Jansen DVD mook

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Along with the release of the Rhino Mini-beest kit, Gakken also published the “DVD de miru teo yansen sutorantobiisto no sekai” mook (See the World of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest by DVD), back on July, 2011. It’s one of the shorter mooks, at only 64 pages. With the list price of 1800 yen ($22 USD), it’s pricier than most people are willing to tolerate, especially after the import markup. Also, you can probably get the same video footage directly from Jansen’s website in English for less money. But the mook does go pretty in-depth on the wide variety of creatures Jansen has developed so far. And, if you are a fan of kinetic art, or of artificial weird lumbering creatures that have a mind of their own then you’ll definitely want this DVD mook for your collection.

(The Gakken Rhino Kit)

For those of you unfamiliar with him, Theo Jansen is a Dutch physicist/artist. In 1990, he started using PVC piping to make creatures, “beests”, that could be self-propelling. He lives near a very long stretch of sandy beach, and he’ll let his wind-powered beests roam around on their own. Several have mechanical sensors for detecting the edge of the water and turning around, and one has an “8-bit brain” made up of water-filled soda bottles. The key element in most cases is the so-called Jansen linkage, a combination of hinged pipes driven by a cam that can imitate a walking leg (in essence it’s like having a linear wheel). To date, Gakken has adapted Jansen’s designs to publish two Otona no Kagaku kits: the Animaris Ordis Parvus and the Rhino.

The mook is very photo heavy, which is both good and bad. It’s good in that you can see a lot of Jansen, and just about every beest that he’s designed from multiple angles, as well as his workshop and the process he goes through to make them. The downside is that since the beests are kinetic sculptures, you’re missing out on 90% of the artform if you can’t see them move. In static photos, they just look like a big jungle of yellow pipes and tubing. But, if you want to see the jigs and specialized tools he uses, the mook is a good reference guide. There’s also a 23-page biographic manga detailing Jansen’s beginnings as a kinetic artist and detailing the first real failure when one of the bigger beests completely collapsed on the beach in a wreck. Since then he’s been recognized as a creative inventor and has been featured in a TED broadcast.

The DVD is 45 minutes, broken up into 10 chapters and a special 10-minute interview (in English with Japanese subtitles). Some of the chapters are just visual montages of the beests with music backgrounds. In the others, if there is speaking, it’s in English. The chapters are:

1) Opening
A visual montage of the various beests

2) Walking the New Beest
Basically, footage of Jansen taking the Gubernare out to the beach

3) The Walking Mechanism
A demonstration of the Jansen linkage.

4) Strandbeest Evolution
A montage of every beest from the beginning to the end.

5) Wind Eater
A demonstration of a piston system for storing air pressure in 2-liter soda bottles for later use when the wind dies down.

6) Strange Tools
A video tour of Jansen’s workshop.

7) The Walking Beests on the Sandy Beach
More footage of beests.

8) Nerve Cell
A discussion of three air-driven piston switches in a mechanical version of a NOT gate, to allow logical decision making.

9) Beest’s Children
Footage of beests made by other people.

10) Animaris Gubernare Tryout
Taking the Guernare out on the beach for a trial walk.

(Sample page from the manga, highlighting one of the failures.)

Summary: I’d say that the mook is useful for learning the basic principles of making beests, and that the DVD is simply a great way to get inspired to make your own versions. I’m more of a craftsman than an artist, so for me, the idea of making a beest is to have something to show off at SF conventions. If you like making stuff, I recommend either getting the Gakken mook, or buying Jansen’s own DVD from his site.

News on the Delta Twister

Gakken just updated their Otona no Kagaku site to include the “What’s Next” link. And what’s next is the Delta Twister, a variation on the entomopter in kit 31. Interestingly, while the ad at the back of the kit #33 mook indicated that the Twister would be another unnumbered kit, and there’s no number on the webpage for the Twister itself, the URL is for volume 34. Don’t know if this is a mistake, or if the Twister will be part of the numbered series (instead of a “special product”). The webpage gives a release date of May 17, a 100 page count for the mook, and a 2,940 yen price tag. Structurally, the Twister looks very similar to the Entomopter, but with a bigger backwing. However, the description indicates that motive power is provided by a DC motor and a “super capacitor”. So, maybe it’s not just a wind-up rubber band.


I also received issue #149 of the email newsletter. It starts out saying that the editorial department has been flooded with reader feedback postcards from the Desktop Robot kit mook. Lots of comments and ideas from kids this time.

Part one talks about the development of the Twister, and how the Gakken staff enlisted the help of Takabashi, an entomopter expert, to help design something that is completely unique. And in fact, it’s set up so that you can choose to power it either with a rubber band, or the DC motor.

Part two discusses a new fad popular in Japan, craft kits for girls. So, Gakken is coming out with a new set of products to help support this fad. First up, volume 1 is a set of hard card sheets and yarns for making things like bookmarks and headbands as you would on a loom. You can see how this works in the youtube video. Available April 19, for 1,575 yen, accompanied by a 32 page booklet.

Part three is additional promotion for the book one of the Gakken staffers wrote independently -“How Golf Magazine became Japan’s No. 1 on Facebook“.


Finally, the new entry on the Facebook page is the announcement for the girls’ crafts kit, vol. 1, plus the link to the video.

4-10-2012 Facebook Update

Normally, I’d just put the Gakken Facebook and blog updates in the page to the right, but it’s a slow week so I’ll put it here instead.

Gakken is announcing a science event for kids and families on April 21st, at the RIKEN science institute.  You can expect to see lasers, space exploration projects and supercomputers.


Waiting on the news

I’ve tried to write up everything I can get my hands on regarding products put out by Gakken under the Otona no Kagaku imprint. So far, the three outstanding items are the book on using the Korg synth emulator on the Nintendo DS game player, the “Secrets of the EX-150” book, and the Theo Jansen DVD mook. Naturally, there’s also the EX-150, the premium kits (the Edison cup gramophone and the Stirling engine) and the mechamo mechanical animals. Most of these latter items are just kits, no mooks, and being mostly in the $100 to $300 range, too expensive to get just to write up a review; assuming that any of them are still in print. Getting back to the above three mooks, I don’t have the EX-150, or a Nintendo DS, so the “Secrets of” books don’t really provide me anything (besides, they’re mostly just lists of sound settings or circuit theory).

The only thing left for me to really review is the Jansen DVD mook. (Jansen designed the beests that are the basis for kit #30, and the mini-Rhino kit.) So, why don’t I just do that now? After all, it’s only 1800 yen ($22 USD). The answer is that I was hit by a car and broke a bone in my foot. Limited mobility, or something. So, when I can get around better, I’ll pick up a copy and write about it then.

Otherwise, I’m in kind of a holding pattern until Gakken releases news on the next Otona no Kagaku kit – the Twister – or for the next Sound Gadget (maybe the Udar). With luck, there should be a new newsletter maybe by the end of April, or possibly mid-May. See you then.