the choreography to the clever use of lighting, fans, lens effects and set builds to give the appearance of being shot entirely underwater.

The museum’s chief marketing and communications officer Lori Davison says that the film’s message is “that we live on in what we leave behind”, whether through physical objects or our legacy that remains after we’re gone. Davison adds that “every object in ROM is a portal to stories” and has the capacity to ignite “important cultural conversations”, coming at a time of amplified calls for stolen artefacts to be repatriated to their original communities.

The film forms part of an integrated campaign which is running across OOH, digital and cinemas throughout the summer. The full six-minute-long version of the ad can be found here.

Agency: Broken Heart Love Affair
CCOs: Denise Rossetto, Carlos Moreno, Todd Mackie
Director: Mark Zibert
Production Company: Scouts Honour
CG and VFX: Motif Studios
Colour: Alter Ego
Additional VFX: Tantrum Studio