IBM System One – Full CGI

Recom Farmhouse was delighted to be asked by Map Project Office to partner them in creating the visuals to accompany an extraordinary partnership of technological and aesthetic creativity.

Map are a strategic industrial design whose work strives to humanise complex and abstract technologies. Working with IBM Research, they were deeply involved in the production of System One, the world’s first integrated quantum computing system. As well as its groundbreaking technology, System One is a masterpiece of industrial design, an appropriately sized leap for IBM. Superconducting qubits are housed in an airtight borosilicate glass cube three metres on each side which nevertheless opens effortlessly for maintenance, exquisitely balanced and engineered for its immense weight and delicacy.

You can read more about the design of this fascinating project here, on Behance.

The creative team at Map wanted the very highest aesthetic standards of imagery to match their design excellence, and chose to work with Recom Farmhouse for the imagery of the machine itself.

Map put a very strong emphasis on the human collaborative element in all their work. Alessandra Kila joined the team as director, providing her unique vision to these images which needed to be produced in CGI due to the logistics demanded by the enormous size of the computer. The entire team met for sessions at Recom Farmhouse’s London studio where we developed visual concepts that resonated with both Map’s original design inspirations and the fully built and functioning machine, with inspiration from influences as diverse as Paul Strand and Stanley Kubrick.
Moodboard Samples:

In collaboration with Will Howe of Map and Mark Podlaseck of IBM, we developed a concept described here by Santi Minasi (screenplay, editor & sound):

“A waltz of shots from infinitely small to the whole shape – where each fragment has the same patterns and structure of the total: fractals.But when our eyes adjust to the obscurity we have the impression that the computer (now in a really dark twilight) is floating in the obscurity of an imperceptible universe. Using the metaphor of fractals, now the computer is an infinitely small part of the cosmos. This last shot is only allusive and cryptic, almost black. But not at all.

Is that mystery? Infinitely small is like infinitely big.”

We developed these ideas still further, compositing it into a dark and subtly architectural background space. System, setting and lighting have clear reference to icons of science fiction…but also a more sombre and spiritual dimension with their pillars and arches. Ideas of protection are reinforced – the thick glass forms a shield for the machine but is also transparent and accessible.
Director Alessandra Kila takes up the narrative:

“I was very interested in the reflective qualities of the glass and mirrored surfaces used in the design. Aside from protection, it adds a continuous dialogue between human being and technology as we keep on reflecting ourselves whilst operating the machine or standing in front of it. We played a lot with the whole concept of reflections. Nearly all the close ups play with this idea: it’s either the door or the cryostat etc..We went from close ups and abstract views to a much wider cut revealing the whole computer.

There is a rhythm and crescendo in the whole film. From molecular to a more universal view…so much so that the computer could have finally be itself part of the universe.We played with ideas of darkness and brightness throughout the film: Dark and powerful, but also illuminating and going beyond our comprehension.The music and sound is very evocative and reminiscent of primordial stages of life. It has been mixed with the real sound of the actual computer recorded on location. This much more strident and mechanical sound together with the lament/sound used conferred to the whole film a very ancestral quality.”


Visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull worked closely with the IBM team to visualise an idea of quantum molecular dynamics. The eventual short film incorporated his organically inspired abstract VFX footage, coalescing these two atmospheres with sound and music.


‘Recom Farmhouse’ cut:


The footage was destined to be shown on IMAX-sized screens at presentations to influential people, and therefore needed to be both visually and aurally stunning at the highest quality. So for the animation, we made a super-wide version for maximum impact on the widest cinema screens.


Super Wide Version (no sound) :


To give an idea of the scale, here’s a look at the visuals in use at CES:

The system is shortlisted for major design awards including D&AD with the imagery featuring very heavily in the press, and we’re very happy to have been a part of this revolutionary project.


Client: Map Project Office
Project Manager: Will Howe
IBM Project Manager: Mark Podlaseck
Screenplay: Santi Minasi / Recom Farmhouse London
Creative Direction: Will Howe / Map Project Office
Director: Alessandra Kila & Christoph Bolten / Recom Farmhouse London
Retouching: Kate Brown / Recom Farmhouse London
CGI Director: Christoph Bolten / Recom Farmhouse London
Compositing: Kate Brown / Recom Farmhouse London
Editor: Santi Minasi / Recom Farmhouse London
Sound : Santi Minasi / Recom Farmhouse London
VFX footage : Douglas Trumbull