I was just revisiting two of my favorite Heath Robinson / Rube Goldberg videos – the famous Honda Accord (“Cog”) advert and the *This Too Shall Pass* video by the rock band OK Go.
If you haven’t already seen these videos, be prepared to spend a few minutes going “Oooh” and “Aaah” and then watching them a second time and then emailing the URL for this blog to your friends, because they truly are amazing…
Now, just to remind ourselves, British cartoonist and illustrator William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) and his American counterpart Reuben (Rube) Lucius Goldberg (1883-1970) were both famous for creating illustrations of machines that were intended to perform relatively simple tasks, but whose implementations were incredibly complex such that they performed their tasks in exceedingly convoluted and indirect ways.
The two videos of which I speak are like concentrated and distilled versions of Heath Robinson / Rube Goldberg concepts. I only wish Heath and Rube could see these videos, because I’m sure that that they would have had a good chuckle over them.
The first video is a Honda Accord advert known as the Cog Advert. A lot of folks thought that this was CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), but this really is real-world physical components. The amazing thing is that it is (or at least it appears to be) a single continuous shot – goodness only knows how long it took to get this all to work so perfectly.
A couple of things to note are (a) when the wheels roll UP the ramp this is because they were weighted on their leading edge, (b) when the fan pulls itself along the floor observe how it’s motion is perfectly timed to only just touch its target, and (c) the windshield wiper sequence which just looks so … weird (almost like a sequence from the end of the first Terminator film).
The second film is a video by OK Go, a rock band originally from Chicago, Illinois, USA, now residing in Los Angeles, California, USA. Unlike the Honda advert, I believe this video did have a number of cuts, but that doesn’t make it any the less impressive (well, I suppose it does, but it’s still an amazing video).
Quite apart from anything else, I really like the accompanying music – which is a bit silly of me to say, because the entire video is actually the complement to the track as opposed to being the other way round.
There are so many cool things about this video – but I particularly like the end where we finally discover how/why the band members are covered in paint.
All in all I think these videos are amazing. I would have loved to have been involved in their creation, and I can watch them time and time again…
I've got to say, the Honda ad looks like CGI, especially the lighting and camera angles. The windscreen glass looked rendered too.
On the other one I see from the state of the singers that they must have had a few tries :-)
I too have a fascination with Rube Goldberg machines. Per your request, here are 2 I like:
The Cog ad is truly a masterpiece. Years ago I remember a video interview with the director in which he talked about what an exhausting effort it was to shoot this and how many dozens of 'takes' were required to get everything working perfectly. There are no edits or movie tricks involved -- it is all real, exactly as it looks.
On another note, I wonder how many engineers have had the experience of debugging a design that was worthy of being called a Rube Goldberg?
I have seen way too many such designs in my career -- if there is a simple way to do something, and a much more complicated way to do it, some designers will for some reason take the most convoluted, complex, tortuous path to get from A to B, creating an un-debuggable, un-reusable nightmare of a design in the process. You guys know who you are!
Every design should begin with a medidation using the KISS principle as the mantra: Keep It Simple Stupid, Keep It Simple Stupid...(repeat as necessary).