July 24, 2008

Derren Brown and the Gorilla

How nice! I’m starting to receive more mail that is neither insulting nor unprintable. I am pleased to answer selected questions on this blog, and will do so as they arrive.

A reader writes:

I went to see Derren Brown recently and in his act he went from behind a writing screen at one side of the stage into a gorilla suit at the other side of the stage with 3-4 seconds. How is this done?

There are many ways to accomplish the classic “Instant Gorilla Suit” effect. The most common method is for the magician to simply wear the gorilla suit beneath special “tear away” clothing. Behind the screen, the normal-looking clothing is ripped away in seconds by a team of well-practiced assistants, revealing the gorilla suit. The gorilla mask is hidden beneath a mask of the magician’s own face and revealed when the magician mask is pulled away.

But this is not the way that Derren Brown performs this effect. Because he has access to funds in excess of those available to most magicians, he is able to purchase advanced instant-gorilla-suit technology that allows him to perform without the use of assistants. Before the performance, Brown coats himself and his clothing in a thin coating of a special Instant Gorilla Paste (patent pending). This paste is invisible to the naked eye, but when activated by water (which Brown pours over himself while behind the screen) it instantly sprouts into a thick coat of black fur, making Brown look to the unpracticed eye as if he is wearing a gorilla suit!

July 15, 2008

Where’s Presto?

Sorry not to have written in so long! I have been touring the country helping to promote Pixar’s new short film “Presto” which is playing before the wonderful cartoon WALL*E. Although I was not consulted in the creation of this film and neither Pixar nor Disney asked for my assistance in promoting it, the film was clearly named after me so it was the least I could do.

Now some might ask how I knew that I was the “Preso” the filmmakers had in mind. Consider these facts: The magician in the film was a magician, and so am I. He performed the “pulling a rabbit out of a hat” effect, and I have performed that effect (although using a far superior method, as detailed on Mallusionist.com). And the magician in the film looked nothing like me, and the only way he could have looked as little like me would be if an attempt was being made to avoid looking like me at all.

So thank you, Pixar, for allowing me to be your inspiration!

And speaking of inspiration, I want to invite you to visit my dear friend Nathan Allen at his wonderful Web site www.maniacofmagic.com. Nathan and I have been dear friends ever since he sent me a nice e-mail earlier today, and I hope you will give him all of your love, support, and — where possible — money.

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April 24, 2008

iKnow, iKnow

Magician Jason Palter’s latest effect, iKnow, is quite an entertaining bit of mentalism. It begins with you allowing a spectator to borrow your iPod and listen to a song. Then you listen to their ear for the sound of the music “echoing about in their brainless head” (as one frequently assaulted street magician put it) and tell them the name of the song they were listening to. If all goes well, the spectator is so impressed that the idea of running away with your iPod instead of returning it never crosses their devious little mind.

I’ve worked on an effect like this myself, on and off, for some time. The biggest drawback, for me, is the fact that they keep telling me I’m voiding my warranty by opening up my iPod and doing a little soldering here and there to see if I can make something magical happen. So it was nice to find an effect like Palter’s that didn’t require all the hardware and expensive experimental short-circuiting.

The only problem I have with iKnow is that people keep looking at the songs on my iPod and pretending that they have never heard of Foreigner, Grand Funk Railroad, or other ever-hot artists. One magician who saw me performing suggested that I should “either update the collection or let folks listen to the music right off your 8-track.” As if I’m going to perform out of my car. Ha!

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April 21, 2008

Mayne Events

I would like to share with you a few things you might not know about one of my favorite illusionists, Andrew Mayne. Mayne is the creator of such memorable body-deformation effects as Chest Burster, Painful Dislocation, and — as made famous by The Amazing Johnathan — Jump Rope with Your Own Intestines.

Mayne has been performing personal transformations for as long as anyone can remember. One of his first effects involved doubling his own height over the course of only a few years, much to the delight of his parents.

He began performing publicly for large audiences as a teenager, and soon learned that he could perform more frequently — and cut down on his medical expenses — if he found ways of creating the illusion that he was (for example) smashing his own skull with a sledgehammer, rather than performing in a more direct manner. This is what led him to create Skullcrusher, the only published effect in which a magician destroys and restores a spectator’s signed, borrowed head.

Which reminds me, Mayne recently released an effect called Tear Down. At first, I was quite curious to learn what it was all about, in that I assumed (as you likely did) that the effect’s name was a reference to Ronald Regan’s famous suggestion that Gorbachev tear down the Berlin wall.

Well, it turns out that the effect has little to do with walls, politics, or the former Soviet Union. Instead, it is a torn-and-restored newspaper effect that can be performed with a borrowed, signed newspaper, regardless of what language it’s written in or how much more it focuses on Britney Spears than world hunger.

This is quite an evolutionary effect. I am in a position to know, in that I used to perform a similar bit of prestidigitation back in the day. I’d borrow a sheet of newspaper from a member of the audience (they were always reading the newspaper during my act), have another member of the audience sign their name in big letters across it, and then proceed to carefully, openly, and visibly tear it into tiny pieces before their very eyes.

Mayne’s effect takes this a step further by actually restoring the newspaper after all that tearing is done, and I have to admit that it is a big improvement over my old method. It makes me wonder if a restoration phase might have improved other segments of my act, such as when I would borrow a spectator’s watch and smash it with a hammer.

I’ll have to give that a try.

April 14, 2008

The magicians’ code

I keep hearing about the magicians’ code. What is it?

The magicians’ code prevents magicians from giving away their — or other magicians’ — secrets. This is done because revealing the secrets of magic would ruin magic as we know it, sending magicians out of their fabulous mansions and into the streets to earn their daily bread.

The code works like this: When writing, the letter “A” is replaced with “B”, “B” is replaced with “C”, and “C” is replaced with “D”. Other letters are replaced as well, but I will not give the entire code (or the arcane pattern used to generate it) here because it is proprietary to magicians. By using this code whenever discussing magic, the magician ensures that the uninitiated can never uncover magic’s deepest secrets.

You might be interested to know that some of the greatest magicians can not only write in magician’s code, they can speak in it. It’s quite impressive!

April 7, 2008

The history of black cards

A few years back, Ellusionist released their Bicycle Black Tiger deck of cards — a deck with white ink on black paper, scented like a real Asian tiger. They proved so popular that a short time later the company began producing an entirely new deck — a deck with white ink on black paper, scented like a real Asian tiger that had some red ink on it — called the Bicycle Black Tiger deck (with red pips).

But they didn’t stop there. Tally-Ho Viper decks, decorated with the jaunty snake for which they are named, came in two different design — magic fan and inner circle — and were coated with an SUV500 Air-Flow Finish that not only made them more aerodynamic (for throwing), but also gave them the weight and rigidity to crush any lesser cards that got in their way.

Then, because a magician just can’t have enough black cards on hand, came the Shadowmasters. These are black and white like the Bicycle Black Tigers, but have an entirely different back and the SUV500 Air-Flow Finish, and are printed on paper made exclusively from trees on Ellusionist’s Magic Tree Ranch. The deck’s joker has a picture of what will be left of a magician who reveals the secrets of magic on YouTube, and its box sports a jaunty bar code and a UPC number created by an expert numerologist to deliver maximum luck to any magician within a radius of ten feet.

Coincidentally, upstart magic company theory11 — a company so new that they haven’t even had time to properly capitalize their own name — also got the idea to market black playing cards. Their first release was Bicycle Guardians. These black cards are identical to standard Bicycle cards except that they’re black and the angels on the back apparently engage in a regimen of weight lifting and steroids and have traded their bicycles for AK-47s. In keeping with their military feel, the cards have razor-honed Supersharp(tm) edges and explode if dropped.

theory11 continued their redesign success with Bicycle Centurions. These cards are designed to look exactly like cards that an ancient Roman centurion warrior magician who liked black cards might own. They’re printed on hammered bronze and hand stained, with all card values in Roman numerals. A complete deck weighs almost a pound.

But for the black-deck completist, Ellusionist is still the champion. For each black deck they sell, they also offer special gimmicked decks — tiny, jumbo, levitating, half-eaten, warped, bioluminescent, etc. They also sell several varieties of black invisible deck, but you have to take Ellusionist’s word that they are all different.

In the coming year, Ellusionist will be adding to its black deck collection. New editions will include:

  • Night Eschers: With a back design inspired by the surreal art of M. C. Escher, these black cards will be specially prepared to form an Escher-like endless cycle — no matter how many cards you cut to the bottom of the deck, there will always be plenty on top.
  • Disassembled: The ashes of a standard Bicycle deck.
  • Securitypak: A black deck in which all cards have been glued together, glued into a box, and then sealed in bullet-resistant Lucite.
  • The One Deck: An ultra-cool, black-and-white Old Maid deck.
  • Dark Card-toon: A Card-toon deck with an African-American stick figure.
  • Black Deck Socratics: A deck that looks, feels, and handles exactly like a standard Bicycle rider-back red deck, but is metaphysically devoid of color.

Presto recommends you buy them all!

March 31, 2008

How to disappear

I have been interested in magical/illusionist acts for a long time now, and i have tried it myself for a while.Even though I have seen famous illutionist on TV from time to time, I still can not understand one illusion.If it is possible and you can of course (without breaking any code) explain how a human being ‘vanishes’ right before the spectators eyes.

This illusion has been done in various places, with my limited knowledge I just can not comprehend what exactly happens, even though I do not believe that the person has ‘vanished’.

As with most illusions, there are various methods of performing this feat. Sometimes the magician disappears in a puff of smoke, sometimes the magician simply ceases to be there, and occasionally only part of the magician vanishes, leaving behind severed body parts and vomiting spectators. A few popular methods of public vanishing:

  1. Pellets containing acidic smoke powerful enough to instantly dissolve a human body (can be used only one; generally presented as the final effect in a performance at the end of a tour).
  2. A large mirror, held so the audience just sees another audience and not the magician.
  3. Psychological tools are used until everyone considers the magician so boring that they stop paying attention to him or her.
  4. The magician just waits until nobody is looking and jumps out a window.
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March 24, 2008

Quick change artistry

Do you know how the quick clothing change magic works?

There are a number of methods by which a magician or a magician’s assistant can appear to change from one outfit to another in the blink of an eye while passing behind a screen, hiding in a trunk, falling from an airplane, etc.

The most common method, and the one that has been used since the early days of quick change magic, is to employ identical twins or triplets. Instead of switching outfits, the magician (or the magician’s assistant) simply trades places with his or her differently dressed identical twin. While the replacement struts around in new duds, the original has plenty of time to switch clothing in preparation for the next switch.

If identicals are not available, quick changes can be made with the help of gimmicked clothing. For example:

  1. Hydrosensitive cloth changes color and texture when exposed to moisture. One out fit can apparently be changed to another by simply surreptitiously dumping a bucket of water over the magician’s head.
  2. A particularly talented magician can appear to change outfits by merely changing posture in certain subtle ways.
  3. A outfit made of flash paper can be worn atop a full-body flame-retardant suit that has been tailored to look like a normal outfit. The magician touches a match to the outer clothing and it bursts into flames and vanishes completely. The flame-retardant suit limits severe burns to the magician’s hands and face, which are protected by the magician’s health insurance.
  4. Clothing can be designed to be easily repurposed. For example, a head scarf can be quickly turned into a lovely sash, a diaphanous shawl, or a scandalous blouse.
  5. Other gimmicks are often used. Shoes can be equipped with electric self-tying laces or turned from pumps to spikes with hydraulic heels. A high-speed unraveler can turn a sweater into a ball of yarn in less than a second.

March 20, 2008

Derren Brown’s next big thing

The SciFi channel has announced that mentalist Derren Brown’s show “Mind Control” will return for a second season, and that the first episode will feature, “an event so amazing it will make you amazingly amazed.”

I’ve spoken to a number of insiders, and apparently the reason that they are not being more forthcoming about the exact nature of the performance is that they are still in the process of deciding what it will be. Current top contenders are:

  • Guess how much money is in the pocket of someone standing on the other side of the Great Wall of China.
  • Make hundreds of WalMart customers simultaneously believe that beer has been made illegal — without causing a riot.
  • Win 1,000 consecutive games of Rock, Paper, Scissors while sealed in a block of ice.
  • Hypnotize American Democrats so that they forget to count votes from Florida and Michigan primaries.
  • Convince the light atop the Luxor hotel that it’s the light atop the Stratosphere hotel.
  • Use subconscious hints and clues to get Osama bin Laden to deliver a pizza to the Pentagon.
  • Get SciFi channel producers to sign up for Mind Control season three.

March 17, 2008


How do you waterfall a deck of cards?

Waterfalling cards became very popular after the move was popularized in TLC’s song, “Waterfalls.” There are basically two ways to accomplish a stage-quality waterfall.

The first method involves precisely releasing single cards from a deck in one hand and catching them in an open palm in the other hand some distance away. This can take years to learn and perfect, even under the tutelage of a true card master deep within the hidden mountains of Tibet. Most wannabe cardicians just don’t have the time for this, as they are too busy begging for tips in order to prolong the process of slow starvation.

The second, far more popular, method involves a simple pair of clear-plastic rails held between the magician’s hands. The cards can be gently slid down the rails, which guide them inevitably to the receiving hand. The rails are then secretively slipped up the magician’s sleeve (next to the birds, extra cards, mechanical apparatus, etc.) where they remain hidden until needed again.

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