George P. Johnson started out 100 years ago making flags and buntings for parades and other things, and because of its location in Detroit, also started getting involved in figuring out how to show people what those “automobile” things were all about.
You could say they invented the Auto Show: you know that thing where the car is on the turntable and rotates around? They invented that.
A century later, they’re a multinational corporation with facilities on five continents, and are major players in the field of experience marketing.
I was asked to create a little machine as a “holiday card” for clients, etc:
GoldieBlox is a company that makes really neat engineering toys geared towards girls. I worked with them to create this Rube Goldberg Machine in October and November of 2013. The build took about 2 1/2 weeks, and I had a crew of 5, including Paul Thompson, Craig Simmons, Robin Carpenter, Eric Mesple, and Rebecca Thompson. Craig Nakano of the Los Angeles Times wrote a great piece about the project here. It’s also been in the New York Times,IEEE Spectrum,Forbes,and a host of other news outlets worldwide. The video’s success haseven brought attention to other contestants in Intuit’s“Small Business, Big Game“ superbowl contest (vote often!).
Here’s a video of me explaining a bit of the machine:
UPDATE: The original video that had gone viral (scoring 9 million views in one week) was replaced with new music. The revised video has been posted above.
I created 75 of these little machines for Google. They were given as gifts to people who had been speakers at the Zeitgeist Americas 2012 conference. The parts were waterjetted from 16 gauge stainless steel, then welded together and powdercoated. I did a run of 4 different colors to match Google’s pallette, and the parts were mixed and matched in the assembly.
It’s operated by lighting the little copper alcohol lamp at the lower left hand corner of the photo. It heats a pressure vessel that then moves a piston, releasing a little steel ball to roll down a track. It falls into a basket and is then dumped off onto a magnetic ball catcher.
This sets a little pendulum oscillating.
The oscillating pendulum moves this little lever and after a couple of cycles, the lever disengages the red catch. The catch releases the pressure vessel, which falls and snuffs out the lamp.
This video shows the process a little bit better.
The machine came with a little accessory pack, which included a bottle of fuel (denatured alcohol), a ball, a lamp, a box of matches, a manual, and a shiny penny.
It was shot using about 50 gopro cameras, as well as the ultimate arm, which was the same mercedes-mounted rig that was used to shoot the James Bond and Batman films, among others.
It was really gratifying to be able to work with such skilled people. At every level, we were working with some of the best people in their fields in the world, and I think it showcased the machine very well.
The El Toro Marine Base was at one point the largest lima bean field in the world.
Here’s a Rube Goldberg machine that I built for Syynlabs for the Disney XD channel. I built and designed about 90% of this (didn’t build the pneumatic cannons at the end, these were repurposed from the OK Go video. I did work out the wiring and the trigger mechanism. Also I didn’t do the part which knocked kick drum, which was done by Hector Alvarez). Jonah Kagan was an intern on this project, and spent a lot of time working out the trajectory of the softball launch, so he deserves a special nod.
I built this Rube Goldberg Machine for the Colbert Report, and set it off in front of a live audience to begin the show.
Some things that may not be clear: The book dominoes close a switch which activates the little music box toy piano. This plays out the opening notes of the Colbert Report theme song (which was, incidentally, written by Cheap Trick, but is arranged and performed here by OK Go).
The drum of the music box releases a weight that drops and releases a stuffed eagle that flies down a string, crashing into the pyramid of ice cream containers.
Viewers have assumed that somehow the ice cream pyramid triggers the little car- it doesn’t. The eagle continues and knocks over a hammer which closes a switch, activating the remote-controlled car (with custom paint job, naturally).
The car rolls along a kind of treadmill, that takes up fabric. The fabric then pulls a stick out from beneath a ramp, and the ramp drops.
A hot dog (originally a ball park frank, but the hot dog rolled unpredictably. Ultimately it was a thick dowel rod painted to look like a sausage) rolls down the ramp, landing in a bun, which is in a little red wagon. There’s a little catch that the hot dog triggers, to allow the wagon to roll down another ramp.
The hot dog wagon rolls down the ramp and through a life-size cutout of Ronald Reagan, who has just put an apple pie on a windowsill to cool. The hot dog passes through Ronald Reagan’s crotch, crashing into the pie, which falls off the window sill, tripping a lever.
The lever releases an Eagle paperweight which drops and causes a Jesus Christ Action Figure to rotate on a lazy susan to trip another lever, which drops a cage over a customized “Godless Killing Machine” teddy bear.
This releases Stephen Colbert’s Emmy Award Statuette, which is mounted on a hinge, and has a razor blade attached to the wingtip (the original plan was for the Emmy to be skewering a hot dog on the wing, and drop the hot dog in a bun, but as mentioned before, hot dogs are unpredictable).
The razor blade on the emmy wing pops a balloon, which releases a hammer. The hammer swings down, knocking a big “C” backwards.
The C rolls off the table, but just before doing so, snags a metal loop. The C drops off the table pulling the loop with it, and unfurls the “Colbert Report” banner, also triggering a cutout of Stephen Colbert to swing into view.
The machine was built in pieces in my studio in Irvine CA, and shipped to New York City. It was assembled there the night before the show. You are watching the second take (the first one that Mr. Colbert initiated).
Here’s a short “behind the scenes” video shot by Thoma Kikis while setting up the night before:
Also a special thanks to the crew of The Colbert Report, particularly prop master Brendan Hurley, supervising producer Tanya Bracco, and talent coordinator Emily Lazar and director Jim Hoskinson. There are also a number of crew members whose names I never quite got, but these were some of the most generous and supportive people I’ve ever met!
I was a primary engineer on this video. I worked out the majority of triggers on the upper level, as well as designed and built several of the individual modules, including the Sunrise, the flags, the typewriter mechanism, and the rolling ball/kabuki screen theater. I also contributed the “Make: magazine” race car that rolls down the ramp.