Fragile+Giant+for+thumb (1).jpeg

The Fragile Giant

2015 | Resin | 0.02cm (w) x 0.01cm (h) x 0.01cm (d)

The smallest man-made object ever to be filmed  (as of November 2015).

Ivory-seeking poachers have killed 100,000 African elephants in just three years, according to a new study that provides the first reliable continent-wide estimates of illegal kills.
— National Geographic, 18 August 2014

The Fragile Giant on a human fingerprint

Why the fragile giant?

Originally sponsored by Chugai Pharmaceuticals, this project shines a light on the fragility of the world's elephant population.  

We have come so far! We can place a microscopic elephant between the grooves of a human fingerprint, but we don't seem able to save the species from our own hands..

This elephant sculpture is just over on tenth of a millimetre high. It is walking along the stark and perilous landscape of a human fingerprint. It can be destroyed by a human breath.

Confiscated elephant tusks and boxes of figurines carved from ivory sit in the main hall of the National Wildlife Property Repository, in Colorado.  PHOTOGRAPH BY KATE BROOKS, REDUX

Confiscated elephant tusks and boxes of figurines carved from ivory sit in the main hall of the National Wildlife Property Repository, in Colorado.



The making of...


For the geeks

This revolutionary new filming technique draws ironically on early days of the film industry using Stop Frame Photography to painstakingly create movie motion.

Using a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) at high magnification, hundreds of images of the nano sculpture were captured as a Piezo stage was rotated to a precision of below one ten thousandth of a degree.  Each individual frame in the sequence can take several minutes to capture (depending on resolution), meaning that one second of film can take up to 4 hours to film.  A painstakingly detailed process, in which any micro-blip means starting again from scratch.  This is all done with an ground-breaking optical system developed by Stefan Diller, Wuerzburg, Germany called Nanoflight.Creator.  The only system in the world capable of SEM film.

An SEM does not use photons (normal light) to capture an image.  Electrons are focused on to the specimen which is coated in gold and rebounds are measured, forming a “picture” based on the reflection intensity of the electrons.  The effect of this from a filmic perspective is that one is not operating in an environment of light.  Shadows and “colour” behave differently and at this quantum level and our traditional expectations of light have to be thrown out the window.  All manageable for a single picture, but when compositing thousands of individual photographs it becomes a different story completely.  A series of techniques and technologies drawn from the special effects world needs to be applied in post-production to create a stable film.

In summary, the creation of these films involves a wonderfully diverse set of technologies from bespoke electronics and software, to quantum physics and leading-edge scientific tool to modern special effects.  A feat of art and science at its most beautiful.

In the Wurzburg  laboratory of nano photographer Stefan Diller

In the Wurzburg  laboratory of nano photographer Stefan Diller


How is the Elephant sculpture Made?

The structure is created using a ground-breaking new 3D printing technology and a technique called Multiphoton Lithography. Ultimately these works are created using the physical phenomenon of two photon absorption. Art, literally created with Quantum Physics.

If you illuminate a light-sensitive polymer with Ultra Violet wavelengths, it solidifies wherever it was irradiated in a kind of crude lump. Some of you may have experienced a polymer like this first hand at the dentist when your filling is glued in with a UV light.

If however you use longer wavelength intense light, and focus it tightly through a microscope, something wonderful happens: at the focus point, the polymer absorbs TWO PHOTONS and responds as if it had been illuminated by UV light, namely it will solidify. This two photon absorption occurs only at the tiny focal point - basically a tiny 3D pixel (called a Voxel). The sculpture is then moved along fractionally by a computer controlled process and the next pixel is created. Slowly, over hours and hours the entire sculpture is assembled pixel by pixel and layer by layer.





Sculptor and Director
Jonty Hurwitz

SEM Imaging and Nanoflights
Stefan Diller

Institute of Microstructure Technology, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
Stefan Hengsbach
Florian Rupp

Executive Producer
Takehito Shiina

Terasawa Yoshinori

Funding and Sponsorship
Chugai Pharmaceuticals

Graham Walker
Tudor Fat
Samar Udawat
Jonathan Seeney

Technical Consulting
Avi Mussel

James Busby

Hideaki Harada
Goshka Szlachetko
Monica Merutiu
Caroline Keane

Megan Wyler

Andy Bernard

Robyn Huxley

With huge thanks to the Loon family and  Sabi Sabi game reserve in South Africa, for a lifetime of inspiration, conversation and conservation.  

More nano sculpture by Jonty Hurwitz...