Recommended Books & DVDs for the Modern Illusionist

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!)

books

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3) Information/ Illusions are too outdated and irrelevant for the modern illusionist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.

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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

  • So You Want to Be an Illusionist – David Seebach (Must-read for All Illusionists)

So You Want to be an Illusionist

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.

  • On Stage with Illusions – Duane Laflin (Must-read for All Illusionists)

on stage

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.

How_to_Be_an_Illusionist_jcsum

This a fundamental course in performing illusions in today’s entertainment & pop culture market. The course was created for the modern illusionist performing for a contemporary “Street Magic-cultured” audience and teaches step by step how to put an illusion show together, regardless of whether you perform illusions for fun, as a hobby, part-time or professionally. It is a complete education on performing modern illusions all in one single source.

  • The Illusion Show Business – Stan Kramien

stan kramien

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.

jc sum event

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.

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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.

  • Complete Course in Magic – Mark Wilson

wilson complete

  • Tarbell Course in Magic (Vol 1 – 8. Technically, Vol 1 does not contain any illusions but you might as well get the whole set as these books are a staple reference of any respectable magic library.)

tarbell

  • Victory Carton Illusions – UF Grant (Recommended for New Illusionists Looking to Spend Less than US$10)

grant victory

  • Grant’s Illusion Secrets – UF Grant (Recommended for New Illusionists Looking to Spend Less than US$10)

grants secrets

  • Modern Illusions – Tom Palmer

palmer modern

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.

  • Begin to Build Your Own Illusions: Illusion Systems (Vol I – IV) – Paul Osborne

osborne build own

  • Classic Illusions (Vol 1 – 3) – Paul Osborne  (Must-read for Illusionists Looking to Build Classic Illusions in the Public Domain)

osborne classic

  • Easy Build Illusions – Paul Osborne

osborne easy

  • One Man Illusions – Paul Osborne

osborne one man

  • Professional Illusion Building for the Home Craftsman – Dick Gustafson

osborne building

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.

  • Solo-X – Andrew Mayne
  • Illusion Book – Andrew Mayne
  • Illusion F/X – Andrew Mayne
  • Illusion Tech – Andrew Mayne  (Must-read for Beginner Illusionists)
  • The Secret Illusion Show – Andrew Mayne
  • Voodoo Box, Bisection, Sword Basket, Razorwire and other individual booklets – Andrew Mayne

mayne illusion-builder-pack

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.

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These three books were written specifically for the beginner illusionist and seasoned illusionist looking for inexpensive but workable illusions.

“Pack Flat Illusions” book is a specialty book on modern large stage effects and illusions for kids & family shows. The illusions are an introduction to basic illusion principles applied to simplified props.

“Corporate Illusions Made Easy” is a collection of illusions for corporate entertainers and do not require prior illusion knowledge to understand, build and execute the illusions. It also includes an extensive discussion on presenting illusions for corporate events, the role of the “Corporate Illusionist”, how to go about building the illusions in the book as well as incorporating corporate messaging into the illusions.

All the illusions in “Simple Showstoppers” can be built easily and inexpensively (under $500 each) but are presentable enough for a professional show.

  • Illusions In The Round – Don Arthur

illusions in the round

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.

  • Darwin’s Inexpensive Illusions - Gary Darwin  (Must-read for Illusionists Interested in Black Art work)

darwin book

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.

  • Conjuror’s Optical Secrets – S. H. Sharpe (Must-read for Serious Students of Illusion)
  • Conjuror’s Pneumatic/Hydraulic Secrets - S. H. Sharpe (Must-read for Serious Students of Illusion)
  • Conjuror’s Mechanical Secrets - S. H. Sharpe (Must-read for Serious Students of Illusion)
  • Conjurers’ Psychological Secrets – S. H. Sharpe (Not directly applicable to illusion design and performance but is part of the set of four)

sharpe

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.

  • Magic of Robert Harbin – Robert Harbin

harbin

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.

  • Secrets of My Magic by David Devant

devantsecretsofmymagic

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.

  • Magic On STAGE by Wally Reid

wally reid

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.

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 FOR INTERMEDIATE ILLUSIONISTS

  • Device & Illusion – Jim Steinmeyer (Must-read for All Illusionists)
  • Technique & Understanding – Jim Steinmeyer (Must-read for All Illusionists)
  • The Complete Jarrett – Guy Jarrett, Jim Steinmeyer  (Must-read for All Illusionists)
  • The Magic of Alan Wakeling – Jim Steinmeyer (Must-read for All Illusionists)
  • Conjuror’s Anthology – Jim Steinmeyer
  • Modern Art and Other Mysteries – Jim Steinmeyer

steinmeyersteinmeyer modern art

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.

  • The Base Book – Rand Woodbury (Must-read for All Illusionists)

woodbury base book

  • Illusionworks (I, II and III) – Rand Woodbury

woodbury book

  • Diversions – Rand Woodbury

woodbury diversions

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.

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“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.

  • Paragons and Paradoxes – Milan Forzetting

forzetting

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.

  • The Black Book – Paul Osborne

osborne black book

  • Illusions: Evolution and the Revolution of the Magic Box – Paul Osborne

osborne illusion book

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.

  • The Illusion Paradigm – Paul Osborne

illusion-paradigm-by-paul-osborne

This is a collection of different contributions from established professional illusion designers and builders and the book focuses on the fabrication of illusion props. As it was published in 2013, the fabrication techniques are up to date and the semi-experienced illusion builders will find value in the collected knowledge.

  • Grand Illusions by Jonathan Pendragon (CD-Rom)

pendragons cd

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.

  • The Great Illusions of Magic (2 -books) – Byron G. Wells

great illusions of magic

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.

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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.

  • 4e Illusion Design – Mark Parker

parker 4E

  • Vivify – Mark Parker

parker vivify

  • Advanced Illusion Projects – Tim Clothier

illusion projects

jcsum urban

jcsum equilateral

jcsum ultimate

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SPECIALTY ILLUSIONS

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.

  • Two Lectures on Theatrical Illusion – Jim Steinmeyer

twolecturesonillusion

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.

  • Walter Jeans Illusioneer by Peter Warlock – The Million $ Mystery

walter jean

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.

  • The Magic of Yogano -Levitation Systems

yogano

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.

  • Encyclopedia of Suspensions & Levitations – Bruce Armstrong

suspensions

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.

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GENERAL READING

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.

  • The Master Illusionists – Mark Walker
  • Magic Of Lee Gabriel – O. Mcgill
  • Art and Artifice – Jim Steinmeyer
  • The Glorious Deception – Jim Steinmeyer
  • Hiding the Elephant – Jim Steinmeyer
  • The Last Greatest Magician in the World – Jim Steinmeyer
  • Ralph Adams A Lifetime in Magic (Book and video)

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DVDs/ VIDEOs

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”.

  • The Magic of the Pendragons (4-Vol Set) – The Pendragons (Must-watch for All Illusionists)

pendragons

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.

  • Behind the Illusions (2-Vol Set) – J C Sum & ‘Magic Babe’ Ning (Must-watch for All Illusionists)

jcsum behind

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.

  • Enigma Tech (2-Vol Set) – Franz Harary (Must-watch for All Illusionists)

harary enigma

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.

  • Rand LIVE Celebration Tour ’91 – Rand Woodbury

woodbury live

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.

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Illusion Plans/ Building/ Method

  • Illusion Works (4-Vol Set)  – Rand Woodbury  (Vol 1 & 2 are Must-watch for All Illusionists)

woodbury dvd

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.

  • Building Your Own Illusions, The Complete Video Course - Gerry Frenette (6 DVD Set) (Must-watch for All Illusionists)

gerry building

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.

  • Illusion EFX – Andrew Mayne. (Recommended for Beginner Illusionists)

mayne efx

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.

  • Inexpensive Illusions – Gary Darwin

darwin inexpensive

This DVD is a compliment to Gary’s book recommended above.

  • Mark Wilson on Illusions (3-Vol Set) (Highly Recommended for Beginner Illusionists)

wilson illusions

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.

  • Doll House…Plus! – Dennis Loomis

doll-house...plus-

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.

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Performance Only

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.

  • Magic Planet (Vol 1 – 6) – Franz Harary

harary magic planet

  • Live in China – Franz Harary

harary china

  • Theater of Illusion – The Spencers

spencers

  • Magic Circus (Vol 1 – 6) – Mark Wilson

wilson magic circus

  • Illusion – David Copperfield (with commentary)

copperfield

  • The Lee Grabel Archival Project (4 DVD Set)

Lee Grabel

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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.

 

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How to be a World Class Illusionist

How to Be a World Class Illusionist

If you enjoyed the free audio shows, check out “How to Be a World Class Illusionist”.

This is a 3-episode audio show (approx. 60 minutes) where I discuss what it takes to be a world-class illusionist. 

EPISODE 1 – The World’s Next Top Illusionist

Show contents include:

    • Why to Get Into Illusions?
    • Considerations for Your First Illusion
    • Tips for Your First Illusion
    • Recommendations for Your First Illusion + J C’s Personal Recommendations
    • Where to Get Funding for Your First Illusion
    • Recommended Resources for Illusionist

EPISODE 2 – The Thinking Illusionist

Show contents include:

Part 1: Developing Your Illusion Knowledge

    • Four Areas of Knowledge to Develop
    • Where to Acquire Knowledge
    • Track your Progress

Part 2: The Psychology of Illusion Performance

    • What is the Psychology of Illusions? (Basic/ Advanced)
    • How to Develop Your Understanding of the Psychology of Illusions
    • Tools to Advance the Psychology in Illusions
    • Two Factors that May Affect the Psychology of Illusions

EPISODE 3 – How to be a Superstar Illusionist

Show contents include:

    • First Steps for New Illusionists or Seasoned Magicians Moving into Illusions
    • For Intermediate & Advanced Illusionists
    • 3 Common Characteristics of Commercial Success
    • 4 Key Elements of the Superstar Illusionist
    • Final Words

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How Many Illusions in a Show?


 
First, the general accepted trade definition of an illusion is a large scale magic effect.

General expectations that come with an illusion performance are a physical illusion prop, scale and production value. The general expectation of an illusion show (that distinguishes it from a stage magic show) is that the show features a number of illusions.

There are no rules to the maximum number of illusions in a show as you will ultimately be limited by your own illusion repertoire, stage size, backstage size and availability of crew. However, depending on the duration of the show, you probably need at least 2 illusions for the show to be considered an illusion show. In a 30-minute show, 3 or 4 illusions is a good number.

Hector Bo StaffHector performing the “Bo Staff” illusion

 

 
Most of my shows are between 30min – 75min. I have never done a show with more than 10 illusions in a single show. Here is an indicative guide of what I think will fit most illusionists:

  • 30 min Show: 3 – 4 Illusions
  • 45 min Show: 4 – 5 illusions
  • 60 min Show: 6 – 7 illusions
  • 75 min Show: 7 – 8 illusions

The general formula for an illusion show is to alternate between an illusion with a stand-up or silent stage piece. This creates variety in the show and is also a practical structure as it allows the crew to set the stage for each illusion number.

Most illusion shows will open with an illusion or an impressive silent stage magic act that leads to an illusion. Many times, the silent stage act is performed first because of the loads and pre-sets needed.

Most illusion shows also close with an illusion, although it is also common to close with a sentimental stage piece to end on an emotional high, as opposed to a visual spectacle. I have used both types of performances to end an illusion show.

How many illusions do you have in your show?

Piece by PieceAdam & Selina performing “Piece by Piece”

 

I discuss how to produce a modern illusion show in detail in my book “How to Be an Illusionist”, the most comprehensive modern guidebook on the market.
 

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David Seebach Illusion Articles


 
Through Abbotts Magic, David Seebach’s articles on illusions that first appeared in The New TOPS Magazine have been republished online for a new generation to read. There are a total of 104 articles that appeared from 1970 thru 2011.

This is a fantastic free illusion resource that you should check out here!

david seebachPhoto credit: www.davidseebach.com

 

His book “So You Want to Be an Illusionist” is a “must-read” title in my Recommended Books for Modern Illusionists.

So You Want to be an Illusionist

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.

 
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Professional Stage Illusions Sale


 
I have a select number of used professional illusions at GREAT prices (and most economical shipping rates). These illusions are going at a fraction of their selling prices and include:

  • Shadow Vision
  • Platform Levitation
  • Full Throttle Motorcycle Production
  • Blammo
  • 12-Girl Cabinet
  • Revollusion

illusionsforsale

Sales are made on a first confirm basis!

More of my original illusions are also now available through Thomas Clark including “Crystal Metamorphosis”“Visual Displacement”“Blade Pyramid” and “Benchmark”.

I’m really pleased to have Thomas build my illusion designs through his company Magic Sax. He has the exceptional skill to build a high quality prop at an incredibly reasonable price.

“Benchmark” is now available at the low introductory price of US$1800. This price will only be offered to the first few orders so take advantage of it. Here are some pics of Thomas’ “Benchmark”:

benchmarkpolished2

benchmark

Check out http://illusionbookstore.com/product-category/stage-illusions/used-illusions/ under the STAGE/ ILLUSIONS for photos, info, videos and shipping info!

Happy New Year!

 
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If you enjoyed this article, check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014″ upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.

 

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Corporate Illusions Made Easy

I have a new book written specifically for the working Corporate Magician – “Corporate Illusions Made Easy”!

Corporate Illusions Made Easy

From making corporate executives appear, producing new products, launching corporate logos and staging motivational stunts, the illusions in the book are simple to build, effective in design and practical to stage in non-traditional performance environments.

All illusions are professional level effects and take into account realistic budgets, size, logistics, venue and staging constraints typical of corporate events. Best of all, no prior illusion knowledge is necessary to understand, build and execute the illusions.

New illusionists will be introduced to known as well as original illusion methods and ideas that they can execute with confidence. Experienced illusionists will find original practical solutions for common requests from corporate clients that they can use immediately.

In the first illusion book of its kind, it also includes an extensive discussion on presenting illusions for corporate events, the role of the “Corporate Illusionist”, adapting standard stage props for corporate magic, how to go about building the illusions in the book as well as incorporating corporate messaging into the illusions.

If you book a launch, conference, awards dinner or tradeshow with just one idea from this book, you will recoup your investment in the book many times over with a single engagement.

Contents include:

Examining Illusions for Corporate Events

  • The Role of the Corporate Magician/ Illusionist
  • Adapting Standard Stage Props for Corporate Events
  • Different Types of Corporate Events & Venues
  • How to Build the Illusions in this Book

The Arrival
A Self-Contained Surrounded VIP Appearance

Showcase
An Elegant Production of a Product in a Clear Display Case

Rising Identity
A Unique Way to Introduce a new Corporate Identity or Logo

Corporate Restraint
A Motivational Escape Illusion Performed by a VIP

Global Crossing
The Teleportation of a VIP

Corporate Restructuring
A Magical Transformation of Corporate Executives

The Sword Box Metaphor
Incorporating Corporate Messaging with an Illusion

Jeweled Revelation
Big Effect for a Small Item Production

The Conference
The Appearance of a Committee of People on Stage

A Big Reveal
The Magical Production or Transformation of a Large Inanimate Product

“Corporate Illusions Made Easy” features 80 pages of detailed illusion construction plans, full illusion presentations and corporate messaging & customization.

 

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If you enjoyed this article, check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014″ upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.

The YouTube Test for Overly Performed Illusions


 
Why do illusionists perform the same illusions? is one of my most popular blog entries for magicians. Regular readers will know that I feel there are a dozen or so illusions that are just too common and overly performed by both semi-pros and top-level illusionists around the world.

I developed a simple test to see what are objectively the overly performed illusions. Basically, if you do a YouTube search and find more than 15 videos of the near exact performance/ presentation or prop (whether pirated or not) of the same illusion – it is too common. It would be safe to assume that these 15 YouTube videos represent just a percentage of the actual of people out there performing the same illusion with the same presentation.

Youtube

I spent less than 30min and found more than 15 videos EACH of the following illusions – Sub Trunk, Fire Cage, Twister, Interlude, Origami, Fire Spiker, Compressed, Modern Art, Bowl-a-Rama, Snowing, Suspended Animation, Elevator and Mini Kube Zag.

If you do feature the above illusions as highlights in your show and you are not the best in the world in presenting them, you might want to think your approach. It is hard to beat Hans Klok presentation of “Suspended Animation” or his or Mark Kalin’s “Fire Spiker”, Copperfield “Elevator” or “Snowing” or The Pendragon’s “Sub Trunk”; so unless you can, you need to think how to make the illusion different or better in another way. Or, you might just want to trade in these illusions for something more unique.

I’ll give two examples of illusions where different performers have made the illusion presentations unique and perfect for their presentation style. They have not done anything extraordinary to the physical props but have changed it slightly or made additions to make it work for their presentations.

Try to do a search on Youtube as some of the examples I listed previously have been removed.

Origami

The first illusion I would like to discuss is the “Origami” illusion created by Jim Steinmeyer. While I know a lot of magicians consider this the perfect illusion, I personally never fancied it. I suspect many magicians are more in awe with the method and ‘neatness’ of the illusion presentation more than the actual illusion itself. I do think the general lay audience considers this just another ‘girl in box with swords’ illusion. But, I digress, this is not the point of the discussion.

Maybe one reason I do not like the “Origami” is because too many people perform it and it is always with the same presentation. I cringe everything I see an assistant come in with a kimono and oriental fan, because that seems to be the only way magicians think this should be performed. Please. Stop doing this. It does look cheesy, especially if the theatrical setting is not established or congruent with such a presentation.

Paul Gertner is best known for his FISM-winning “Steel Cups & Balls” and most may not know him as a corporate illusionist. He uses the “Origami” as a metaphor for creativity. In this context, his patter and script works perfectly with the illusion. See if you can find it on Youtube.

Elliot Zimet is based out of New York and does a hip-hop inspired show. As far as I know, he has been working on his “Origami” presentation for just a few years and it has developed well. He performs to music and dancers that fit his intended image and style. He uses Greg Frewin’s version of  “Origami” (which is a nice innovation) and it does not look oriental in any way.

The video I saw on Youtube did not have ideal video work and the performance (framing) ‘dubious’ at one point, I will give him the benefit of the doubt that this can be performed well live. If not, he is obviously working towards that direction which is great.
 

 
Interlude

“Interlude” is also created by Jim Steinmeyer and was originally called “Permeability” and renamed by The Pendragons as “Interlude” who performed it exclusively for several years. In fact, this illusion and “Metamorphosis” helped define them as masters of physical grand illusion at the height of their career in the mid 80s and early 90s. Because “Interlude” was performed by The Pendragons in their distinct physical way for so long, when it did go onto the open commercial market for other professional illusionists, most were modeling their performance after The Pendragons.

Granted, there is not much variance in performance handling in this illusion as the prop design is as such, so thought must be put into how to add to it or give motivation and logic for the presentation.

Erix Logan is an Italian illusionist who has a long career on cruises and showrooms. He has many inventive innovations to existing illusions like his Scissors “Impaled” illusion. He performs a straight dramatic presentation like The Pendragons did and many others do. But, he has added a nice addition to the illusion which adds a small convincer to the illusion.

Siegried & Roy were Las Vegas’ golden magicians as they pioneered the concept of a Las Vegas production magic show until Roy’s tragic career-ending accident. I will be doing an entry on them in the near future so will talk about them in detail next time. Suffice to say, they are the personification of the Vegas glitz and glamour show that we have come to know. They were also the pioneers of using big cats in illusion shows.

What makes their “Interlude” different is that there are two male  illusionists performing it with one female talent who does the passing through. In this case, she is playing a character and the stage setting reflects and gives reason for the character. And there is more as you will see.

Barry & Stuart are one of the few comedy magic teams in the world from the U.K. They have had much success with their TV shows and bear minor similarities to Penn & Teller in the way their acts are presented. Often with dialogue and interactive comedy bits, their innovative plots underline the presentation of what may be considered standard effects. This not only makes their show incredibly entertaining but also intelligent and distinct in its own right.

Watch their comedy presentation of “Interlude” which gives motivation and logic to the illusion

 
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6 Techniques to Differentiate Your Illusion Performances


 
In my previous two entries on the subject of “Why Illusionists Perform the Same Illusions?” and the follow-up, I explored the ‘why’ and urged professional-level illusionists to step out of their ‘me-too’ comfort zones and not present the same illusions in the same way.

In this entry, I will focus on not the why but the how. Specifically, I will cover 6 techniques on how to differentiate an illusion performance. This is by no means exhaustive or the only ways to differentiate your illusion performances, they are suggested proven creative approaches that have worked for others & myself.

Do Not Allow Overly Common Illusions to Dominate Your Show Progam

This is the most obvious technique yet not very helpful if not delved into with more depth.

First, I would like to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong with ‘standard’ illusions. They are standards for a reason because they are audience and time tested. My only issue is that they are overly common which makes all illusionists look the same.

I suggest the following ‘formula’: For every two standard illusions you present, have one original piece or seldom-seen illusion in your show program. And when you present the standard illusions, do it differently (more on this below).

During the peak of their illustrious career, signature illusions that the Pendragons often presented in a show included The Sword Basket, Interlude and the Sub Trunk. The Sword Basket & the Sub Trunk are standards but they made them different with their style and presentation of the illusion.  Interlude (at that time) was brand new and exclusive to them for a number of years. This gave their show a very fresh and innovative feel. Furthermore, the presentation of the illusions were closely tied into their performance characters and style.

This formula will separate your show content from others. This alone will not differentiate as a totally unique illusionist to the marketplace but is an important first step.

Modify the Aesthetic & Functional Design of Your Standard Illusion

I gave specific examples on how various illusionists modify standard illusions so they look different from others off the same assembly line. Most recently, I have rebuilt and add original elements to marketed illusions “360 Sawing” and “Windshear” to make them different.

360 3
My version of Gerry Frenette’s “Woman’s Revolution” – “360 Sawing” with ‘Magic Babe’ Ning

Previously, I highlighted Michael Baron’s “The Device” as an excellent modification of the Mini Kube Zag. Several illusionist such as Hector have made changes to Modern Art in an effort to differentiate the illusion; from making it a one-person illusion, to removing the ‘table’ to having the person’s head extend out of the prop.

Shadowship
Hector performing his original illusion “Shadowship”

Changing the colour of the prop is not enough. So, think about going another step in terms of changing the structure of the prop, adding elements, reducing elements, changing materials or a combination of the above.

 

 
Script the Plot of an Illusion

Think about what story you want to tell the audience. What do you want your audience to feel or experience? Are you performing the illusion to give depth and advance your stage character?

Specifically, I’m talking about thinking about a plot in depth and not just “take a girl, put her in a box, put swords through the box…”.

Thinking about the plot will often give motivation for the illusion and help you add elements to the performance to tell the story. These additional elements include costuming, dialogue (verbal or non verbal), smaller props and music.

Every good story has a defined beginning, middle and an end, although not necessary in that order. Illusion performances are no different. Apply basic storytelling techniques and plots from good movies. Imagine if you could use the plots from “Memento” or “The Usual Suspects” to an illusion performance.

Probably the best example of using plots to differentiate their illusions (and routines in general) is Penn & Teller. Practically every act they perform is a master class of plot and scripting. While it is unlikely that you could create a whole show with this technique (because you are not Penn & Teller), just having one such illusion presentation in your show can make all the difference in the world.

Add a Kicker to the Illusion

This, of course, does not apply to all illusions but is part of the idea generation process. Some purists do not like to put kickers into an act because it becomes all the audience remembers and they forget the actual details of the act. But, the fact is, audiences love kickers if they are not telegraphed.

Think about what possible kickers can be added to a standard illusion you perform. Costume changes and the appearance of a surprise person/ object and transpositions to the back of the performing venue are common kickers in illusions. What else can be done?

Do the Opposite of What has been Done

This is a common creativity technique used during brainstorming. Think about how you can transform, change and radically do something different with a standard illusion prop, presentation or handling.

Make a list or mind map of what is normally done with the standard illusions and see what you can do the complete opposite of in every aspect.

Don’t limit yourself, have fun and come up with the most ridiculous and wild ideas. This is the idea generation part of the creativity process so forget limits at this point. Think about how you can make a standard illusion bigger, smaller, faster, slower, funnier etc.

Some simple ideas to jumpstart your brain:

    • Instead of putting a girl in a box, who/ what else can be put inside? Does it have to be just one person/ object?
    • Instead of a rectangular box, can it be round, cylindrical, hexagonal or just a frame?
    • Instead of making a girl, car or motorcycle appear, what else you be produced that makes sense in your presentation context?

Combine Different Artistic Elements with the Illusion

This is probably one of the most difficult techniques to differentiate an illusion performance because it requires a mastery of another artistic skill or, at the very least, an in depth understanding of how to combine illusion with the other artistic skill.

If not done well, the whole performance can look contrived. Many try to integrate dance into illusions (Copperfield influence from the late 80s) but it has become way to cliched now and unfortunately most can’t dance or look good trying.

Darren Romeo adds singing to illusions as the “Voice of Magic”. Nathan Burton adds comedy to illusions which is not as common as comedy to stand-up magic. Criss Angel’s “Believe” is a combination of Cirque’s take on the circus with Criss’s illusions. Lee Eun Gyeol does one of the most beautiful illusions with shadowgraphy and Chris Murphy’s “Evolution” illusion.

spiker

To end this entry, here is an example of a transitional/ filler illusion  that ‘Magic Babe’ & I used in our show in our 2008/ 2009 season. The purpose of this example is not for promotional purposes but to demonstrate that these are techniques we actually employ in our professional work and have spent time, money and effort on.

We called the act ‘Spiker’ which is actually Jim Steinmeyer’s “Audience Acupuncture”. The techniques we employed in creating this presentation included:

    1. Script the Plot of an Illusion
    2. Do the Opposite of What has been Done
    3. Combine Different Elements with the Illusion

Script the Plot of an Illusion

This purpose of the plot of the illusion was to showcase ‘Magic Babe’ as a strong character and as an equal on stage to her partner; not a pretty female assistant. She is the protagonist in the performance. She is in control from start o finish.

Do the Opposite of What has been Done

“Audience Acupuncture” was originally designed to be used with an audience member (typically a female or a kid) and to be presented light-heartedly or comedic in style. This is also the way it is presented by several illusionists around the world.

We did the opposite by performing it straight without comedy. We also do not use a spectator. Instead of the female being spiked, Ning spikes me. The role reversal adds interest and a psychological difference to the presentation.

Combine Different Elements with the Illusion

Ning’s skillful twirling Japanese sais is a prelude to the illusion. The sharp sais complement and set up the illusion with the steel spikes. And ultimately, it is great entertainment value and variety. What is not to like about an attractive lady manipulating deadly weapons?

You can watch our performance of this illusion here:

I hope this entry gives you food for thought and use whatever applies to you to differentiate your illusion content.

 
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