The video’s inspiration was from the band, who wanted “a giant machine that we dance with”, a long-term aspiration of the band and inspired by other Rube Goldberg machines shown in videos on YouTube, including the interstitials used on the Japanese children’s show, Pythagora Switch.
While they considered the idea of the machine for each song on Of the Colour, they opted to use “This Too Shall Pass” to make the end result “majestic and epic”, even though it already duplicated the previous marching band video.
They sought help through online science message boards, eventually coming in contact with Syyn Labs.
From a pool of talent at a Syyn Labs-hosted “Mindshare LA” gathering, about 55 to 60 people from Syyn Labs, the California Institute of Technology (including some who work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and participated in the Mars Exploration Rover program, hence the model rover seen in the video) and MIT Media Lab helped to design and construct the machine.
Jet Propulsion Lab engineers Mike Pauken and Heather Knight, planetary scientist Eldar Noe Dobrea, and intern Chris Becker joined forces with Syyn Labs, a group of engineers who “twist together art and technology” and were tapped to build OK Go’s machine.
The team had to work on a limited budget, using recycled trash for many of the props in the device; after filming, the total estimated cost was approximately $90,000.
The team avoided the use of “magic”—automated devices like computers or motors—and instead focused on purely physical devices. The total time to create the video from conceptualization was about six months, with two months of planning and four months for design and filming.
The warehouse where filming took place was in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles, and was secured by Syyn Labs in November 2009. The final construction within the warehouse took over a month and a half during January and February 2010.
The band members helped in the last two weeks of construction, having spent the previous four months on tour.
Once the machine was completed, the filming, using a single Steadicam, took two days to complete on February 11 and 12, with an estimated 60 takes for the machine to properly function.
The first day of filming included 47 takes, none of which successfully completed the entire machine and necessitated a second day of filming.
Many of the takes ended only 30 seconds into the process, at the start of the song’s chorus, where a tire would fail to roll properly into the next section of the machine.
Syyn Labs had a group of 30 people to help reset the machine after each failed take, a process that took upwards of an hour depending on how far the machine ran.
There were no significant injuries during filming; Tim Nordwind once was hit hard with paint at the end, while the Steadicam operator nearly got hit with one of the barrels at the end of the mechanism in the shot used for the final video. His reaction may be seen in the released version of the video.
Several elements of the machine had to be properly adjusted to match the timing for the song.
The group broke the song into sections, triggered when the machine passed certain gates, to account for small changes in timing that could occur (up to 0.5 sec, according to Brett Doar, one of the machine’s chief designers), allowing the band to continue to lip synch while the machine operated.
Smaller objects like dominoes were found to be the trickiest to set, as their patterns would be less predictable than larger and bulkier objects, which are more predominant in the later parts of the machine.
Once the machine transitioned to the downstairs portion, it would generally run the rest of the course untouched.
Furthermore, the time of day and temperature would play a big factor in how some small components would behave, forcing the team to readjust the timing.
Ball tracks and other features had to be wiped clear of dust and debris to prevent slowing down rolling objects. A carved wooden ball track shown early in the video was created to have motions timed to the music, but required a low inclined angle that would often cause the balls to skip out of the tracks.
Kulash noted that their largest “nightmare” for the machine was a set of mousetraps, triggered to release a display of colored flags; they were found to be overly sensitive to earlier actions of the machine, such as the dropping of a piano, and redesign and padding were needed to prevent the traps from being set off prematurely.
The timing had to take into account the movements of both the band members and the cameraman; Damien Kulash estimated that though the machine was able to complete its opening at least three times, these shots were botched, because either the band members or the cameraman had fallen behind the action of the machine.
While the video was filmed as a single shot on at least three different occasions, they planned on using post-editing to slow down or speed up certain parts of the take to keep it in time with the final soundtrack.
There is a noted cut in the video, in which the camera passes through a set of curtains on the transition to the downstairs portion of the machine; according to one of the machine designers, Hector Alvarez, this cut was introduced by the band, speculating it was introduced to avoid a shot of one of the band members or cameraman in frame or otherwise to keep the machine video synchronized to the machine.
Both Tim Nordwind, bassist for the band, and Adam Sadowsky, president of Syyn Labs, said that while the machine worked in its entirety 3 times, and no cut was needed, the decision was made so a better result on the downstairs portion could be included in the final version. There was also a second cut which can be noticed by watching a piano against a wall as the camera passed behind some rods; the piano can be seen apparently warping in shape and position.