Meet SYYN LABS, L.A.s geekiest creative collective.When you step into the new 25,000-square-foot candy store Sweet! in Hollywood, Calif., you enter a confectionery wonderland. There’s a build-your-own-chocolate-bar lab, a section exclusive to Wonka treats like Gobstoppers and Bottle Caps, and an area dedicated to those various gross goodies (think gummy worms and sour Warheads) that make moms squirm. But it’s the shop’s interactive displays that make Sweet! more than a simple sugar rush: a two-story piano staircase that plays notes as you ascend; a candy construction site that operates like an arcade’s Giant Claw; and a machine that shoots gum balls through the tail pipes of an actual Ferrari, sending them zipping, twisting, looping and turning down a 750-foot track to their final destination — you. All courtesy of Syyn Labs.
Based in Los Angeles, Syyn Labs is a geeky creative collective of engineers, architects, roboticists, NASA research scientists, animators and sculptors who come together to imagine and construct multifaceted (and mostly temporary) works that combine art and science, usually for big-name businesses. Syyn Labs first gained fame by building the intricate Rube Goldberg (meaning a device far too convoluted and complex for its intended purpose) for the band OK Go’s 2010 music video, “This Too Shall Pass.” The life-size mousetrap featured more working parts than a car engine, including a soccer ball that triggered a falling piano and a rolling tire that turned on a fan, which then blew an umbrella … you get the idea — and it helped the band garner more than 37 million hits on YouTube. But even after completing projects for Microsoft, Target, Google and Chevy, Syyn Labs is merely at the start of its game. This October, the organization brought together its first Rube Goldberg machine incorporating real people — sponsored athletes such as golfer Rickie Fowler and hurdler Lolo Jones — for a Red Bull video shoot (which can be viewed on Red Bull’s website), and it has several covert projects in the works for 2013.
“I love heading to work every day because there’s always so much going on,” says Adam Sadowsky, Syyn Labs’ president and self-proclaimed chief instigator. “When we’re in the middle of a build, every [part] of our shop has something happening: In one corner, someone’s trying to figure out how to get a typewriter to set a golf club in motion, in another we’re trying to train mice to run on command. It’s both bizarre and fantastic.”
An entrepreneur who’s worked on video games and product design, 42-year-old Sadowsky got the idea for Syyn Labs in 2009 after befriending some of the residents at L.A.’s Brewery Lofts, the 300-unit Pabst Blue Ribbon facility-turned-artist colony where he lives. One of them was former Syyn Labs partner Doug Campbell. “Doug started this recurring networking event called Mindshare L.A., which I helped run,” Sadowsky says. “Once a month, 150 to 400 people would show up to drink, mingle and listen to talks on everything from biology to cooking to human behavior.” Eventually, attendees started to bring along interactive elements to set up in the lobby — things like digital smoke that changes colors as you move through it and Punch Bob, a martial-arts dummy with a built-in impact sensor that snaps a photo when you punch it, then immediately projects the photo onto a nearby wall. “It didn’t take long for me to realize this was great stuff and a group of really talented people whose skills should be used for something good.” Around the same time, the band OK Go contacted someone in Sadowsky’s circle and said it was looking for a team to build a machine it could dance with. The rest is, well, history.