• 12.11.12

It’s Not Magnets: The Secrets Behind that Gravity-Defying Rube Goldberg Video

A new Rube Goldberg video turns the genre on its head.

It’s Not Magnets: The Secrets Behind that Gravity-Defying Rube Goldberg Video

Ever since Honda’s “Cog” set the advertising world atwitter in 2003, Rube Goldberg machines have — for better or worse — become a mainstay of online video. The trick now is not so much getting the machines to work, but finding a twist that keeps them feeling fresh.


Judging by its 1.3 million views over the past several days, “Isaac Newton Vs. Rube Goldberg,” a video from Toronto production company 2D House, seems to have found a good one.

If you haven’t watched the video, do so now, because we’re about to ruin it for you.

Cool, right? When the camera rotates 180 degrees, it’s revealed that everything up till then was filmed upside down. That answers certain questions, like how did a bolt on the end of a string unwind toward the ceiling?

But on subsequent viewings, the gravity revelation actually raises more questions than it answers (which was pretty much the idea). We asked David Dvir, owner and head of operation at 2D House, to explain some of the trickier tricks.

Why do the dominos fall up?
Ten seconds in, a series of metal dominos appear to fall toward the ceiling (once you realize the camera is upside down, that is). This is one of many tricks that people assume was done with magnets, says Dvir. But not so. “There’s actually much more of the domino on the other side of the surface,” he says. What the viewer is seeing is simply the smaller–and hence lighter–side of the objects. “The dominos actually are falling down, just in the other direction.”

What is happening with the ping pong balls?
This segment of the video is both the easiest to explain and the most asked about, says Dvir. The nylon balls are simply falling from the ceiling, bouncing off the slanted metal surface and then ricocheting into the bowl – just as they appear to be. The mind simply can’t compute such complex gravitational manipulations in reverse, even when we know what’s going on. One thing that helps keep the mind off-balance: The balls are actually coming from the “underside” of the bowl, giving them a little added speed by the time they come into view.

Why does the second can roll up?
Part of the visual wit of the video is that the gravity tricks continue even after the orientation is corrected (leaving some viewers to wonder whether it isn’t the second half of the video that’s filmed upside down; it isn’t). Toward the end of the sequence, a tin can rolls all the way up a plank with little more than a nudge from a fellow can. The secret is a motor, sort of. “It’s like a windup car where you wind an elastic band back and it acts like a little motor,” Dvir explains. Before the shoot, the can was wound up and placed at the lip of the plank, which was enough to keep it in place as long as nothing disturbs it. But once the other can hits it, the force is enough to set the second can in motion.


There are other feats of visual trickery left to explain, but we’ll let Dvir handle those himself; 2D House will release a behind-the-scenes video within the next week. That video includes the secret of the floating box and the reason they had to use music. Hint: Not everyone enjoys the sounds of heavy metal. (Oh, and sometimes, it is magnets.)