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Hooligan Cuts IBM’s Branded Documentary Short on The World's Smallest Movie

Hooligan recently cut an interactive Web documentary about A Boy and His Atom, the world's smallest stop-motion film (Guinness World Record). Conceived by agency Ogilvy & Mather, a team of four IBM scientists animated the groundbreaking film exclusively with manipulated atoms. A Boy and His Atom (:60) and the accompanying films debuted online on May 1. 

Led by editor Peter Mostert, Hooligan collaborated closely with Ogilvy & Mather and production company 1st Avenue Machine to document the unprecedented feat of art and science. IBM researchers previously made history in 1990 by moving individual atoms; the scientific-first was famously illustrated by rendering the company logo with 35 xenon atoms. Decades later, IBM has taken its “atomic” prowess to new heights. Using a scanning tunneling microscope that magnifies atoms over 100 million times, company scientists laboriously moved 5,000 atoms on a coin-sized copper plate to create the animation frames for the film. 

“We wanted to take people inside the lab and show them how the world’s smallest movie was actually made,” says Niels West, associate creative director, Ogilvy & Mather. “When you meet the scientists and learn more about the project, you start to get as excited as they are about the atomic-scale world they work in.”

The five-minute behind-the-scenes film edited by Mostert puts IBM’s animated story in the context of real-world applications: moving and manipulating atoms to explore the limits of data storage. For example, current magnetic storage devices require a million atoms; IBM researchers have discovered that 12 atoms are sufficient. 

10 Atomic Shorts comprise the interactive portions embedded in the film, directing viewers to more in-depth video explanations about the related scientific laws and technology. 

“This was by far the most unique and interesting branded projects I’ve edited,” remarks Peter Mostert, senior editor, Hooligan. “It is not your typical behind-the-scenes film. In fact, it is as much an educational film. A primary reason IBM created this campaign was to inspire an interest in science, so our narrative focused on making their scientific discoveries palpable to the general public.”

Provided with the final animated film, interviews and lab tours from onsite shoots at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA, Mostert initially assembled a 15-minute cut for the agency. The two parties then distilled the film to five minutes using transcripts to key in on the important points that the scientists sought to express. 

“It was a long and challenging process in the beginning,” Mostert recalls. “Albeit fascinating, the subject was something I knew nothing about so there was a learning curve starting out. I culled through reams of footage for the first cut, selecting down and whittling them into a logical sequence. Once we fleshed out the story, I added b-roll to seamlessly blend the edits and dialogue together.”

The branded film project also included two trailers (:30 & :15), as well as a video diary series chronicling the experiences and challenges the team of scientists faced making the film – all in all, 25 pieces.

“Working on this project, I became fascinated with the scientists,” Mostert concludes. “Whether you’re a science buff or not, you can’t help but fall in love with the characters as they passionately discuss their occupation. These scientists are true artists in their own right – poetic in the way they view the world.”