Rube Goldberg machines

Reuben Goldberg  (1883-1970) was an American cartoonist and inventor famous for his illustrations of wildly complex inventions.  His “Rube Goldberg machines” would accomplish a simple task through a ludicrous chain of events.  He was an artists making fun of inventors and engineers.  Before proceeding further, I will offer an example video of a Rube Goldberg machine in it’s modern interpretation.

I chose a short video simply to get the point across. This one has the typical assortment of balls rolling down ramps and domino effects going on.  Some creators produce machines on a huge scale, with spectacular effects.  They can be amazing displays of engineering.  But I wouldn’t really call them funny.  Amusing, perhaps.  I think there is a lot of room available to develop the Rube Goldberg machine in animation.  If you dispense with relying on gravity as the primary source of energy, and inject some character and silliness into the idea, simulated/animated machines could actually be funny.

Now, lets look at some examples of original Rube Goldberg cartoons. Note the reading required to understand the steps. They are funnier if you bother to read them.





First, there is not one ball rolling down a ramp. Each of his cartoons is completely new, as Goldberg never seems to repeat himself. They are whimsical, and seem highly unlikely to function as intended. In animation, you would have the control to make the impossible mechanism function as designed. But maybe the biggest difference between the original cartoons, and the modern live versions is the animals who sit waiting patiently.  Their caricatured behavior is supposed to be reliable enough to be a part of the process.  These actors are what really brings the machines to life.  I am particularly fond of the octopus who crushes an orange that is painted to look like a diver’s helmet.

I am pleased to see someone finally added an animal to a modern Rube Goldberg machine.  The Rube “slowberg” machine was created by Bob Partington, and it includes a slow moving tortoise.  Some internet critics have complained that it is not a true machine, because it is filmed in segments.  The supposed actual time of the machine operating is over 6 weeks, which would be tough for most YouTube viewers who would quit 44 seconds in. Still, I think this machine is much closer to recreating the fun and spirit of the original cartoons.



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