As Kevin Hart, Kristen Bell, and Tom Cruise all prove, you don’t necessarily need to be a giant to make it as a giant movie star. But those actors have nothing on the lead performer in Guinness World Record-winning short film Starship Odyssey, whose lead character is just 300 microns tall. To put that in perspective, it’s just 0.3 millimeters or approximately the size of a single grain of dust. The short film has been officially recognized for having the smallest 3D stop-motion animation character in history.
The microscopic figure was printed at Belgium’s Université Libre de Bruxelles using a two-photon 3D nanoprinter. The figure was then animated in a special vacuum chamber, using high-precision miniaturized robots for manipulating and repositioning it between frames.
“The record is based on two achievements,” Jean-Yves Rauch, one of the researchers at France’s FEMTO-ST Institute who contributed to the project, told Digital Trends. “One is the 3D nanoprinting of such fine details on the character, such as the fingers moving and hair growing. The other is the use of collaborative robotics in a vacuum to move the scene and the star. We had to develop new ultra-precise robotic tools to position the character ultra-precisely, as well as the star insignia.”
The previous record for the tiniest stop-motion character belonged to Nokia, which employed a much larger figure measuring 10 millimeters in height. That’s around 33 times larger than the figure featured in Starship Odyssey.
The short film (in every sense of the word) was directed by Tibo Pinsard. It is intended as a tribute to David Bowie. While it’s undoubtedly an amazing artistic achievement, however, Rauch said that this nanoscale technology has plenty of real-world applications. One of the big ones is the development of minimally invasive surgery using robots that are capable of moving through veins and arteries.
Rauch is also confident that, in the future, it will be possible to use advances in nanoscale technology to make even smaller stop-motion films.
“We could make a character even 100 times smaller and animate it,” he said. “The current limits to be exceeded concern the precision of movements, the control of deformation at small scales, and the recovery of energy.”