May 3, 2013

Science & Animation Come Together for World Record-Breaking Atomic Animation 'A Boy and His Atom'

I've always thought that being a Guinness World Record holder has to be a stressful gig. Firstly, there's all that time you have to spend prepping for whatever record-breaking feat it is you've set your heart on being the best in the world at, but let's face it, that's the easy part. Surely the time spent looking over your shoulder for those destined to snatch your glory from under you is much harder. It could be months, it could be years, but in the case of Sumo Science -- who held the record for the 'smallest stop-motion animation character in a film' with Dot -- it was around 974 days before the smart arses over at IBM definitively crushed their record by releasing A Boy and His Atom; a stop motion short created with 5,000 carbon monoxide molecules. Step into the atomic world after the jump:

Directed by Nico Casavecchia, the 242 frames of A Boy and His Atom were created at IBM’s Almaden Research Lab in San Jose with the two ton scanning tunneling microscope, which runs at a frigid minus 260 degrees Celsius to keep the atoms from getting too excited as they're pushed into position. Here's what Casavecchia had to say about the strange commission over on the film's Vimeo page:

In November 2012, I received the most interesting commission of my career as a director. To work with a team of IBM scientists to create the smallest movie in film history. The idea was to use a "Scanning tunneling microscope", a tool that allows scientists to visualize and move individual atoms over a surface, to create a movie in stop motion.

As soon as we started, the challenges began to come forward. The first challenge was to create a common language between the scientists and the artists. After long hours of research and conference calls we started to understand the tools in the lab and the process of Andreas Heinrich and his team of scientists in California. Through this, we were able to define the limitations of the project. We had to create a film using no more than 5000 movements of single atoms, which was a huge limitation for the character design. Every element in the animation had to be very economic, so when it moved, it used the least amount of operations by frame. The second challenge arose from learning that atoms cannot be aligned orthogonally like the pixels of a computer screen, they have to be organized hexagonally like the bricks on a wall. This defined the kind of characters that we could create, their movements and the kind of story we could tell.

Once we knew the rules of the game we started thinking about stories that could be told within those boundaries. With Ogilvy & Mather New York, we arrived to the script of "A boy and his atom". The agency wanted a story that could be understood by any culture, without words, which could express emotions. Our objective was to tell something using such small amount of pixels and a single color. This led us to research 8bits video games from the 80s, that told amazing stories with such limited resources, like a space battle with only a small amount of pixels.

And here's the making of from IBM:

As scientifically amazing an achievement (and IBM ad spot) A Boy and His Atom is, I still think displaced world record holder Dot (itself an ad for Nokia's N8 phone) is a much more fulfilling viewing experience:

That being said, at least Will Studd and Ed Patterson over at Sumo Science can console themselves that they still hold the world record for the world’s largest stop-motion animation with Gulp (for now at least!):

So, what atomic shorts have you guys made with your scanning tunneling microscopes? But seriously, what do you think of A Boy And His Atom, a triumph of art and science or a cold-hearted marketing ploy?

Link: IBM Research - Made with Atoms

Your Comment

4 Comments

It's quite ironic how science can art fall together so well, but then again, isn't that what we already do?

May 3, 2013 at 8:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tyler

Amazing detail!

There's more than world records going on here for those involved in film. Being able manipulate atoms holds promise for making sensors,displays, and memory that will go FAR, FAR beyond 4k!

May 4, 2013 at 12:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

Would be better with a couple of car crashes.

May 5, 2013 at 11:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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No Atomic 3D?

May 6, 2013 at 10:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Lcky