Check out this article I wrote on maximizing your returns on your artwork to promote an independent theatre show. While the focus is for magicians, it applies to all arts & performing groups.
Read it here.
Check out this article I wrote on maximizing your returns on your artwork to promote an independent theatre show. While the focus is for magicians, it applies to all arts & performing groups.
Read it here.
As you might know, Concept:Magic works with magicians to perform at Bar 84, a great little Japanese magic bar at Gallery Hotel. We currently have a full roster of magicians but every year, we hold auditions for new additions. And, now is the time once again!
If you are interested to perform at the bar, here is what you need to know:
You will need a 20min set that will be performed as one continuous show behind a long bar counter. A combination of varied effects (genres) as well as visual & interactive routines will be required. A show with only cards will not work. Likewise a 20min book test routine will also not work for this venue.
You need to have some experience performing for “real” audiences but it is perfectly fine if you do not have an extensive portfolio of previous performing experience.
I would also go so far to suggest that you have to be at least 21 or have a maturity that can entertain and communicate with the specific clientele of the bar.
Check out my one time behind the bar to see what to expect.
We are holding the audition on 28 May 2013, Wed from 4pm – 7pm at the Concept:Magic studio. If you are interested to audition, you must contact us first – NO WALK-INs. Contact us at adeline(@)conceptmagic.biz
We look forward to hear from you! Spread the word!
Yesterday, we headed to the 91.3FM for a radio interview where Ning was put on the “hot seat” for the popular countdown show.
Check out Ning in a fantastic light-hearted interview with DJ Charmaine Yee. The girls have great chemistry and their banter is funny, cheeky and sexy!
Thanks to Ashraf for recording and uploading the radio interview. You can listen to it here.
We will return to the studio in Aug where we will be talking about our next mega stunts!
A few months ago, we started pre-production on a new illusion. Last month, we started production and practice of a new illusion act. And this month, we started rehearsals. I’m happy to say that the illusion is coming along well and is on schedule to be stage ready by June 2013.
We intend the performance of this particular illusion to be the best ever seen in the world. An ambitious goal? But hey, why strive for anything less? One way we are doing it is by adding elements that no one has ever done before. The other is the fact that we are an equal magic duo so the dynamics of the illusion performance is inherently different from the traditional illusionist and assistant.
Pre-production is done before we physically fabricate or order the illusion.
We create the conceptual storyboard and think how we can make the performance and presentation of the illusion “ours”. Specifically, we try to design elements or sequences that are original and make the performance unique. We never intentionally perform an illusion similar to anyone else in the world.
Personally, we can’t see why magicians will spend so much money, time and effort just to perform the Fire Cage/ Fire Spiker/ Suspended Animation like Hans Klok or the Wakeling Sawing like Mark Kalin & Jinger or the Sub Trunk like the Pendragons did or Snowing like Kevin James.
While it is impossible to create exact refinements and performance twists without the physical prop, we are experienced enough to know what will generally work and often come up with several “outs” in the event things don’t work out. There have been times that we had to do complete reworks because the mechanics of the illusion did not allow us to perform it the way we wanted. But, this is rare.
The point is, we plan out the entire performance of the illusion from the starting pose to the finale pose, choreography, movement, design, lighting, special effects, modifications and extra props before we even get the illusion. This is written down and even drawn out as a storyboard most of the time.
Pre-production also includes music selection and design. Music selection alone can take weeks. If I’m lucky, I find a piece after 12 hours of searching. Thank god for the Internet! Traditionally, I would have to spend hours a day at Borders or HMV sampling music. And later, when I shifted to licensed music, it would be a game of hit or miss with production music libraries.
After selecting the piece of music we want to use for the illusion, I lay out the track and edit it with a music editing software. I design the music based on our conceptual choreography of the illusion and design specific moments in the performance which must change or build up. It is during this time that I also get a gauge of the duration of the performance.
Pre-production generally takes between one to two months.
Besides making practice and rehearsals more productive and efficient because we do so much work in pre-production, it also ensures we are making a good investment as we have mapped everything out.
In fact, we have not followed through with illusions because our pre-production work did not convince us the illusion was worth the while or was different or good enough to add to the show.
The practice sessions refer to the learning and practicing of the illusion method, handling and technical movements of the illusion. This is akin to learning sleights required for a card routine. Repetition, review and fine-tuning is emphasized during this period.
Practice for illusions also includes blocking through the choreography of the illusion, stage movement, stage set-up, economizing actions and timing the performance to music (that is edited and fine-tuned as necessary).
All bad habits are eliminated in this early stage so they do not set in later when they are harder to break.
This part of the process requires a structured approach and is generally broken down over several days or two weeks, depending on the complexity of the illusion and assuming we are practicing at least 4 days a week.
We set milestones and generally break down the performance into three parts. On the first day(s), our goal is only to learn and practice the first part of the illusion. Subsequently, we reach the other milestones.
We also set aside time for individual practice sessions for specific parts of the illusion before coming together as a team to practice.
Practicing is done in front of wall length mirrors in our studio, similar to mirrors in a dance studio.
So, the learning and practicing of the illusion is progressive and not rushed. We found this to be the most productive and effective way to practice an illusion.
Rehearsals start only when practice sessions are completed. By this time, the technical handling and choreography must be mastered and everyone must be familiar with their individual roles.
The goal of rehearsals is to perfect the performance of the illusion and make it artistic/ entertaining. The choreography is also tightened so that there is no wasted action. Music is edited as necessary to reflect the changes. Sound effects and sound beds are also added in to enhance the performance.
If stage crew members are needed in the performance of the illusion, they are involved in the rehearsals.
Rehearsals are no longer performed in front of the mirror. This is so that we do not become mirror dependent. Many times, performers who only rehearse in front of a mirror develop a dependency or comfortable zone with the mirror. As such, when they perform in front of a live crowd for the first time, they freeze up or get lost because they cannot see themselves. Instead, rehearsals are filmed for review so that adjustments can be made.
Depending on the complexity of the illusion, rehearsals take between 2 – 4 weeks.
Our typical entire production period for an illusion is about 3 – 6 months, not counting the build time or delivery of an illusion, if purchased from a builder.
However, an illusion can also take years to get from plan to stage. For example, we have a completely original theatrical illusion act, different from anything we have done before, but it will take maybe three years to complete. I came up with the first design in 2011 and it went through at least a dozen changes and redesign. We have finally settled on the final design (in 2013) but due to our busy schedule, will likely only be able to build it next year.
At the end of this month, we will be prepping and packing our props to be shipped for another stint of shows that will run from the beginning of June to the 2nd week of Oct. This time, we will travel to China, Japan and Korea.
However, we will be back in Singapore for a big project in Aug but more on that later.
J C’s Note: 3 years ago, I wrote an essay called “The Magic Evolution & You”. Ning has expounded on this issue with her own thoughts, mirrored by her ever evolving magic, style & image. Just check out how much her magic and image have changed in just the last 5 years. Here is the essay in her own words:
Question: David Beckham, Madonna, Ellen DeGeneres and Leonardo DiCaprio… What exactly do they have in common?
These stars are all hugely successful mainstream artistes who have kept themselves in the spotlight by creating their own unique brand of entertainment (sports, music, comedy/ talk show, acting, etc) that hold a wide mass appeal. These individuals have also put much effort and thought in constantly revamping their style, image and chops to ensure they remain interesting and current to their audience.
As fellow entertainers, we magic folk can certainly learn much from our sassy commercial counterparts. Magic performers need to do the same constant evolution, probably not at the same radical level but it is so very essential for your magic to be current, relevant and mirror mainstream pop culture entertainment.
Shift and dare to change, or be left behind in today’s fast moving world where the Internet is a double-edged sword. Like with any art or entertainment form, the image of magic evolves over time. The trend of today’s magic is incredibly different from the style magic from just last decade. If you are still performing for today’s audience in top hat and tails, producing silks from a classic change bag, or making a rabbit appear, you are unfortunately behind about three decades.
The recent movie, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”, poked fun at magicians and showed how “out of times” and “out of sync” they are with modern pop culture. In fact, the movie showed how lame magicians generally are. Sad… but true.
The only thing constant in life is change, and I’m sure that you would have noticed that the image of magic worldwide has always been constantly evolving. Every two decades or so, there is a dynamic shift in the presentation of magic. The look of magic is usually set by the most influential magicians of that particular time. Top performers like Robert Houdin, Harry Houdini, Channing Pollack, Doug Henning, David Copperfield and more recently David Blaine & Criss Angel have all been responsible for creating the image of magic of their time.
If you acknowledge your show is not in line with modern audience’s expectations of magic today, there is hope yet because you see the possibilities of growth. Set aside your pride and ego for a bit and challenge yourself to explore what can be done better, since you are a living reflection of the image of magic as much as any other magician.
Now, I am in no way encouraging or even suggesting that you should be a clone of David Blaine, Criss Angel or whoever that may be the hottest flavour of the time. Jumping on the fad bandwagon will just make you look like a carbon copy and part of the indistinguishable ‘me-too’ crowd. So, bad idea to be a cookie cutter! You owe it to yourself to be your own person.
Consider for a moment, without pride or ego… When was the last time you revamped your act or added an act that elevated your performance so that it is reflective of current times? Have you been performing the same material for the past 10 years and not given it a commercial overhaul? And, I’m not talking about technical refinements or changing the colour of your cards/ silks/ birds/ canes/ parasols, so please, don’t even go there, unless you’re a jackass. Then I’ll personally come over to smack you in the face with your plastic appearing cane.
Thanks to globalization, our world is getting smaller and life seems to move faster every single day. Social media, the Internet, growth of new economies and countries influence pop culture trends and trends. There are fads and there are trends. Fads last months, trends last longer. Trends used to last around 5 to 10 years, now they last just 2 to 3 years due to the speed the world moves. Of course, this is dependent on your target market but I’m using international standards as a benchmark. People are easily bored and want to be wowed by the next ‘in’ thing.
What’s needed is to identify and pick elements, which reflect the current evolved image of magic as well as pop culture and infuse it into your style and/or act. Here’s some tried and proven things I’ve personally utilized in my commercial magic career, that you can also use to spruce up your unique image and brand of magic. Dedicate some soul-searching time to consider…
Choice of Material:
Is your choice of show material and props used considered current to your audience If you are performing an act still using cassette tapes, Walkmans, old-fashioned bulky TVs, ancient typewriters, bulky mobile phones or other things that society has pretty much considered “retired”, your act will inevitably look dated. That is, unless you’ve structured your show to be themed in a “blast from the past” type of feel.
While some things may be respected as iconic and classic in magic, do bear in mind that while these are things magicians embrace, the rest of the world (i.e. mainstream public and media) may regard otherwise when they see top hats, canes, and rabbits. Don’t fall into this trap because when you follow the herd, you step on a lot of crap.
Structure of Magic:
Is the structure of your act just like everyone else’s? Certain acts have almost a template feel to them and the only difference (to the lay public) is just the magician performing it. At one time, everyone was doing doves, zombies and cards. Then it was the incorporation of canes, silks and snowstorms. Now, one of the magic fads is the CD manipulation act.
Can you honestly say you have a uniquely different product, or does your act/ show have the same formulistic structure that other magic acts commonly have? Can you change your act or show order, so it breaks the conventional rules or typical structures of magic shows? Award-winning mainstream movies like “Memento” and “Usual Suspects” did not follow conventional storytelling of film making and stood out from the norm. Use that for inspiration, to shine out!
What do you wear when you perform? Are you still in a 1990s Matrix-style black leather trench coat or god-forbid 1940s black tuxedo or even worse, painfully shiny 1970s sequined jacket? Are you in an obvious costume or dressed in something more normal? Where do you get your clothes from? A high-fashion retail outlet? A costumer? Does your mother/ wife/ girlfriend dress you?
Sure, I understand that magic attire has specific needs, but that is still no excuse not to have a current look that is fashionable or stylish. Consider what celebrities wear. Would they get their outfits from the same place that you do? I’m not asking you to shell out tons of money for designer wear and don’t be a wise ass about Lady Gaga’s Kermit the frog get-up *wink*
What do you sport? Does it feel dated? Is it the same hairstyle you’ve had since the 1980s? On the flipside, is your hairstyle too extreme for the general audience? If you are losing hair, do something about it! Comb-overs maybe only work if you do comedy, but you really don’t want your audience feeling sorry for you.
Grooming is important, and whoever said your hair is one’s crowning glory, really got that right. But! Here’s a tip from a female of the species. If you are seriously losing hair and can’t get a good wig or hair plugs, just consider shaving it all off. Grow a nice goatee, stay in good shape, tweeze your brows… You may just look sexy and badass. Women love that. Trust me!
Music is always an accurate reflection of the current time and a fitting piece of music for an act or routine makes a good act, great. Besides creating the perfect mood and feel for your magic, music also puts a time-stamp on your act. If you are doing a deliberate classical, themed, or period act to a time period, your music choice will be specific. However, if you are doing a general magic act or illusion, then your music needs to be updated every 5 years.
Please refrain from copying the music from other people’s performances, though you may find it perfect for whatever your intended purpose is (a similar act or otherwise). If I collected ten bucks every time I hear that particular soundtrack from string-quartet Bond blasting in a magic performer’s show or card manipulation act, and gave all the money to World Vision, I think my adopted kid in Mongolia can afford a PhD by now. LOL!
How do you write your lines, plan your story, and work on your all-important script? Where do you research jokes or lines?
Unfortunately, many magicians tend to use the exact same lines and this is evident if you attend magic conventions or magic production shows. It does get old quickly for an educated audience and that obviously, works against the performer. Ensure that your jokes are “fresh” and your script is topical. Throwing in current buzzwords are good if they are in context because people like that.
That’s something the most successful comedians and speakers use, so it’d be wise to follow in their footsteps.
As I think it is always important for one to practice what they preach, I thought I would share with you my own process that I have used to evolve my image and magic as my stage character, ‘Magic Babe’ Ning.
When I first started out professionally, I was pretty clueless about most things. Dressed in a dark trench coat, I wore a white long sleeve shirt and black leather pants.
Subsequently, I swapped my conservative top for something a bit more showy. It was a bareback silver sequined number that is held together only by 2 strings. One tied to the back and the other at the nape of the neck like a halter. Obviously, it sold sexiness much more than the previous costume and I used it because my skill sets to agents and bookers were already established. Every year, I changed my wardrobe to keep it fresh; from a sleek black corset, fitted with boning within to a sexy red vinyl corset to a black sequin bare-backed top, which I had professionally customized for a better fit.
Earlier last year, I had my long tresses chopped off, a big sacrifice since most women regard long hair as a symbol of femininity, and instead I had my hair layered short with shocking purple streaks. I was completely comfortable being in my own skin. My attitude oozed that, and that gutsy part of me was reflected. FLY Entertainment, my artiste management company, supported the move and the media and fans loved it. Comments started coming in that they liked the fresh change. Now, my hair is actually hot pink! Something, I’ve always wanted to do at least once in my life.
Besides my image, my material has also evolved over the years. The illusions I perform with my partner J C Sum are constantly being tweaked, whether it is a change in choreography, update in illusion design or update in music. We also add/ replace one or two illusions every two years to our show.
My favourite illusion “Crystal Metamorphosis” went through multiple changes over a 3 year period. An illusion we are quite known for “360 Sawing” has gone through two complete redesigns to make it even more deceptive. You can watch us perform the 2nd version in the recent NYE 2011 taping of Le Plus Grand Cabaret Du Monde in Paris and the 3rd & current version that we performed on Italy TV.
However, my personal solo acts have also evolved since over time. I started with softer acts like a cut & restored rope performed under UV light and a linking coat hanger routine. Now, I perform more edgy acts such as a razor blade act, but with the addition of eating a torch of fire. I also added a “Human Block Head” routine (nail up nose) but with a 4” drill bit. This fits my more matured and edgy image.
For the longest time, I performed my “Straight Jacket Striptease” routine with a custom burgundy straight jacket. The routine has now been improved to a double straight jacket routine where I’m strapped up in two regulation-looking straight jackets. I still perform the “striptease” part but with two jackets “wink”.
For the sake of your pursuit in magic and for the sake of the art, please evolve!
Best of luck with your journey of evolution in magic!
After months of work and hours each week, I have completed my new ultimate illusion resource site:
The website includes FREE essays, links, DVD & book recommendations as well as FREE audio shows for magicians and illusionists.
It also details ALL my original illusion books, plans, props and DVDs.
This replaces my original illusionbooks.com to take advantage of a more user friendly content management engine with wordpress.
There is a TON of info in this website and if you are serious in the art of illusion, you have to bookmark it and share it!
This comprehensive list of books and DVDs was compiled for the modern stage magician or illusionist in mind. With that, I’m speaking of magic artistes and entertainers looking to present illusions to a modern audience and to be relevant in today’s pop culture and entertainment marketplace.
It is for magicians looking to build a strong foundation in the art of illusion so that you have relevant and quality information that you can use to present cutting edge illusions that do not look like that came from the 1980s or before (unless you are intentionally performing a period piece for a specific show/ audience!)
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all illusion books, manuscripts, booklets and DVDs for collectors or for the sake of listing every illusion resource in existence.
If I have not included a specific title in the list, it could be because of the following reasons:
1) The information is not accurate or is not written well (including bad designs, untested overly conceptual material, wrong dimensions or just not workable material)
2) Illusions/ Methods/ Techniques explained are not authorized for public domain or are detailed without permission from relevant creators
3) Information/ Illusions are too outdated and irrelevant for the modern illusionist
4) Some books have questionable material that looks good on paper but there are no working examples of the fabricated illusions or the author has no proven track record that demonstrates that his/ her conceptual designs will work
5) I have missed out a resource or am unaware of its publication
The list is based on my professional experience as an international performing illusionist, illusion designer and author for a significant number of years.
While it is impossible to perfectly organize titles into fixed categories to cater to all tastes, I have organized the list based on applicability for the beginner, intermediate and advanced illusionist. There will be some overlaps in the intermediate and advanced books but illusionists at this level will be able to discern which book would suit their needs better.
I have given my personal comments on most titles so that you can understand my perspective when making the recommendations.
Now, onto the list…
FOR BEGINNER ILLUSIONISTS
Before you embark on learning how illusions work and how to build illusions, it is advisable to understand the performance, staging and presentation of illusions as well as be educated on standard illusions and plots. In the excitement to learn secrets, most people do it the other way around. The books under the first section “Staging, Production & Performance” should be essential reading for any illusionist.
Staging, Production & Performance
David’s book gives you an overview of his decades of experience as an illusionist. He has owned and worked with many illusions built by top builders. In this spiral-bound book, he shares his experience and tips on working on these popular marketed illusions but does not reveal exact working methods or construction details. There are also nuggets of information spread out throughout the book. This is a good book for beginners but I do feel his approach, style and material may be considered a bit dated for today’s contemporary illusionist looking for mainstream relevance. But, with this caveat in mind, this book is still an invaluable resource and a fantastic introduction to popular marketed illusions.
Duane Laflin’s “On Stage with Illusions” is a well produced, clearly written book peppered with photos of Duane performing the illusions on stage with his cast. In a nutshell, this book is filled with sound practical advice and solid information on producing, performing and managing a large-scale illusion show. From choosing an illusion, producing different types of shows to examining what makes an illusion show work, Duane leaves little information out. He also includes many miscellaneous practical considerations that do not fall into any one category but are invaluable to any working illusionist. These tips will save you time, frustration, money and effort! These include choosing assistants, how to prepare them to work on an illusion show, how to conduct rehearsals and scripting a show.
Stan shares his experience, routines and advise on producing and routining a full illusion show. There is much to learn and understand from this veteran professional on how he approached his work. However, bear in mind, some approaches and techniques may not be as effective in today’s market. There is some information that is a bit dated but easy enough for someone to discern and update/modify to be relevant.
The Event Magician Vol. 1, is a detailed guidebook on producing a stage show specially for an event setting. However, all stage craft and techniques apply to most standard performing conditions. In fact, it is my belief that if you can consistently successfully perform in challenging event conditions, you can be successful in most “show-friendly” environments. This book was also written for the modern magician in mind. It covers all aspects of performing magic at events including understanding the nature of events, choosing material, planning the show, formatting the show, designing the staging, ensuring technical support, packing & transporting the show. There is a specific chapter dedicated to the Event Illusion Show.
Methods, Design & Building
The following 5 books offer some basic illusions with basic instructions on the construction. The prices of these books are fairly low (compared to modern illusion books) and thus, are great for first time builders or beginning illusionists looking to experiment in illusions. A lot of the designs are dated but studying the basic building plans is a good start to your illusion building education. For the modest investment, you can’t really go wrong and will have more than enough material to experiment with basic illusion performance principles like working with larger props, timing, sight-lines and teamwork.
You can buy U.F. Grant’s books in the form of PDFs, as well as Stan Kramein’s ”The Illusion Show Business” from http://www.lybrary.com under the illusion category. There are several illusion ebooks/ manuscripts available in Lybrary but beware, some are not very good at all.
Paul Osborne’s “Begin to Build Your Own Illusions: Illusion Systems” books were once the foundation texts for illusion builders. They cover many basic building techniques and illusions. But, many of the designs are now very dated in look as well as material and finish. However, the books are still a solid reference. His more recently released books have more contemporary designs and many practical illusion solutions. For new illusionists, I would recommend reading “Easy Build Illusions”, “One Man Illusions” and his “Classic Illusions” as a start. He has also several specialty books for holiday and Halloween illusions that are worthy of consideration.
Andrew Mayne has a collection of books and booklets that are easy to read and comprehend. He offers many ideas and solutions to illusions that can be built on a budget. His first few books, “Solo X”, “Illusion F/X” and “Illusion Book”, offer more professional-level illusions although most designs do not come with building plans or dimensions. Significant prototyping is needed to build any of the illusions. His newer booklets (Sword Basket, Voodoo Box, Bisection, Razorwire etc.) offer contemporary material that is a great introduction to modern illusioneering. These booklets are modestly priced and targeted for new illusionists or illusionists on a budget. They are good way to start experimenting with larger stage effects with minimal costs, effort and time to create. While most of these illusions will not be suitable for most professional-level shows, many of his “low tech” solutions will work very well for amateur or “weekend warrior” shows.
“Pack Flat Illusions” book is a specialty book on modern large stage effects and illusions for kids & family shows. The illusions require some basic wood-working and building skills to put together and you will be introduced to basic illusion principles applied to simplified props.
This is a collection of practical illusions that can be performed surrounded and are reasonably easy to build from wood. While not as dated in design as Paul Osborne’s Illusion Systems series, the illusions need to be updated in look. The illusions were designed to be performed in the circus center ring environment and feature practical methods and designs but do not have a cutting edge and modern look.
For Black Art work, this is a very good resource and easy to read. All illusions are based on two basic methods but Gary gives you a lot of variations and explains all the illusions with hand drawings that are easy to understand. This book is excellent for the first-time illusionist or even seasoned illusionists looking for ideas to add material to a theatre show. Note: You will need a proper proscenium, stage curtains and control over lighting to present these illusions. There is a separate DVD that compliments the book.
Sharpe’s series of books provide important technical information and fundamental principles that will provide an important foundation for more sophisticated illusioneering. These books may feel a bit dated in terms of the writing and presentation but the material is timeless and quite technical.
A classic and collectible book on illusions & large-scale stage effects from an acknowledged genius in illusion design and presentation. Among other illusions, it contains the plans and routine to Harbin’s famous “Zig Zag Girl” illusion. While hard to get, it is a good read and shows how ahead of his time Harbin was.
This is a big book and contains many illusions with methods that are precursors of current classic illusions. Besides multiple illusions, there are also many stage routines and plots that are also the starting point of routines performed by modern magicians of today. It is currently available as an e-book from Miracle Factory for less than $10.
I think this is an underrated book and not widely known. It contains a section on a few illusions that are practical, workable and fairly easy to build. Besides illusions, the rest of the book is filled with stage apparatus magic routines and props that I think fit the stage magician looking to increase the scale of his/ her show. As the book was written 30 years ago, you will need to dress up the props to look modern and contemporary.
FOR INTERMEDIATE ILLUSIONISTS
ALL of Steinmeyer’s books should be in any serious illusionist’s library. He is the undisputed most prolific illusion designer of this generation. He has created more modern illusions used by professionals worldwide than any other designer in history. His vast collection of books includes hundreds of illusion designs that will educate on all levels – design, method, psychology and presentation. His work will be most appreciated by intermediate illusionists and above. Even experienced professional illusionists learn new things each time they reread his books.
Rand filled a void of modern illusion content in the early 1990s. His designs and concealment methods are contemporary and still hold up to this date very well. His book, “The Base Book”, is a must-read introductory text on this essential tool. The rest of the books contain dozens of cutting edge illusion designs that are suitable for the intermediate to advanced illusionist. You will find many ideas to inspire your own illusions and his modern approach to aesthetic deceptive design should appeal to the modern illusionist. His Illusionworks DVD (Vol 1 & 2) compliment his books perfectly.
“Illusionary Departures” contains 35 illusion designs & presentations and covers a wide genre of illusion effects designed for the modern beginner to intermediate illusionist. It contains full building plans, dimensions and material lists and is a good resource for illusionists looking for ideas and practical illusions, regardless of the scale of your show. Most importantly, the 2012 edition of the book contains an approach to base designing and fabrication that is different than traditional base building. The resultant prop is very deceptive, easier to construct, lightweight but extremely strong and durable.
This is the only book from Milan and it contains many innovative ideas to get you thinking. The building plans are sufficient for the intermediate illusionist to understand. Milan is a builder as well and his solutions for various mechanical devices are clever and not too complicated, such as collapsing spring-loaded panels for the sides of illusion props. He also shares his personal insight on the art and business of performing illusions which is yet another valuable perspective of being a professional illusionist.
Both these books are critically acclaimed books and filled with ideas to inspire and fill shows. While not complete blueprints, there is enough information for intermediate illusionists to figure out how the illusions should be built. You will get a wealth of ideas to stimulate your own create thought or find material to add to a show for a relatively affordable building cost.
This CD-Rom contains a PDF file of interview transcripts on Jonathan Pendragon’s thoughts, approach methods and general tips on illusions, performance and presentation. It can be viewed as a written alternative to his DVDs and contains valuable information for the contemporary illusionist. However, if you can, get the DVD set recommended below.
These books are a bit dated but complete with very detailed blueprints to many illusions. You will need to have some experience in building to understand and be comfortable building the illusions. I have not actually built anything based on these technical drawings so I cannot verify how accurate the dimensions are. I do think they are a great reference for many popular illusions but I personally see this set as more of a collector’s item.
FOR ADVANCED ILLUSIONISTS
These books contain technically advanced illusion designs that will require an experienced builder to build. Most of the designs require a knowledge of fabrication with wood, metal and plexi-glass. The techniques, methods and staging are also more sophisticated and complex.
The books cover illusions of all genres including vanishes, productions, mutilations, escapes, transpositions, teleportations and even large-scale illusions with motorcycles and cars. The material would fall under the “modern” illusions category in terms of design, aesthetic design and materials. Any one of the books will be of good value to the modern illusionist and I recommend you look at the contents of each book and read reviews to see which ones interest you.
These books cover a specific genre of illusion or a specific illusion. Each book is dedicated to the method(s), designs and presentations of a specific illusion and are worthy of study if you intend to perform that genre of illusion. Due to the specific nature of the books, they are more suited for the intermediate illusionist & above.
This book combines two of Jim Steinmeyer’s titles: “Discovering Invisibility” and “The Science Behind The Ghost”. In Steinmeyer’s usual scholarly approach, he details the history and workings of two specific illusion techniques; namely, the use of mirrors in magic and “Pepper’s Ghost”. It will take you multiple reads to digest this information.
This fairly thin book focuses on the history and workings of the Million Dollar Mystery. It goes into the full history and background of the effect/ principle as well as explains the workings and method. However, there are no exact building plans. The reader has to draw up plans in order for the whole apparatus to be constructed. It is a simple concept to understand, however; building the actual prop itself is very tricky and staging it is not straightforward either.
Yogano shares his original levitation and suspension systems in this book translated into English. It features his famous levitations and includes construction plans of these mechanical wonders. I have not actually built anything based on these technical drawings so I cannot verify how accurate the dimensions are. I do know magicians have built some of the systems from the book but I’m unsure if the plans were from the English version of the original French version of the book. You will require an experienced builder as well as metal and electronics worker(s) to build these illusions.
As the name implies, this is a comprehensive tome on the subject with a listing of all known methods of the illusion (as of its writing in 1976). You will have a wealth of information on hand but actual detailed construction plans are not included and you will have to work it out yourself. In most cases, you will need a good metal worker to fabricate the parts/ apparatus needed. To make the “encyclopedia” complete, S.H. Sharpe covers the history of the levitation. A valuable resource on the subject.
The books in this section are for general reading on the subject of illusions and/ or illusionists. No exact methods are detailed as they are not explanation books but are enjoyable reads that will give you insight into the history and personalities of the illusion genre. Many were written for the general public and not just for the magic community.
There has been very limited information shared on DVD when it comes to grand illusion. For every one thousand DVDs on close-up magic, there is probably only one DVD on grand illusions. One reason is the cost of filming and editing a meaningful illusion DVD. With close-up, you could film a DVD in a small studio with some footage on the streets. To film an illusion, especially in a live setting, you would need a full stage set-up with a live audience and all the technical requirements that go with an illusion show.
Furthermore, the barriers to entry into the professional illusion market is much higher than all other genres of magic. The high investment cost is why many illusionists are less compelled to share their knowledge, expertise and experience. So, it is understandable why illusion DVDs are hard to come by.
I have organized illusion DVDs into three categories.
Performance, Presentation & Approach
In my opinion, any serious student of illusions must watch the DVDs in this section and get a good understanding and appreciation of illusion performing, routining, presenting and thinking from the experiences of different performing professionals. They augment the information in the books recommended in “Staging, Production & Performance”.
At their peak, The Pendragons was the top illusion team in the world. In the 1980s and 1990s, their approach to illusions was fresh, modern, physical and enthralling. This DVD set, released in 2009, gives you an insider’s view of their incredible body of work with detailed explanations to their “Broom Suspension”, “Sword Basket” and famous “Metamorphosis” illusions. Considering these are staple illusions for many starting-out professional illusionists, this information is already worth five times the price of the DVDs. While the mechanics are not explained in full, they also give insight and history on “Clearly Impossible”, “The Levitation”, “Blammo”, “Impaled”, “Shadow Box” and “Interlude”. Throughout the explanations, they shared nuggets of information that can only be earned through years of professional performing.
As the name implies, this DVD explores approaches in design, presentation, performance and routing of modern illusions. It uses ten stage illusions as examples to highlight different teachings and covers all aspects of performing illusions. The material is contemporary and the presentation/ feel is modern so it is highly relevant to the current performing illusionist. As a big bonus, you are taken behind the scenes to a live mega illusion stunt. Note: No detailed secrets or building plans are included in the DVD as that is not the focus or objective of the DVD. Look for reviews on the DVD set as there are many available online.
Franz has one of the biggest illusion shows in the world and is also one of an elite group of illusionists who only perform their original illusions. The first DVD of this set is a conglomeration of different content from Franz’s Magic Planet series. But, it includes a commentary where he gives some back-story and basic philosophy behind some of his designs and productions. Vol 2 is the valuable education as it is basically an entire live show performed in sequence as opposed to chopped up segmented edited performances. This allows you to see how the show was produced and flows. Any illusionist, new or experienced, will learn a lot from watching this alone and listening to his commentary You will get ideas to see how you can improve your show production or avoid some elements which you think will not fit your style.
This is a great video to see Rand Woodbury in front of a real crowd performing both illusions and some stand-up material. I am always interested to see if magic authors practice what they preach and in Rand’s case, he does. He is the consummate entertainer and this shines through in his live performance You will see some illusions detailed in his first “Illusionworks” book. He also films some “to-camera” segments sharing his approach, dealing with situations on stage and general performing of illusions. As in the case of any video that shows world class professionals at work, it is always an education to see what helps make them successful. Even though the footage is from almost 25 years ago, the illusion designs still hold up although, naturally, the music and costuming will feel dated.
Illusion Plans/ Methods/ Building
Illusionworks is probably the first ever video series on modern illusion design and is an education for any serious illusion student. Volume 1 & 2 especially are a must-watch as Rand actually goes through the building process of steps and bases and then the performance of the illusion utilities applied to actual illusions. However, take note that dimensions given are not accurate and it is always advisable to make a mock-up out of cardboard or waste plywood first. When the videos first came out, it was the first time innovative cutting edge illusion secrets were revealed and the techniques are still relevant today. The information on these DVDs is invaluable and you will learn a lot.
This is a great set of DVDs and the only instructional video of its kind that teaches you everything from handling tools, materials, building techniques and painting. A must-have if you are new to illusion fabrication. Even if you do not build the illusions yourself, educating yourself on building techniques will help you supervise builders who you may commission to build for you. This is especially if you are not having a professional illusion builder build an illusion but a cabinet maker, carpenter or prop maker.
In typical Andrew Mayne style, this DVD offers many illusions for the new illusionist with economical illusion designs and ideas that you can experiment with. Most illusions can be built within a day and there is enough variety to build a mini show out of the material shared. If you like Andrew’s style of simplistic illusion design, you can also look at his assorted DVDs on individual effects such as Bisection, Levitator and Shrinker among others.
This DVD is a compliment to Gary’s book recommended above.
Mark Wilson is the founding father of magic on television and he presented a tremendous amount of magic in his television series in the 1960s. On these 3 DVDs, he shares the techniques for many of the illusions including suspensions and levitations. The first DVD features illusions that can be made from cardboard or plastic corrugated board as Grant’s Victory Cartons-style illusions. He also shows the application of illusions for the television camera. While these are not camera tricks per say, they use the fixed perspective and size of the camera frame to create remarkable results with “easy” illusions. As all the material shown is from Mark’s illustrious professional career, you will need to apply your own creativity to update the illusions to look modern and fresh for today’s audience.
I have to admit that I have not watched this DVD before but I have read and heard only good things about it. It gives you comprehensive explanations and plans to the “Doll House” illusion as well as the “Sword Temple” (also known as the “Temple of Benares”). The Sword Temple is an excellent first illusion for a new illusionist, as I highlight in my essay here; so that alone is worth looking into the DVD. The “Doll House” split-load method is also a standard hiding position in magic that is used in many illusions. Understanding the dimensions and how the “Doll House” is built to be deceptive is a good introductory education to the application of other illusions as well.
While the DVDs in this section do not explain any illusions or methods, I think they are an excellent education for all serious students of illusion. Many of the DVDs include commentaries or interviews with insight or background information on the illusions/ shows. One route of learning is through observation and modeling after excellence (as well as not modelling mistakes), so these DVDs make good references.
If you have a recommendation to make or would like your book/ DVD to be included in the list, please email me at jcsum(a)conceptmagic.biz. However, I reserve the right to include/ exclude any publication based on my personal subjective criteria for the list.