By Steven Zeitchik
1:21 PM EDT, May 1, 2013
Talk about some on-screen minimalism.
In a bid to “explore the limits of filmmaking,” IBM has created a movie that takes a character and reduces him to his essence—literally.
“A Boy and His Atom,” a new stop-motion short from engineers at the technology firm, shows what seem to be a series of white dots that form the image of a boy bouncing a ball, jumping on a trampoline and otherwise wiling the day away. Except these aren't dots at all: they’re atoms, and IBM has manipulated these particles such that they give the impression of action and (slight) emotion. The movie will recall the children’s game Lite-Brite—or a really, really primitive version of claymation.
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IBM has subtitled its ditty “the world’s smallest movie.” How small? Unmagnified, the scene measures just 45 nanometers by 25 nanometers. The images need to be blown up by a factor of 100 million just to be visible.
As you’ll see from the 94-second film, there is no great momentum or payoff to "Atom." But there is a definite arc to it; in its way, it's storytelling just like anything else at the multiplex.
The scientists who designed the film may be making a point about how cinema can strip down the world to its basics, or perhaps simply having fun with atomic particles. But they also may have a slyer message in mind. We're entering a season when the film world looks to up the interest level by going bigger, richer, louder, It turns out smaller works too.
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