May 1, 2013 10:59 am
In November 1999, Don Eigler proved that man had truly mastered the atom: not by way of a devastating explosion or constrained reaction, but with art. The physicist, working for IBM, spelled out the company’s name using 35 individual atoms of the element xenon using a scanning tunneling microscope.
Now, scientists use scanning tunneling microscopes “for more than just imaging surfaces. Physicists and chemists are able to use the probe to move molecules, and even individual atoms, around in a controlled way,” says physicist Jim Al-Khalili in a 2004 book. Fourteen years ago, Don Eigler was the first person to do so, an achievement that helped to open the door on the then-nascent field of nanotechnology.
Now IBM is back, and with fourteen more years playing with these techniques, scientists have moved from precisely positioning individual atoms to making them dance. In a new short stop-motion film, A Boy and His Atom, scientists manipulated thousands of individual atoms to make the “world’s smallest movie.” The movie exists on a plane 100,000,000 times smaller than the world as we know and experience it. The boy and his ball are made from molecules of carbon monoxide, and yet gives an image reminiscent of the video games of the early 1980s.
“Though the technology that the team discusses isn’t new,” says the Verge, “they were able to use it in a new way: the black-and-white images and playful music form a strong artistic style that’s reminiscent of early film, but at an entirely different scale.”
For more information about how the movie was made, IBM has released a behind-the-scenes video to accompany their animation.
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April 16, 2013 2:00 pm
Today, Slate told the story of Wladislaw Starewicz and his weird, animated, insect-puppet stop motion movies. Here’s his masterpiece, The Cameraman’s Revenge, made in 1912:
Starewicz wasn’t the first stop motion animator. The first place stop motion shows up is in 1898, in a movie called The Humpty Dumpty Circus, which has been lost to the world. The first example we can see is from 1902, called Fun in a Bakery Shop – a movie made by Edwin S. Porter and produced by the one and only Thomas A. Edison.
In 1905, the film El Hotel Electrico showcased more early stop motion animation, as bags zoom around the electric hotel seemingly by magic.
Then, in 1906 the world got the first direct manipulation animation – in which a segment of the image is moved or changed or erased in each frame. This film was also put out by Edison, and is called Humorous Phases of Funny Faces.
And Edison can also take credit for bringing the first claymation to the world, in this film Dream of a Rarebit Fiend.
Starewicz, who made the whimsical and wonderful bug animation, also made all sorts of other weird animations. Here is his short from 1922 called Frogland:
And since then, stop motion has grown and grown into things like Coraline and Fantastic Mister Fox, and many animators cite these early stop motion artists as inspiration. They also serve as a reminder that you don’t need Pixar’s budget to make something wonderful, just a few dead bugs and a camera.
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April 15, 2013 12:29 pm
You’ve probably seen this disclaimer before: “No animals were harmed in the making of this film.” But while filming the HBO show “Luck” three different horses were injured and euthanized last year. That was one of the most publicized examples of animals dying for someone’s art, but the New York Times found other examples, too: Two dozen animals died while filming The Hobbit series. A shark died while filming a Kmart commercial. All these animal deaths are causing many to wonder whether or not the American Humane Association’s rules are strict enough, or enforced well enough, to keep animals safe.
The AHA’s guidelines are 131 pages long and include checklists for producers. They ask for a copy of the script, the names of any animal handlers and veterinarians, the location of the shooting and all crew lists, script changes and other information that might help the association keep an eye on the animals. They instruct producers not to film during extreme weather or during the hottest or coldest parts of the day. Animals must be transported safely, not over-rehearsed or over-worked and never left unattended. There should be no alcohol used around animals ever, they say, and props should all be made of rubber or balsa wood. The list goes on.
After the Kmart shark incident, PETA jumped in to criticize the AHA, claiming that people were jumping in and out of the pool with the shark and that there wasn’t an AHA representative on the scene. They told ABC News:
“Repeatedly, we see [the AHA] falling short when it comes to protecting animals,” Gallucci said. “They never should have approved this. They should have immediately stopped shooting when the shark was showing signs of stress.”
Of course, PETA is opposed to any use of live animals in filming of all kinds, so the criticism of the AHA isn’t surprising. The AHA responded that PETA’s claims were inaccurate, that there was someone on the scene and that no one was jumping into the pool with the shark.
But this case highlights a difficult area for animal vets. After the shark began to look ill and was rushed to the vet, it was simply too late. Vets really don’t know much about many of these exotic animals before we use them in commercials or television, so even if they look for warning signs, they aren’t totally sure what to look for.
There are other challenges to keeping up with production as well. The AHA is a non-profit, and they simply can’t monitor everything the way they would like to. In the Kmart shark case, they didn’t watch how the shark was transported because they didn’t have enough time or resources. Here’s the New York Times:
The humane association argues that it is struggling to meet the challenges of protecting animals in an era of modern filmmaking. “We’re not covering enough animal action, because of the way the business model in the industry has changed,” Robin R. Ganzert, the association’s chief executive, said in a phone interview last month.
But others aren’t so keen on giving the AHA more power over producers. Some say that they industry is already far too heavily regulated. Benay Karp, whose company supplies everything from skunks to rhinos to film companies, told the New York Times, “It feels to us that they’re becoming an animal rights organization no longer interested in what’s right and wrong in the industry, but only in collecting money.”
The AHA is funded by grants from the industry, and this year they were allotted about $2.1 million. That translated into monitoring 3,498 days of shooting, and 570 “no animals were harmed” certifications.
That includes making sure that the producers of CSI don’t put black widows and pill bugs together—which breaks the AHA rule prohibiting putting animals that might eat each other in the same container. You can see which movies got the thumbs up from the AHA, and which didn’t, on their site. Some even put a fake credit at the end, like District 9, which included a notice, not authorized by the AHA, that ”no animals were harmed in the making of this movie.” The King’s Speech was also knocked for falsely claiming to have been approved by the AHA. They claimed they had no idea that the phrase was trademarked.
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April 1, 2013 11:01 am
The New Yorker describes the sound as “that low and loud synthesized hum—ominous and brain-addling.” It wasn’t always there, but nearly every action movie now seems to use it. You can get the sound on demand with this handy button, or listen to it here:
You’ve heard it over and over again in trailers, but here’s a taste:
This sound really first showed up in 2010, with Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Here’s the New Yorker again:
By now, this accursed bass drone feels as if it has always been a part of our cinematic lives. Yet its reign of sonic terror has been relatively brief, dating, with a few antecedents, to a string of trailers made for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” from 2010. The teaser for the film was released in 2009, and featured music by Mike Zarin. The movie’s third trailer, this time scored by Zach Hemsey, added a playful and clever string element over Zarin’s big booms. Both of these components were then absorbed into the film’s soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer, a composer who, based largely on his work on Nolan’s films in the past decade, probably deserves most of the blame for loosing this particular rock slide into the world.
French horn: Hans Zimmer rolls up with his four Grammys and his Oscar and is all “Just trust me, horns.” We didn’t want to.
Tuba: But then we all started playing.
Trombone: And it was like, blam! Magic!
Bassoon: I knew immediately that we were on to something.
Trombone: It was incredible.
French horn: It was like the first time I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which I saw shortly after its completion, because the Reniassance.
And here’s a mashup of a ton of Inception horns in movie trailers:
If you believe that movie trailers are a reflection of what people want, then what does this drone say about us? Perhaps the ominous drone is a nod to the inner turmoil of even our flashy action heroes. There’s lots to worry about today, and “those thunderous musical cues seem handed down to remind us that even frivolous popcorn movies aren’t supposed to merely be fun anymore.”
There will be a new movie trailer trope soon enough, and the Inception BRAAAM will fade away like the vuvuzuela (which, actually, makes a pretty similar sound if you think about it). Perhaps our next sound will be perkier, like cats meowing or a tambourine or something. Now might be a good time to send your suggestions to Hans Zimmer.
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March 28, 2013 3:46 pm
Ocean-loving director James Cameron is supporting future deep sea exploration by donating the $10 million submersible that he used to venture into the sea’s deepest spot last year. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will inherit the vehicle, and according to the New York Times, the undersea craft will help in designing more advanced vehicles and technologies.
Cameron timed the announcement to coincide with the anniversary of his seven-mile solo dive last year into the lowest point of the Mariana Trench, the Challenger Deep. Unfortunately, Cameron didn’t find much. As PCMag reported last year, Cameron said the landscape was an almost “completely featureless … almost gelatinous flat plain.” But Cameron’s submersible—the only one currently capable of carrying a person seven miles deep—was a notable proof of concept.
According to the Times, Woods Hole should receive the vehicle sometime in June.
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