On November 2, 2018, the people of Toulouse France went out into the morning as usual, only to find something very unusual in the street. A massive 50 ton slumbering Minotaur, crouched and silent, the morning dew glistening off it’s hand carved skin and steel bones.
In La Machine’s modern interpretation of the classical tale of Ariadne (played here by the giant spider). In this version, she is not an agent in the Minotaur’s demise, but rather a guardian, helping guide him to where he may find peace. This story was acted out over the course of several days, complete with live orchestral score and choreographed walking through the city. Crowds gathered to witness these two massive sculptures as they told their tale.
Watch the videos below for a highlight of some of the events that participants would have seen in the streets of Toulouse.
One of the reasons for the big event was to usher in the existence of a new facility in which to store the massive creations of La Machine. Typically the gargantuan living sculptures are crated away, hidden in between events. Now, they will have a new home in the Halle De La Machine where they can be both on display and interactive year-round.
Of course being makers, we look at things like this massive construction and think about how it was created. Luckily, La Machine has shared a bit of that information with us.
I was lucky enough to visit La Machine back in 2016 during Maker Faire Nantes and was overwhelmed with the art and skill I encountered.
One thing I was unable to write about while I was there, was the top secret project we were allowed to see inside La Machine’s workshop. Now that it has been revealed to the public, I can share the photos and story of the Minotaur.
Here you can see the initial plan, a sketch to give you a clear idea of the scale of the concept. There is also an early mockup, where you can see the hand-drawn lines figuring out just how they should segment the body for movement.
François Delarozière, the brain behind these constructions, not only has a wonderful creative mind, but I personally find his art work fascinating. I don’t often get star struck, but I bought one of the concept art books and had Delarozière sign it.
On the day we visited, the majority of the body parts were off of the steel robotic structure. They were being finalized, finished and detailed. This meant that the skeleton of the beast was looming over us that day.
The massive structure of the Minotaur consists of roughly 50 tons of steel, hydraulic systems, and wood. This thing is a beast and you can feel that mass when it is moving around you. Surprisingly, the movements are very graceful. Like many of La Machine’s creations the Minotaur is not piloted by an individual, but rather every appendage has it’s own pilot, who has to work in unison with the others.
You can see, in the picture above, how the left arm of the Minotaur is controlled. The wearer moves and the Minotaur mimics the motion thanks to this exoskeleton. It is quite impressive how these teams of artists can create a cohesive movement to make it feel as though this beast is walking and interacting with the crowd.
What really surprised me about all the wooden parts is that they are hand sculpted to get to the final shape. There may possibly be some CNC work to get rough structures done, but the final shaping is all done by skilled artisans using power grinders and even hand tools.
The sheer quantity of sculpted parts was stunning. Look at the pictures below, and consider that there are also multiples of these (in case something breaks) and the same is true for all of La Machine’s creations.
As a child, I read about the seven wonders of the world and thought to myself just how impressive it would have been to have witnessed them while on an epic adventure. As I walked into the workshop while visiting La Machine in Nantes France, I was struck with the thought that this is what it must have been like.