I’ve been thoroughly entranced by this little piece of animation since first stumbling upon it a few months back. A Boy and His Atom lasts only a minute and looks like some early 8-bit gaming technology or a perhaps bunch of ball bearings set into motion via stop motion, but what you’re actually seeing are actual carbon monoxide molecules brought painstakingly to life. It is billed as the “smallest animation ever made,” and, even for all its crudeness, can’t help but make the pixel-deep image mastery of animation wizards like Pixar seem picayune in comparison. A group of IBM scientists compelled the fundamental building blocks of nature to do their bidding and filmed it. Bonus points for the short’s dry Keaton-esque deadpan and Close Encounters nod.

A Boy and His Atom reminds of films like this:

and this:

Given that these two experiments helped pioneer the most popular art form of the following century, one wonders if the folks at IBM will find their techniques applied elsewhere. Will we one day see a feature film made of dancing carbon monoxide molecules? I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.

It occurred to me after seeing A Boy and His Atom that scientists and researchers all over the world are producing this kind of short work and uploading the results. Though created for far different purposes than say, the new Jia Zhang-ke, these pieces still, by virtue of being composed of moving images, bear some relation to this mutant creature we call cinema. In this space I’m going to attempt to highlight a new clip a week and address them on filmic terms. Call it another kind of experiment.