Melvin is best described as a Rube Goldberg device – a deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a simple task in a complex fashion, often involving a chain reaction.
But Melvin has a twist. Besides doing what Rube Goldbergs do best – performing a chain of tasks as inefficiently (yet beautifully) as possible – Melvin has an online identity, which he uses to connect to and interact with his audience. Let me explain…
Two years ago the HEYHEYHEY design studio were asked by MU Artspace in Eindhoven to design their show for the Dutch Design Week. MU gave HEYHEYHEY total artistic licence to do as the wish on one condition: That the show should be a ‘moment’.
HEYHEYHEY therefore decided to build a massive chain reaction machine with an identity; a machine that would interact with and record visitors and then publish photos and videos of them on the web to promote itself.
Melvin was specifically built to perform multiple times each day. Of course, he had to be helped along every now and then, but during Dutch Design Week, HEYHEYHEY still managed to squeeze out three runs on average each day.
Three runs per day might not sound like much; however, bear in mind that while a run (going through all the parts of his chain reaction) only took around four minutes, resetting Marvin took a team of five about one and half hours!
Melvin comprises about 20 ‘modules’ where each new part of the chain reaction unfolds. There is a water module, a wind module, the marble brain, a smasher and even a printer.
HEYHEYHEY labelled the action between modules as ‘transports’. At first, all the action was contained within a module, but after a while the transports got more and more spectacular, with little parachutes, multiple bowling balls, steel shot-put balls weighing 6kg each, various forms of dominos and a fire trench.
But how does Melvin interact? Well, several buttons and triggers are built into Melvin’s 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 and one that composed a personal message from Melvin when a run started.
And, last but not least, they 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 Melvin’s blog, Twitter and Facebook account on which he instantly published everything that went down.
Computers and social media are fun, but HEYHEYHEY also 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 were brought back).
As a means of promotion Melvin also printed his own posters and created his own t-shirts and totebags, most of which were sold before they even had time to dry.
Although there are computers in the video, they’re not the same things as during a live run. HEYHEYHEY 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, they decided to show that aspect: In the video they 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.
Overall, with more than 14,000 visitors in nine days, you could say that Melvin a resounding success.
Melvin is now safely stored at a top-secret location somewhere in the Netherlands.
When HEYHEYHEY built Melvin, they built him big because it needed to entertain loads of people all at once.
After its initial success, a lot of people, companies and festivals enquired about its availability to do a show.
But it’s a lot of work rebuilding him and after phone calls and e-mails back and forth, the conclusion was always the same: Melvin was simply too big and expensive to rebuild.
So earlier this year, HEYHEYHEY had some time to spare and felt the need to challenge themselves once again and so set out to build a new Melvin, a Melvin Light if you will.
This time round HEYHEYHEY could determine their own boundaries and so built a travel version that ‘sends’ its own postcards and interacts, in some way, with the people around it. Like a proper traveller, you could say.
In short, this new Melvin is a Rube Goldberg machine specifically built to travel the world, and let‘s be honest, it’s certainly entertaining to have this sort travel companion at your side.
For more information on both Melvin the Machines, please clicki http://www.melvinthemachine.com/ and for more information on HEYHEYHEY design studio, pleasevisit: www.heyheyhey.nl/