What is a Rube Goldberg machine?
According to all-knowing Wikipedia: “A Rube Goldberg machine, device, or apparatus is a deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion, usually including a chain reaction. The expression is named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg.”
What’s the big idea behind this?
Around June 2010 we (studio HEYHEYHEY) were asked by art space MU to design their show for the Dutch Design Week - Hollands major design event. Mu gave us complete freedom on one condition: the show wasn’t to be a show of new products, but it should rather be a moment. Since we like a challenge we decided on building a massive chain reaction with an identity. We wanted to involve the unsuspecting visistor of MU in an event which was both good for them (the pleasure of being part of the event) as well as for MU: our machine would record his visitors and publish pictures and videos of them on the web to promote itself. That was the birth of Melvin. Looking back at it now with more than 14.000 visitors in 9 days we can say our plan worked out nicely.
What’s different about Melvin?
There are a lot of Rube Goldberg machines out there, some of which are pretty famous but none of them tries to interact with its spectators. Melvin does exactly that. Also, Melvin is specifically built to perform multiple times each day - of course we had to ‘help’ him every now and then, but we managed to squeeze out 3 runs on average each day of the Dutch Design Week. Considering that a run lasted about 4 minutes and resetting took a team of 5 about 1,5 hours, we think that’s not too bad.
How does Melvin interact?
We built in several buttons and triggers in Melvins chain reaction that were connected to computers with separate functions: there were three that were hooked up to webcams that recorded video and took pictures of spectators, one that composed a personal message from Melvin when we started a run (we used a script and a database so the machine could do it all by himself), and, last but not least, we used a computer to start the music when the disco ball came down at the end of run. All of these functions were directly linked to Melvins blog, Twitter- and Facebook account on which he instantly published everything that went down. People weren’t just watching Melvin, but Melvin watched his fans too.
Is that all?
No. Computers and social media are fun, but we wanted Melvin to reach out physically too. During a run Melvin released balloons filled with Helium outside the building with a card attached to them asking the finder to return the card (sadly none of them were returned). As a means of promotion Melvin also printed his own posters and created his own t-shirts and totebags. Most of them were sold before they even had time to dry.
But there are no computers in the video!
Yes there are, but they don’t do the same things as during a live run. We wanted to show the machine and the run as best as possible without cutting to computer screens showing you Twitter and Facebook updates. Because Melvin is a machine that watches the people who are watching him, we decided to show that aspect: in the video we used Melvin’s webcams to keep track of the camera crew with the addition of a purpose-built camera crane-module at the end for the final shot.
Run? Module? What’s with the lingo?
Lingo comes with the territory. To keep track of what the hell all the team members were talking about and to add some confusing mysticism we started using official sounding words. Here’s a small list.
Run: Melvin going through all the parts of his chain reaction, from beginning to end. Melvin did 23 runs during the Dutch Design Week, and around 50 if you count the extra runs for the video. Most of them weren’t exactly flawless.
Module: In the beginning we decided on putting all the action parts in wooden frames - or modules. These modules serve multiple purposes: they gave us the perfect base for building and they made it easier for spectators and the team to see what was happening where. Looks wise they’re also important: the modules make Melvin look more coherent. Melvin now consists of around 20 modules. Among them are a water module, a wind module, the marble brain, the smasher, the printer, etc., etc..
Transport: A transport is an action between modules. At first all the action was contained within a module, but after a while the transports got more spectacular too - think of the parachutes transport (used to cross a room), the multiple bowling balls and steel shot put balls (6 kilos each), the domino and the fire trench.
Can you tell me how this all works?
Yes and no. We truly love to explain parts whenever people ask us about them, but there’s so much to tell. During the making of the video we shot a lot of extra footage which we hope we can forge into a documentary about what’s going on inside Melvin. Just keep coming back every now and then to see if we did.
When and where can I see Melvin?
On this website. Melvin is safely stored at a top secret location somewhere in The Netherlands and it’s a lot of work rebuilding him. We really hope we can rebuild him again one day to launch a ship, open a mall or shoot astronauts into space.
Who can I contact about Melvin?
If you have any questions about specific parts (modules, transports, etc.) click here., subject: Technical stuff) If you want to know if Melvin is available for your ship launch click here.
Who’s responsible for Melvin?
Melvin is a project run by studio HEYHEYHEY, and is build and designed together with
Bas van Hout
Bas van Raay
Melvin would like to thank his management, his fans, all the peolple who supported him, everybody who helped fixing his parts, restarting his computers and extinguishing his fires and especially: Angelique, Bas (computer), Frank Lucky Strike, Boudewijn, Bart, Wouters, Jeroen, Bas (gieter), Kor, Jorg, Joran, Loek, Colin, Kal, Titia, Maarten, Peggy, Sonia, Emma, Marleen, Lea, Andrew, Tim, Julia, Timon, Stije, Hansje, Bram a.k.a. Günther, Joost, Adriaan, André, Sander, Bram, Nina, Dick, Angeline, Fons, Gelder, Diderik, Edwin, Nienke, Eefine, Richard and Woody & Paul.
Idea & artdirection
Website HEYHEYHEY & The Cre8ion.Lab