Creating the Sand Beasts

Theo Jansen is a Dutch physicist turned sculptor who has spent much of his career fascinated with the role of evolution in natural life. Powered by the wind, his sculptures resemble massive dinosaur skeletons (he calls them "Sand Beasts") that seem to move autonomously.

Jansen refines each generation of Sand Beast in a process that emulates natural selection. He throws away the parts that don't work and amplifies features that do. His long-term goal is to create creatures that can live indefinitely on their own, roaming the coast without human intervention. You really need to see them to appreciate how amazing they are:

Footage courtesy of Theo Jansen and Alexander Schlichter.



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Sent by Aaron | 4:34 PM | 10-9-2007

I am immediately reminded of the artwork on a paperback edition of Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. On that cover were the robot machines which cleaned the house and were still active after the nuclear war had wiped out the humans. The artwork made them seem like these giant behemoth ships traversing the desert, when, upon a closer look, one could see that they were the mouse-sized cleaners: small, but so intricate. Amazing creations Theo Jansen has made. Creepy, but fascinating!

Sent by Richard Roland | 5:15 PM | 10-9-2007

An interesting lecture given by him at the TED conference can be found here:

Most fascinating is his speech and his use of "animals" to describe these mechanical inventions. One finds it difficult to think of these tubes as animals, but by the end we sort of are convinced that they might/could be.

Sent by jon | 5:37 PM | 10-9-2007

I saw one of these up close at "The Believers" exhibit at Mass MoCA this summer and was totally blown away. Equally thought provoking were the works of Yoshua Ok??n and Fritz Haeg, and Sister Mary Corita also on display. You can find out more about the exhibit, and the extraordinary museum here:

Sent by Jess | 6:02 PM | 10-9-2007

There is something mesmerinzing about the video images of the sand beasts - I have looked at it over and over again ! Jansen's comments about his work are both excrutiatingly tender and also so arrogant. Altogether intriguing.

Sent by Susan Plott | 6:03 PM | 10-9-2007

His creatures move like those created on the website Check it out - you might be able to design your own "sand beast".

Sent by Andrew M. | 9:49 PM | 10-9-2007 inspired by evolution, however, more reminiscent of intelligent design by a "creator"...hmm.
Excellent engineering.

Sent by Spencer | 11:22 PM | 10-9-2007

This is truly creative and inspiring. As a poor grad student in the engineering field it is always gives me motivation to do amazing things when I see ingenuity such as this. A enormous BRAVO and thank you Theo Jansen for the inspiration. It is more appreciated than you will ever know.

Sent by Brian Fisher | 9:15 AM | 10-10-2007

While fascinating and downright brilliant, his art is hardly emulating natural selection. In his individual acts of designing and improving his creations, he is acting as a specific designer, which is not part of the theory of natural selection.

Sent by Luke | 10:51 AM | 10-10-2007

There is some one from ancient egypt who also another from Greece(?) who was able to create 'robotic' devices.. does Jansen know about these. Creating is all about borrowing...

Sent by carlos j. valdez | 11:15 AM | 10-10-2007

Some people might be confused about evolution. Most engineering and design actually emulates the process of evolution. Over the process of bringing a new device to function the engineer is constantly making changes. New ideas are tried. If they don't work, they are rejected. If they do work, they make it into the next generation of the device. If the engineer is very good and experienced the process is shorter, but I would think it is extremely rare for any product to go from the drawing board to working model with no changes.

Sent by eric | 11:29 AM | 10-10-2007

Evolution, by definition, involves random changes. engineering never, or should never, involve random changes. even "trial and error" design selection is not random, and thus does not fit the definition of Evolution. any sense of design or purpose or goal is inconsistent with Evolution. many people think of Evolution as changes that try to meet a need for an organism, but it is pure chance whether random changes meet a need. a species without sight will not inevitably develop sight thanks to Evolution. Evolution may not enhance the species's other senses either. it may die out instead. there is no purpose, per se, behind Evolution, just random changes that once in a while enhance survival statistics.
as for these structures, i like them but they seem less "Evolutionary organisms" and more "intricate tumbleweed." jut my opinion

Sent by hjf | 2:05 PM | 10-10-2007

Fascinating Art. Whenever one watches a nature program where evolution is spoken of, there are always phrases like, '...and Zinjanthropus learned that he had to stand erect......etc.' As if a species designs, augments his own physical characteristics for the benefit of coming generations. These types of narratives are provoked by the inescapable intuitive need for an engineer. Somewhere in the debate surrounding evolution we must find a difference between environmental adaptation and the alteration of an entire organism, which seems counter-intuitive. A blind crayfish deep in the heart of a subterranean water way, might be attributed to atrophy of the once needed eye. However, to believe the eye evolved by trial and error through millions of years, is a stretch of faith.

Sent by Peter Rouzaud | 3:55 PM | 10-10-2007

As a choreographer and aerial dance artist these amazing creatures stir my desire to move with them - to be able to dance and explore the enormous array of possibilities and the multiple variations within the environment would be incredible. Theo Jansen is a most inspiring and sensitive creative genius! Mahalo

Sent by Annie Bunker | 4:24 PM | 10-10-2007

very similar to the constructor on

Sent by Adam Hecht | 4:41 PM | 10-10-2007

I am seeing a lot of DNA of Lebbeus Woods in these. I mean this in a good way.

Sent by mike weaver | 4:58 PM | 10-10-2007

I was struck by my momentary sadness for the sand beasts that they are not capable of evolving themselves through a multitude of both concurrent and sequential variations, however random or intentional, as they lack the ability to naturally reproduce.

Even if Mr. Jansen succeeds in his goal for them to be able to roam or "live" without human intervention, they will also inevitably break down or "die" without their creator or his successors.

The sand beasts' creator's intent seems to be that the main purpose of their lives, aside from provoking humans to reflect on what it means to live, is chiefly independent movement and beauty, making them essentially roaming, earthbound mobiles. And even though Mr. Jansen has created them for his own purposes, they may yet serve other functions or have other benefits or drawbacks he did not intend or foresee. But the sand beasts do not have any ability to select purposes for themselves.

And they are not self-propelled. While the sand beasts resemble self-directed organisms, they are merely driven by wind currents. (Humans have the ability to choose to try to rise above this standard.)

It is very interesting and thought-provoking to see something that so convincingly mimics life. Thinking about these sand beasts reinforces my belief that it's our life's purpose to make our own purposes in life. Thanks, NPR!

Sent by A. Diggins | 5:15 PM | 10-10-2007

Success is sweet when a goal is accomplished, and a dream realized. He invented. He is a creator, thus contradicting his theory of evolution. It has always been a process for a human being to improve, but as being we have always looked the same. Our looks have not evolutionized from thousands of years ago. Let go, and believe in the divine.

Sent by Elder Darius | 6:32 PM | 10-10-2007

Imagine a sculpture garden where the viewers stand still and the sculptures are the ones walking around.

Sent by Sarah | 11:46 PM | 10-10-2007

where can i see these in action?

Sent by sheila | 1:30 PM | 10-11-2007

he is the new albert einstein

Sent by east coast | 2:54 PM | 10-11-2007

It's neat. His attempt to mimic nature and/or divinity is something humankind has attempted to understand. He is toying with the cocepts of evolution and creation himself. There is no intention for a literal translation of natural selection, rather a provocation of life or a desire for life.

Sent by N. Chow | 3:34 PM | 10-11-2007

I am not so sure that Theo is creating anything other than an advocacy for more Co2 from all the plastic he is using. Ah the irony in wanting your plastic beast to "live"! I'm curious as to why he isn't working with scientists to develop an alternative energy source.

Sent by Marissa Yeshe Palmo | 3:25 AM | 10-12-2007

Realmente din??mico!!??En donde se est??n exhibiendo?

Sent by Adriana Pe??a (Cd. Ju??rez, MEXICO) | 6:35 PM | 10-21-2007

Theo obviously knows his creations are not literally "alive" -- he is being poetic in his descriptions of how he perceives his sand beasts, and I think he is also using some poetic license to describe his creative process as "evolution." I think it is refreshing, and uncharacteristic, for someone of such a scientific background to express such poetic notions about engineered objects.
All the comments in this thread about evolution are very interesting; the Creator uses many avenues to mold creation -- evolution/natural selection is just one. Remember, the Creator also created the laws of nature. He may have rested on the seventh day, but he is by no means finished; volcanoes are still forming new lands, species continue to adapt -- we are in the middle of watching creation unfold, and it is arrogant to try to define or restrict the meanings or methods of creation.

Sent by A. Kuivanen | 5:05 PM | 10-26-2007

Could he give his creations a purpose? I'm not saying 'cool, but what good are they?', but if he wants them to be able to exist independently, then maybe he needs to try and devise a purpose for them, and in finding a purpose, and developing them to being able to carry out that purpose, he will find the way to allow them to live without man, without someone else's purpose. Isn't it a sin to allow a living thing to exist without purpose?

Sent by Myles Moriarty | 10:35 AM | 10-27-2007

oh my gosh ! never seen something as beautiful as that! thanks for the environment mr Theo and hope that your creation will take the place that diserves !

Sent by a??da | 5:52 AM | 10-29-2007

They seem so living

Sent by mechmoum | 3:21 AM | 11-2-2007