When Adam Sadowsky was 11, he built a simple contraption above his bedroom door to capture monsters. “You’d basically open the door, which would trigger a string that would drop a net on whoever was coming in,” he says.
Sadowsky is the founder of Syyn Labs, the high tech geek collective behind a new frenetically paced Red Bull video called The Athlete Machine, which has generated over six million views on YouTube in less than a week. In the video, elite athletes like Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones and pro skater Ryan Sheckler are put in the middle of a Rube Goldberg machine (think the device Pee Wee Herman built to make breakfast), in which one interaction – a bowling ball smashing light bulbs, for example – triggers another. But it’s the athletes who make it go.
“In very much the same way these bits of inanimate objects that make up the machine pass energy from one thing to the next, we really like the idea of athletes passing that energy to each other,” Sadowsky says. “But we didn’t want it to be like passing a baton. We wanted it to be much more elegant and sophisticated an interaction.”
The video opens with skydiver Sean McCormack dropping from the cargo bay of a helicopter. When he lands several seconds later he hops on what looks like a giant target, which starts the machine, spinning pro skater Joey Brezinski onto a ramp, triggering a reaction that includes a chain saw buzzing through two by fours, a golfer hitting a hole in one and a motocross rider doing a backflip off a 20 foot ramp. Each interaction propels the next. It’s sort of like the monster trap Sadowsky built as a kid, just a hell of a lot more complicated.
“It’s like watching a NASCAR wreck in slow motion,” Sadowsky says. “It’s physics in action.” It took Sadowsky and his 23-person crew – which included NASA engineers and Disney theme park vets – about three weeks to build the machine, which sprawled across eight acres of the old El Toro Marines base in Irvine, California. Sadowsky then walked its length about 400 times to make sure the machine would work, and to figure out how his cameras would capture it in action. They then filmed the whole thing in about four hours, with a crew of six crammed into a Mercedes SUV with a camera mounted on the top, sometimes zooming in reverse to get the right shot.
“We wanted to start small in energy, and then have it build from there, but we also wanted to put the unreliable stuff up front, because you don’t want to get towards the end, have someone screw up, and have to start the whole machine over.”