Making a Rube Golberg Effect Video


Shortly before the New Year, I was involved with assisting a group of students at Alcanta International IB College, Guangzhou, to create a Rube Goldberg effect "machine" for the production of a short film: "One Thing After Another".   We filmed and edited the video using the iPhone and used the interior of the college building as the location for the machine's whacky "task".

If you are not familiar with the Rube Goldberg effect, a good place to start, like we did, is to go and view Rube Goldberg's biography and original drawings at the very informative Official Rube Goldberg website, which celebrates the life and times of this Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor and author from the early 20th Century.

A Rube Goldberg effect, machine, contraption or device; in a nutshell- is a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation.  Just like his British counterpart:  W. Heath Robinson, Goldberg would portray his surreal comic inventions in series of annotated cartoons, such as the example below for a "Simple Way to Take Your Own Picture":

Source:The Official Rube Goldberg Website

Source:The Official Rube Goldberg Website

Though Goldberg never invented his machines to actually work, you can find plenty of  inspiration for real working examples that have since been built by creative enthusiasts seeking the joy of chain reaction on You Tube.

So what did we learn from the production of "One Thing after Another"?  Well, firstly it is a great way to stretch those creative muscles, as both the processes involved with making the machine and then filming it during its operation, provide two very different sorts of challenges. Here is our little film, which after an enormous amount of shooting small clips, re-takes, and repeated steps, only lasts for a few minutes!

One Thing After Another  - YouTube link

One Thing After Another - Vimeo link

Here's a quick summary of some of the things we learned from the experience:

START BY CHOOSING A TASK for your machine to perform. The purpose of making "One Thing after Another ",  was for a segment in a morning assembly, with the theme of : "Consequences". So it was decided that the machine should deliver a loaded message somehow and work its way down through the building from an upper storey.

INCORPORATE FUNCTIONAL AS WELL AS CREATIVE ELEMENTS INTO THE DESIGN. By juxtaposing: rolling balls, ramps, zip lines, tubes and the domino effect (to keep things moving), with creative elements such as: a balloon bursting to release a ball, a knocked catch being released, or a series of explosions created by a spiked vehicle, and combining these with our functional elements, a rough design was drawn out beforehand.

ASSEMBLE THE MACHINE. Assembly, as we discovered, needs loads more space than you originally thought it would. Particularly if you are going to create opportunity for viewpoints from which the machine at work may be filmed successfully. You will  use more than one camera angle consecutively. The action, as you will discover, can all be over all too suddenly! Adequately capturing it, so that the viewer may understand the transition of motion and witness the transfer of energy, is essential.

PLAN A ROUTE which facilitates for the camera work to be done and the camera person to move with the action easily, as well as providing for as non-cluttered a background as possible to  view the machine in action.

TEST REPEATEDLY BUT BEGIN SHOOTING FOOTAGE RIGHT AWAY.  There's very little chance that your machine will all work the first time. Be ready for plenty of tweaks, modifications and retakes so that you can enable your machine and your shots to run without a hitch. If any of the individual links are difficult to replace such as an inflated balloon containing a ball, skip that step and begin the next one manually. You will have to take it on faith that that step will perform correctly during the final performance. Every short few seconds of film may count in the final edit.

DECORATE YOUR CREATION. Something which we didn't pay much attention to, given the constraints with our project. Streamlining your theme with key colours or appropriately chosen equipment can be a good way to make your film visually more interesting, provided that the decoration doesn't get in the way of the smooth running of things.

One of my favourite Rube Goldberg video discoveries on You Tube was this wonderful creation by  2D Photography House in Canada called: "How Do You take Your Portraits? - Rube Goldberg Machine vs Issac Newton".

Maybe reading this journal post will have the knock-on effect of inspiring you too to try and make a home-made Rube Goldberg device?