This week’s Deception culminated in a couple of key deceptions that enabled the Magic Team to pull off the impossible.
First, let’s address the term “forced perspective.” This is the idea that if you’re standing in a location determined by the illusionist, you will see what he or she wants you to see. For the most part, magic on television is the ultimate exercise in forced perspective. You, the audience, are viewing the action from one angle, the “frame” of the camera. Think of it like watching a play through the proscenium of the stage.
There are some wonderful “anamorphic illusions” that rely on the viewer standing in a specific location. Here’s one. And this Honda commercial is cool. But above all, enjoy OK Go’s colorful foray into perspective illusions.
For this episode, we decided to expand the notion of forced perspective to encompass a cognitive illusion as well. The Magic Team engineers an illusion that works “just enough,” allowing Mikhail's brain to complete the rest of the picture. They show him a few walls of a hospital, and a few key medical pieces to allow him to imagine the rest of the scene. Scientists call this process “amodal completion.” The best example is Kanizsa’s triangle (left).
You only see parts of a figure but your brain completes the picture of a whole triangle. Your brain lies to you. What can I say?
The other duplicitous move the Magic Team executes is a body switch for Cameron. Magic consultant Francis Menotti and I wanted to base this on a classic illusion called the De Kolta Chair. Buatier De Kolta was French magician born in 1845. He was known for his Spring Flowers, Multiplying Balls and Vanishing Bird Cage, all of which are still performed today. But his most famous illusion was the disappearance of a lady seated in a high-backed chair.
Francis and I had to be very careful when constructing this illusion for Deception. We wanted to share with the audience the principle of switching a body on stage but we couldn’t use some of the materials that were traditionally used by De Kolta (and are still used by contemporary magicians). And so we devised a method with a mannequin and luggage straps … and you know what, it works! Here’s a behind the scenes look:
De Kolta’s trick was so well-regarded that pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès reproduced the effect in his 1896 film The Vanishing Lady or Escamotage d'une dame chez Robert-Houdin. Méliès was of a magician, of course, and had taken up residency in the Théâtre Robert-Houdin (Robert-Houdin is largely considered the founding father of modern magic and is where Harry Houdini gets his name). Below is Méliès’s film. Note that he doesn’t need a trapdoor to vanish the woman (which is how De Kolta accomplished the feat). He instead makes use of a “substitution splice” the first documented use of the filmmaking effect.
There's a long history of filmmakers as magicians. Why? Because they determine what you see (and how you feel) but controlling your perspective.
One last thing: Happy birthday to the king himself! March 24th, 1874