Creativity guru, Edward De Bono uses his 6 thinking hats approach as the basis of his creativity techniques. This is not a direct application of De Bono’s work to illusionists but I adopt a similar approach when choosing illusions and material for our shows.
“Revollusion” is one of my original illusions that features a large industrial fan as the central prop and is one of the most popular illusions featured in my book “Urban Illusions”. You can watch the illusion online here.
I had worked on an illusion with a giant industrial fan for quite a few years, starting in 2003. After years of conceptual designing, I finally built the illusion that took about 4 months to put together. It was one of the most complex builds because it of the combination of mechanical and electrical engineering coupled with the actual illusion design. Weight, stability, safety and power were all things we had to factor in while building the illusion.
Putting the fan assembly and illusion structure together int he workshop.
Testing the stability of the structure and workings of the illusion in wood before replacing all panels with aluminum.
Completed prop moved to the studio for rehearsals
When Ning and I presented the illusion in our permanent illusion show “Ultimate Magic” that ran for 13 months, the illusion sparked a fairly intense debate on a local magic forum. The question some magicians and magic enthusiasts seemed to think is very important and need to know the answer to is: “Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration?” They seemed to be against the possible notion that it is a penetration illusion because it did not look like traditional fan illusions they have seen on YouTube.
I wrote a response in the thread, not as a rebuttal or clarification to anyone. I respect and believe everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. That is the point of a forum. But, unfortunately some points of view expressed by several were not entirely sound because they were not founded on good logic.
I wrote the post because I thought there would a small handful of people reading it who are looking for help in producing a show, choosing magic for their act or simply improving their craft. Sharing my thought process may help offer different points of views that these aspiring magicians did not consider. This ultimately may help them achieve their personal goals in magic.
So, “Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration?”
While I personally do not understand why this is a subject of debate, the answer is dependent on which “me” you ask. Each “me” will give you a different answer, based on that “me’s” different thought processes and needs. Some answers are identical but are arrived at in a completely different path. In Edward De Bono’s system, the purpose of applying the six thinking hats in creativity is to look at problems with different “hats” on to think from different perspectives to brainstorm ideas from all angles. This is the similarity of my approach here but I use different kinds of “hats”.
So, here are my thought processes when applied to the Revollusion illusion.
As an artist, the goal is to create a piece of work that is open to interpretation by the viewer. Everyone experiences a piece of art differently. Magic is difficult to be interpreted in different ways, as it is hard to create magic that is vague yet clear in effect. After all, as Dai Vernon remarked: “confusion is not magic”.
So, “Revollusion” is a fantastic illusion from this point of view because it apparently inspires different interpretation, conflicting thoughts and healthy debate. Wow! A goal for many artists.
Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is up to the spectators to decide for themselves. And no one can or should interpret that definition for them or influence them otherwise. But, in reality, based on experience and feedback, no lay audience even questions the differentiation of the effects. In addition, all artists know they cannot please everyone.
The magician’s goal is to create wonder and the art of astonishment (Paul Harris’ profound singular philosophy). Magical idealists perceive themselves as merchants of wonder (a term coined by the Princess of Monaco) and their only goal is to evoke that feeling of impossibility, amazement, and wonder in their audiences. To put simply, to make them go “wow”.
When I see dozens of eyes (some days hundreds) open wide and several mouths open 6 days a week when I rip away to cloth the reveal myself at the climax of “Revollusion”, I know I have achieved that magic goal.
Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is not important, the question the magician asks is “Is it good magic?” which in the strictest fundamental sense means: does the illusion create an experience of wonder in the audience?
The litmus test to that question has got to be the reactions from the audience you are performing for; in my case, a lay paying audience. If the experience of wonder is not created, the reactions from the audience will be muted (polite applause at best). You will also catch audience members exchanging glances with each other with raised eyebrows of uncertainty. When you are greeted with a spontaneous ovation consistently, you know that the magic is good. And the job of the magician is done.
Can the magic be strengthened, improved etc? Of course, nothing is perfect. If it is perfect, it is not magic, it is a miracle. But the measurement of the strength of the illusion bears no context in this intellectual exchange.
The Illusion Designer
As a designer, my goal is to design original illusions that will work in real world conditions. I essentially design for my own shows although many of my illusions are described in my books for other illusionists to build and perform in their shows. The designer’s goal is to try to create something new and unique. This, in turn, differentiates the illusions that we present in our show, which in turn helps us stand out in the industry.
The truth is, many illusionists perform the same illusions worldwide with the exact same props and presentations, many times pirated. Currently, I see John Taylor’s “Suspended Animation”, Mark Kalin/ Hans Klok “Fire Spiker” (in fact, most of Klok’s repertoire), Jim Steinmeyer’s “Origami” and Dan Summer’s “Compressed” being performed in practically every illusion show. So, personally, as far as possible I try to avoid all these common illusions, especially at this stage of Ning & my careers.
There are very few fan illusions being performed. The most popular is “Windshear” created by Jim Steinmeyer/ Andre Koke and built by Magic Ventures. I think it is a sound illusion that can be very dramatic and exciting if presented well, but too many performers worldwide currently perform it, again many pirated.
Other proprietary fan illusions being performed include Andre Kole’s “Jet Turbine” that Brett Daniels, Jan Rouven and Erix Logan perform, Steve Wyrick’s “Walking through a 747 Engine”(designed by Steinmeyer) and “Copperfield’s “The Fan” (designed by the in-house Copperfield team). Franz Harary has a brilliant rotating fan that he appears from. Andrew Mayne also described a fan illusion in his “Solo X” book.
So the design goal was to create a fan illusion, without reinventing the wheel. So, I created “Revollusion” an illusion using a giant industrial fan but with a departure in the traditional effect/ presentation. It is designed as a penetration/ appearance; specifically described as the surprise appearance from a fan.
To find out what our audiences thought of “Revollusion”, we conducted a survey several times with this specific question to the audience members. “If you were to describe the act with the giant fan to a friend, how would you describe it?” All the answers were along these lines “J C appeared from the fan”, “J C came out from the fan”, and “The fan was inspected and turned on Suddenly, J C appeared out from no where from the fan”. This gave us quite an affirmative answer on what the general lay audience perceived the effect as.
For the record, only magicians or educated magic audiences have questioned whether the effect is a penetration or an appearance. And this is simply because this group of people has a preconceived notion that illusions with fans must be a walk-through, because all other illusionists who present such illusions do a walk-through. But, it is because ALL other illusionists do that, did I purposely design a fan illusion that did not have a traditional walk-through that is almost expected.
As the designer of an illusion for the target audience being a lay commercial crowd, my goal was achieved after learning the perceived effect from laymen. Of course, if my intention were to design the illusion for magicians at a magic convention, I would have failed miserably, as evidenced by feedback from magicians here.
Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is both.
The Show Producer
The job of the show producer is to weave all the different illusions and acts together, design the music, create the show order and basically create THE show as an entire full experience for the audience. All elements of the show must be viewed in the “big picture” as they must fit together to create a good show.
“Revollusion” is great for the show in the context that it is fills the stage, looks impressive, is very dramatic and visually spectacular. It has audience interaction (as how we perform in in the live show, TV was choreographed just for TV), visual elements, and a strong magical effect. It is also very different from the other acts performed in the show and as a bonus is different from any other fan illusion that other magicians might be performing.
Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is not important. What is important is that it fulfils its function in the show as a big highlight that gets strong reactions from the target audience and is talked about after the show.
The Business Manager
Show Business is two words. A professional illusionist who wants to earn a living doing magic has to be continually booked and paid to do shows. In other words, he has to pay attention to the business, as much as the show. While there are many reasons why some illusionists are more successful than others, two determinants are the scale of the show and the originality of the illusions.
“Revollusion” is not the biggest illusion around but is not considered small by any means. Its sheer size makes it impressive and a marketable highlight of the show. Once again, for bookers who have seen traditional fan illusions, this stands out as different. Although honestly, more than a handful of clients see all fan illusions as the same. Just as they see any illusion where a girl goes into a box as all the same. But I digress.
The fact is, an illusion like “Revollusion” gets bookings and draws people to the show.
Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is not important, as long as it brings in the $!
I view myself as a storyteller and try to have all my illusions/ acts tell a story. Some may not be as apparent as others but all my routines tell a story. There is always a beginning, middle and end. Ning had the good fortune of attending Oscar-winning screenwriter Syd Field’s master class last week. He stressed the exact same thing when writing a screenplay. He also stressed the importance of creating a dramatic premise. Many movies have same dramatic premises but are dressed differently, with different characters.
To give no-brainer clear cut examples:
- Take a guy, put him in a building with bad guys & hostages and have him save the day “Die Hard” (Bruce Willis).
- Take a guy, put him in a ship with bad guys & hostages and have him save the day “Under Seige” (Steven Siegal).
- Take a guy, put him in an airport with bad guys & hostages and have him save the day “Die Hard 2” (Bruce Willis).
- Take a guy, put him in a sports stadium with bad guys & hostages and have him save the day “Sudden Death” (Jean Claude Van Damme).
Same dramatic premises, different characters (referring to both the human characters and locations)
So consider this: A magician shows a box (opening = introduction of characters). He then shows it empty and asks a spectator to examine it. (middle = occurrences and incidents). He then makes a girl appear from the box (End = resolution and conclusion). Illusion? The Tip Over Trunk. Does that sound like a fundamentally sound illusion act? No doubt, most will say “yes”.
Now, take the above dramatic premise and substitute the box for a giant industrial fan. A magician shows a giant fan (opening = introduction of characters). He then shows it all around and asks a spectator to examine it. (middle = occurrences and incidents). He then makes a girl appear from the fan (End = resolution and conclusion). Illusion? Revollusion. Does that sound like a fundamentally sound illusion act. If you agreed to the above, your answer will have to be “yes”.
Some magicians (and only magicians) ask a very strange question, why does it have to be a fan? Why not a wall of fire or a brick wall or a sheet of cloth? Because, as a storyteller, I chose to use a fan. It is, after all, my story. Another storyteller may choose to use a brick wall. Questioning the reason of the use of a fan is like questioning why Die Hard was in a office building. Why not a condo? A school? An army camp?
Is “Revollusion” an appearance or a penetration? It is whatever the audience perceived it to be to enjoy the story. If I engaged them with the dramatic premise and execution of the story so that they were entertained, that is all that matters. The fan and effect are just vehicles to tell an interesting and memorable story.
If you have bothered to read this far, you would have gained some insight into how I think about magic and my show. You will also probably realize that in the case of “Revollusion”, in my opinion it is not really important what the effect is defined as. Although, surveys showed what the lay audience thinks the effect is. And this serves as a non-absolute but general guide.
When I choose to put an illusion/ act in the show, whether it is an original design, marketed effect or licensed illusion from another creator, I wear all the above hats to achieve multiple goals with a singular act. In the case of “Revollusion”, its existence in the show fulfils the objectives of all the different “mes”.
This is NOT the right way or ONLY way to approach illusion/ act selection. It is is MY singular approach that I personally feel is as comprehensive and sophisticated as I can make it within my abilities and intellectual faculties. And, it has served me well and allows me to avoid being a starving professional illusionist.
Of course, I can’t claim all the credit. The process is refined with feedback obtained from people I trust. By that, I mean, I only seek people who understand my goals, context of performance and are in a position to give constructive criticism. This is in no way suggesting that the people I do not ask for feedback from are inferior in any way. It simply means that that is not their area of expertise and experience.
For e.g., If I’m looking to build a plane, I will look for an aeronautical engineer; a baggage handler will not be of use, even though they are both in the aviation industry. Likewise, if I need flight information, I will seek a customer service officer from that airline; the most qualified or experienced engineer will do little to help. It is not expected or even reasonable to expect that someone not qualified in a particular field be able to give answers that they are not trained to answer.
I actually have more “mes” but I think this is enough for now
Looking beautiful on stage… and Ning looks not too bad either.
In performance, my hands punching out through!
I’m thinking… “Man, those lights are bright!”