OK Go – This Too Shall Pass

  By Shamus   Mar 6, 2010   60 comments

As soon as I saw this on Monday, I knew it was going to be the Saturday morning video for this week.


Link (YouTube)

(For context: These are the same guys who did the treadmills video that was such a huge sensation a couple of years back.)

I’ve mentioned before that I hate DIAS videogames where you have to overcome a series of obstacles and any failure whatsoever means you have to do the entire thing again. And again. I don’t feel excitement when I’m playing. I feel a mounting sense of stress. I don’t feel exhilaration when I win. Just a grudging sense of relief.

I actually get that same panicky feeling when watching this video. Look at how complex and destructive this mess is. And how many places it could go wrong. This would take ages to reset. They made things even harder on themselves by integrating the timing of the song into the sequence, so that the gap in the song needs to line up with the glass-of-water “chimes”. Any alteration in speed before that point would ruin the take, even if the chain reaction wasn’t broken. And then you have the camera work: I still can’t figure out how the camera operator did his job. Look at how often he has to step over rails and tracks and possible debris. In some places – like the transition from the second floor to the ground floor – it’s not at all clear how a human being is doing this unless it’s someone who can fly. Or at least hover. So while this entire contraption is playing out, it’s pitted against whatever convolutions they’re going through to move the camera around smoothly.

They leave so much to chance. At the 3:15 mark, it would be easy for one of those little yellow balls to be in the way of the basketball, which would foil the entire take. And this is just seconds from the end! I would want to make sure the chancy stuff was at the beginning. I wouldn’t want anything doubtful going on in the later bits. Particularly after those destructive later steps.

As the video plays, I can’t help trying to calculate the odds of failure and multiplying that with the odds of failure from all previous steps and trying to deduce how long they spent in this Rube Goldberg purgatory. According to this article, it was 60 takes. The entire project took months.

How many TV’s were smashed? Did they patch the same piano up for every take, or did they have to get a new piano at some point? How long would a reset take if it failed near the end?

Much love to OK Go for bringing us so much entertainment.

20202060 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.


  1. Rumleech says:

    I’m speechless.

  2. Squash says:

    Of all the videos like this on Youtube, this one rules for sheer destructiveness.

    I cannot imagine putting something like this together and doing all those takes. I would give up by at least take 59!

  3. Doc Kirzner says:

    The exhilaration of the crew at the end is well-deserved.

  4. neothoron says:

    It’s really funny to see that and think that “The Incredible Machine” is so close conceptually, yet so devoid of the “DIAS” problem.

    • TehShrike says:

      The Incredible Machine did it right – you didn’t have to recreate the whole machine, you just had to move that pulley a bit to the right… and start the bowling ball a bit higher…

      You never had to do it all again, you just had to make a small iteration forward. Because that last run was SO CLOSE!

    • AGrey says:

      Oh wow.

      you know when you are suddenly reminded of something from your childhood that you had forgotten, and it hits you like a ton of wet cement?

      I haven’t played the incredible machine in ages, that was such a great game

  5. eri says:

    Pretty impressive, and must have been a nightmare to make. I wonder how they justified this to the marketing department at the record label… “well, we’re going to spend millions and millions of dollars over the course of six months trying to film a music video that might actually never work out… but it’ll be cool if it does!”

  6. WCG says:

    Oh, yeah, this is amazing! How did we ever get along without YouTube (and without the Internet in general), anyway? :)

  7. SonofMakuta says:

    Wow. Fantastic.

    Another good video of theirs is “Do What You Want” (not the one where they’re playing live – the one with the red and orange room).

  8. Will says:

    The sheer level of OCD required to set that up is mindboggling. My mind boggles.

  9. Dustin says:

    As Shamus mentioned, this took ~60 takes (many takes ended in the first 30 seconds, so they didn’t have to reset too much). What wasn’t mentioned in the linked article, but in the behind the scenes videos on OK Go’s YouTube channel, is that 20 engineers worked for 6 weeks building the thing. Some of them were from MIT. And the cost was relatively low, they had much of the material donated or sold very cheaply to them by an organization called Trash for Teaching.

    Probably my favorite video from them yet, and definitely my favorite video of this week.

  10. Joshua says:

    How ironic- I just posted a link of this video on Facebook today.

  11. Phineas says:

    Reddit had one of the crew (the people shown upstairs at the end) do an Ask Me Anything thread about the video. Unfortunately, for some reason it’s been deleted since then. They mentioned the cameraman being one guy with a steadicam mount, which seems to support your convolutions theory pretty well.

  12. neothoron says:

    Now that I watch it again, it just dawned on me that the problem that Shamus mentioned – small yellow ball in basket ball’s way – could be easily solved by simply having the green guy check that the path is clear and move a few balls if necessary.

    • AGrey says:

      seems like a bowling ball, not a basketball

      I can’t imagine a ping pong ball would do much to alter the path of that thing once it really gets rolling

  13. Alleyoop says:

    That was tremendous fun! Reminds me of a film I’d see occasionally on the local PBS station to fill time, used lots of what we saw in the OKGo vid but also chemical reactions that created fog (closeups of which I think were used to cover edit points), and no music. It went on for about 10-15 hypnotic minutes. I recall wondering how it smelled, ha.

    I liked hearing the sounds of the processes going on alongside the music. The spatial and shot planning must’ve been a headbreaker! The end of this video make me laugh right out loud. Thanks, Shamus! :)

  14. Jock says:

    The transition is enabled by wooden ramps, you just don’t see them because the camera’s looking at the machine at the time. You can see it when it looks backwards at around 3:02. The ball at 3:15 I think is a bowling ball, which would make it less likely to divert because of the presence of one of those little yellow ones (1), and Mr. Green could have quickly kicked them out of the way while he was getting into position off camera (2). Also, re the pause with the guitar chimes: The simplest solution I can think of is if they only recorded the music after the video was done, so it wasn’t a matter of timing the machine to the music (very hard with some of those), but rather the music to the machine (much easier).

    That being said, I agree, it looks like something that could only be a work of love (or obsession, I’m not sure), because anything else would have caused a ragequit far before the end.

  15. datarat says:

    The part that fascinates me is that not only is the machine incredibly complex, but that the band members are integral to the shoot. They move from place to place throughout the video, and at any time one of them could trip and set off a reaction prematurely.

    And I remember the first time I saw it when I got the “Aha!” moment at the end that explained why they all had paint on them. Many previous takes…

  16. Insufferable Bubbles says:

    There’s a fairly good “The Making Of…” video for it here:
    http://www.syynlabs.com/projects/applied-physics/rube-goldberg-machine
    It’s a YouTube video, but the site is that of the group responsible.

  17. Mari says:

    I remember being a kid in the gifted class at school and studying Rube Goldberg contraptions then having to make one of our own. At the time I wondered what the heck the point was. Obviously better, less convoluted paths could be taken to achieve a desired end. Finally I understand it all thanks to that vid. RGCs are a work of art, not science. And that was art to rival the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

  18. Zombie Pete says:

    I remember when the Mythbusters guys tried this on a MUCH, MUCH smaller scale and failed miserably. So, kudos.

  19. Ergonomic Cat says:

    My son is three and a half.

    I’ve watched this video 8 times in a row so far.

    So in the “Under 5″ demo, they’re a hit. ;)

    Apparently I’m not allowed to recreate this in our house tho.

  20. Peggy says:

    I saw something on tv just yesterday about this video. If you look in the background when they show the tvs and piano you can see the busted ones from previous takes.

    I still prefer their other video for this song. Marching bands in gilly suits for the win. And that one was done in one take they say.

  21. Taellosse says:

    I saw this yesterday via Neil Gaiman’s blog (so you’re in good company, Shamus!), and was boggled by it then. I’m shocked they did it in only 60 takes.

  22. As far as the camera work goes, I kind of figured it was a crane shot or something similar.

    • Heron says:

      A friend of mine (professional film editor) said he thought it was just a guy on foot with a steadycam (an impressive feat). The part Shamus wondered about (the transition between the second and first floors) appeared to be a lift of some sort.

  23. Graeme says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV23EVZ-nc4&feature=player_embedded

    It was spliced together to make it seem like one seemless whole, BUT this video still rocks and it was an amazing effort just to get all of these things coordinated. Freakin’ nuts.

    • Andy says:

      I would be immensely surprised if they did have 60 runs at this.
      In addition to the seamless cuts you linked to, I would imagine there would be several fail-safes such that if one element doesn’t quite hit its mark, the desired effect can be triggered remotely. Solenoids, hydraulics, pneumatics, etc.
      But as the guy says in the end of his nitpicking, it doesn’t make it any less of a good video!

    • Sheer_Falacy says:

      I expected something like that, or manual activation, or whatever – this is just too much to do when a minor mistake could break it.

      But man, that guy sounded like he felt like shit for mentioning it. I don’t understand why he made the video, given that.

    • DJMoore says:

      [Replying to Graeme]

      See my extended post below. I believe this is indeed the true record of a single, continuous take, and they did indeed do it many times to get it right.

    • DJMoore says:

      I spoke too soon. There’s an interview with some members of the design and construction team over at Make Magazine, which reveals that, yes, they managed to get the whole thing to work three times, but that there were minor aesthetic flaws in each take — so they splice the two best takes together, at the curtain.

      Also, see the “lessons learned” video here.

      Getting the machine to work in a continuous take, no trickery, was a design requirement.

  24. DJMoore says:

    A very big Thank You! to those evil capitalists at State Farm. Good neighbors, indeed.

    It pays to download the HD version of this and single step through certain scenes. It’s hard to see how some of the stuff works in the regular YouTube window.

    Some of my favorite bits:

    At 00:23, when the big finger turns on the iPod playing the song, the speaker kicking out the ball bearing is reminiscent of another famous Rube Goldberg machine: Honda’s “Cog”. [01:39 Here.] That one had to be filmed in two takes, because it was too big to fit in the available space.

    The sequence starting at 1:40, right after the piano falls (you can see scraps of wood from previous drops) and the shopping cart of film cans rolls down the ramp: a plastic saint ascends into heaven, which triggers the coming of an actual morning, portrayed by a yellow umbrella (umbrellas are a recurring motif), flying birds, and sprouting flowers, synched of course with the “when the morning comes” chorus.

    Then, at 1:54, after the balls roll down the pin board (used in the classic demo of a “random” process generating a Gaussian curve): A small streamer flies over the flag-waving mousetraps to trigger the big red ball. I suspect the streamer had more predictable timing than the mousetrap chain.

    The water machine at 2:15: there’s a little shiny weight swinging back and forth in time with the piano dinging.

    Forensics digression:
    There’s a video out there claiming that the opening curtain covers a continuity break. A light can be seen through the curtain when it’s closed, but when it opens, the actual light is in a different place.

    Stepping through frame by frame in HD, though, you can see that the first light is actually a specular reflection off the very shiny fabric. For two or three frames, after the light turns on, both the reflection and the actual light behind the curtain can be seen simultaneously.

    Everybody sees the wrecked TVs behind the rolling globe — but at 2:36 you can see three or four reserve TVs, bound and gagged for sacrifice.

    The car at 3:06 is the Make:Way race car from Make Magazine.

    At 3:18, you can just see some of the gang graffiti that the crew painted over when they occupied the building. They had to rewire the place, too: the gang had stolen all the copper.

    Finally, the big finale, after the flying dummy triggers the rain of umbrellas and the flock of paper airplanes at 3:20. (Just before the airplanes, you can see somebody standing up in the balcony.) The chorus is echoed by a string of painted boards unfolding like that little magic trick where the wooden cards, bound by cloth tape, seem to fall through themselves. The song ends in that wonderful crash starting from when the falling kitchen stove triggers the silent falling balloons.

    At 3:32, off to the left, you can see painted silhouettes from a previous take.

    Remarkable.

    There’s another real time video for this song, done with a marching band and…but that would be a spoiler. The thing I love about that one is the kids beating on the drum when the take is approved. Unlike the RGM version, the music you here is the actual music recorded in the field; you can hear the wind in the microphones during the quiet passages.

  25. Neil says:

    Ha, very good, very good.
    Reminds me a great deal of this Honda Accord commercial for the European market, which supposedly took several hundred takes.
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4187430023476942057#

  26. Segev says:

    Perhaps I’m being unfair, and they didn’t cheat at all, but watching the video, it looks like several places happen where they actually have unrelated events kicked off by off-screen phenomena, not actually part of the rube-goldberg device’s chain of events. Am I wrong? I hope so. I WANT to be impressed.

  27. oleyo says:

    Absolutely amazing. The sheer messiness and destructiveness of this devise is what is really impressive. All those takes must have taken ages to reset.

    I suppose they had a team of people that each were assigned a part to reset. Also, I am guessing that they had replacement props for thing like the piano and TV until they had the rest of the machine running fairly consistently. That is what I would do anyway.

    Still does not take one bit of credit away from the effort though, really awesome.

    • DJMoore says:

      Yup, according to a “making of” article I’m too rushed to track down, they did indeed bring in several dozen folks for the shoot who’s sole task was resetting.

      And there extra TVs and one extra piano visible if you watch closely.

  28. DaveMc says:

    The YouTube Ads A.I. is apparently aware of their previous work: the ad that popped up on this video was for “refurbished treadmills.”

  29. Bryan says:

    Rube Goldberg purgatory… indeed. :-)

    I remember in high school having to build a Rube Goldberge-like device. The idea was, you have lots and lots of energy type changes (say, a lit match burning through a string that supported something else would be heat -> chemical -> mechanical; a lit match melting a bit of fishing line that held something else up would be heat -> mechanical, etc.). The intent was to make a giant complicated thing, and ensure it was built well enough to be reliable.

    (You got points based on how many times you transferred into each of five different types of energy, up to some maximum, and then how far off from one full minute it took for the device to finish. You lost points each time you had to touch the device while it was running. Team with the most points wins. :-) )

    So of course, we did an end run around the whole intent, and came up with a couple of basic sequences (that were easy to make reliable, and happened *fast*), then repeated them several times. Then we added a digital timer (1MHz crystal feeding into ~20 D flip-flops in a frequency divider setup, then ANDing together up to 8 of the individual flip-flops’ Q outputs, to wait for a variable amount of time; I was getting good at basic digital logic), and added just enough delay to get to 1 minute total. Much, MUCH easier to get working, and to keep working.

    Now, that being said, entropy is great. As long as I don’t have to reset it when something goes wrong. :-)

  30. John says:

    The first thing I thought was “Why do they have paint all over them?” At the end of the clip my question was answered! Poor guys.

  31. Kylroy says:

    Now just in case you didn’t think they didn’t work hard enough on this…this is the second video they made for the song.

    Original video here.

    Reason they made the new video here.

    And that’s why you see the State Farm logo at the beginning and thanks at the end – they needed to get the money somewhere, and the label wasn’t paying. Possibly some of the best ad money State Farm has ever spent.

  32. Zaghadka says:

    What I want to know is how they all started out covered in paint, before the bit with the paint guns happened.

    • KremlinLaptop says:

      Multiple takes. Even if that is one continuous take it means they probably did a few takes during the day before finally getting it right. Plus along with the busted tvs and busted piano it sort of illustrates within the video how many times they had to run that thing to get it right.

  33. Thirith says:

    I was a bit reminded of Little Big Planet at its best.

  34. DJMoore says:

    I linked to this previously, an interview with some of the makers over at Make magazine online, but here’s the crucial excerpt:

    We were initially unsure of what the selected take for the final video would be, since we managed to go all the way through in only 3 takes, but they all had “something” that made it less than ideal (crew members showing up on camera, TV not exploding, music going out of sync, etc). In the end the band decided to make a splice right there when the curtain opens in order to have a better video. We weren’t involved in the post-production, so I’m unsure whether it’s a merging from two different takes, or a single take with a second or two removed in that section to allow the song to sync back up.

    Of course, the one splice they did make is the one I was most sure wasn’t there. Gah. (I still think the jumping light is an illusion, a reflection off the fabric itself, not evidence of the cut.)

  35. Exasperation says:

    Re-watching this, I realized that you can actually see the mechanism they’re using to move the camera around in the video. If you go to around the 2:30 mark, you get a nice reflection in that big shiny ball.

  36. Stuart says:

    In addition: These guys are running round inside the machine to get into position for the next camera appearance. I wonder how much room they had and if they ever accidentally kicked part of the mechanism.

  37. toasty says:

    This is amazing. It makes me want to get there music, even if i didnt really like the music. That and buy the Incredible Machine from GoG.

  38. Meredith says:

    I really have to remember to start checking your blog on Saturdays so I can watch the videos at home. I just watched without sound and I’m well impressed by the machine. The sheer amount of planning, time, and effort that goes into these things for no practical purpose always amazes me (I think stop-motion animation is the only thing more mind bogglingly brilliant). I’ll have to give this another watch later to see how the music syncs up. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  39. Rayen says:

    as a film student with expeirence doing camerawork in and around stuff, if you have a steady cam set and i mean good one, like over a $1000 good, this wouldn’t be to terribly hard to follow. I am surprised that the cameraman actually caught each movement of the machine in one continuous shot. it would have been so easy to miss a catch or lever pull by the slighest bit and then the cameraman has to make them set it up again.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *

*
*

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!