When Target needed a big Rube-Goldberg-like contraption, it called St. Olaf College.
The Northfield school has a team dedicated to building such machines, which perform simple tasks through complex chain reactions. (Think of the game Mouse Trap.)
Prof. Jason Engbrecht got the call. As an associate professor of physics, Engbrecht teaches the course in which students study engineering design while fashioning one of the elaborate machines. He gathered current and former team members.
"All Target told us was that it needs to be spectacular and it needs to incorporate Target products," Engbrecht said. "They preferred that we not destroy their products... But by and large, we had pretty free reign."
The video begins by following a runaway red shopping cart. Rolling soup cans, tinkling silverware and flying clothing star, as well. The video was originally shown at an employee event last fall. But Target publicly released it for the New Year:
The St. Olaf team constructed the machine in a Maple Grove warehouse. The space was exhilarating. During their competitions, the students build within a 6-by-6 foot space. This time, they had 40-by-90 feet.
But the filming process added its own complexities. The lights heated up the set, messing up the carefully-calibrated tension of the catapults' ropes. "That became very hectic," Engbrecht said.
It took 40 takes to even get to the catapults. During take 41, as the machinery moved toward the finish, Engbrecht yelled "Go catapults!" As they flew, the group cheered.