Designing Miracles: Creating the Illusion of Impossibility Darwin Ortiz The sequel to Strong Magic - essential magic theory about creating impossible effects Overview and Importance Why should you care about a book that deals with magic theory? Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz, along with its companion and predecessor Strong Magic, is the kind of book that has the real potential to improve all your magic significantly, by changing the way you think about how magic effects are constructed and designed. We're not talking about constructing physical props here, but the construction of a magic trick in terms of the methods, the presentation, and all the decisions that go into putting together a trick, both as seen by your audience and the actions you actually do as magicians. Before I get further into this review, let me share some quotes from other magicians about this terrific and important book: "This is my all time favorite magic theory book. It is, without a single doubt, one of the best books I have ever read on this maddening subject. For magicians who perform for real people, this new book is priceless.
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Designing Miracles: Creating the Illusion of Impossibility Darwin Ortiz The sequel to Strong Magic - essential magic theory about creating impossible effects Overview and Importance Why should you care about a book that deals with magic theory?
Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz, along with its companion and predecessor Strong Magic, is the kind of book that has the real potential to improve all your magic significantly, by changing the way you think about how magic effects are constructed and designed.
We're not talking about constructing physical props here, but the construction of a magic trick in terms of the methods, the presentation, and all the decisions that go into putting together a trick, both as seen by your audience and the actions you actually do as magicians. Before I get further into this review, let me share some quotes from other magicians about this terrific and important book: "This is my all time favorite magic theory book.
It is, without a single doubt, one of the best books I have ever read on this maddening subject. For magicians who perform for real people, this new book is priceless. There's plenty of resources that do a good job of teaching you the mechanics of magic, but for a routine really to feel magical, it requires good presentation. With a special emphasis on card magic, which is his own field of expertise, Darwin Ortiz has done magicians everywhere a real service with this magnificent tome about showmanship, which is well-organized, comprehensive, insightful, and supported with many practical examples.
I highly, highly recommend it, because it's part of a rare breed. There's a gazillion books that will teach you new tricks, but very few good books that will teach you how to perform them. It's not cheap, especially when considering shipping costs as well, but I saved up to buy my copy back in , and it's the kind of book that helped my magic more than a dozen videos or books with tricks. Another excellent title along these lines is Ken Weber's terrific Maximum Entertainment , which I reviewed recently link.
Like Strong Magic, it won't teach you a single trick, but it sure will tell you how to make the tricks you already know much better. These two are arguably the very best you'll find about showmanship, and will help raise the level of your magic enormously.
The sequel: Designing Miracles a book about magic design But there is another important element of magic that is overlooked even more besides showmanship and that is the design of a magical effect.
It is Darwin's thesis that besides the method used to accomplish an effect and the presentation of the effect, attention needs to be given to how a magical effect is constructed. And so more than a decade since the original publication of Strong Magic, Darwin Ortiz has produced a follow-up title, called Designing Miracles , subtitled "Creating the Illusion of Impossibility".
With this book, Darwin has made another wonderful and important contribution to magic theory, full of practical application, and essential reading for any magician who wants to understand why some effects amaze and why others don't, and more importantly, how to design effects so that they do create astonishment. Designing Miracles is not a cheap book, but you can consider it a valuable investment in helping you raise the level of all your magic.
But the good news is that this title it is available not just as a hard copy, you can also buy a digital download of an audio version of the book from Vanishing Inc Magic, which only costs around half the price of a shipped hard copy. I wasn't in a position to buy the hard copy, so I was very glad to discover that the book is available in this cheaper form.
Even better, this audio-book is read by the author himself, who does a fantastic job of reading his own material clearly and passionately. I've enjoyed listening to the audio version over the last few weeks, and it's this version that I'm reviewing in particular here, although naturally the majority of my comments apply to the printed book as well. If you'd like to hear the author's own thoughts about this follow-up to Strong Magic, you can watch and listen to a 5 minute conversation that he has with Dan Harlan about Designing Miracles here.
What you get The audio book features the entire text of Darwin Ortiz, read out loud by the author himself. The entire recording is just over 8 hours in total.
Darwin Ortiz does an excellent job in reading his own work, with good clarity, expression, and emphasis. Sometimes an author may be a good writer but not a good reader; that is not the case here, and Ortiz is a pleasure to listen to. There are some disadvantages to an audio book of course, not least the fact that navigation becomes more difficult, and it's not a simple matter to quickly look up and consult something.
At first I wasn't thrilled to discover that it was a single massive file in M4B format, which works fine for an iPhone and even has digital bookmarks, but didn't work at all on my mp3 player. After corresponding with the Vanishing Inc team, they noted that a version in mp3 format should also have been made available, and in short order they had made a fix, enabling me to download a version with over 60 separate mp3 files.
This format worked terrific for me, and also made it easy to navigate to different sections, and continue playing where I'd left off. There are significant advantages with an audio book besides immediate delivery and cheaper cost. For one thing, you can listen to the book while on the move. This enabled me to maximize my commuting and driving, and I even enjoyed listening to sections while going for a jog or while laying in bed.
And you get to enjoy the download immediately as well, and there's no need to wait for it to ship to your doorstep since delivery is immediate. Since the audio book was done a few years after the book was first published, Darwin Ortiz has also updated a few sections with additional examples, and there's an extra section at the end in which he is interviewed, and offers clarification on a number of points.
The Author So who is Darwin Ortiz, and why should we listen to what he has to say on this subject? Most magicians will already be familiar with his name, and recognize him as a leading authority on subjects like card manipulation and gambling. He's made important contributions to the world of game protection, even serving as a consultant to major casinos.
But of particular interest to us are the important contributions he's made to the world of magic, not only as a professional magician, entertainer, and creator of card magic, but as a writer, having authored several books about gambling and magic.
He's highly respected for his work, and his two books on magic theory - including the one that is the subject of this review - have both made a big splash in the magic world, and are considered landmark publications. Given his wide experience, and the fact that he is a very clear thinker and careful writer, Darwin is well placed to address us on this subject.
Contents So what exactly does Darwin Ortiz cover in his book? As I listened to the audio recording, I made some summary notes, so what follows is my own overview and summary of the key areas and points that are covered in the book, using the chapter headings that the book itself uses.
Introduction : After a great foreword from Whit Haydn, which introduces the subject matter and its importance, Darwin Ortiz begins his book with introductory comments of his own. In his view, magic isn't just an art but a craft. And the specific element of crafting magic that is the focus of his interest has to do with designing the effect.
Picking the Best Method : Magicians have long made a distinction between effect and method as two important elements of good magic. To this pair Darwin has previously added presentation as another essential requirement, and it is this aspect of showmanship that he's already covered at length in Strong Magic. But what exactly is it that turns a trick into good magic - is it the cleverness, creativity, difficulty, efficiency, novelty, or fooling nature of the method?
These are often reasons why magicians are attracted to particular effects, but in Darwin's view there's something else that needs attention. While effect, method, presentation are commonly accepted as ingredients of strong magic, it is Darwin Ortiz' thesis that there is a fourth essential ingredient that is typically overlooked: design. The Magical Experience : In Darwin's view, successful magic is all about creating the illusion of impossibility , and accomplishing this requires paying close attention to how an effect is designed.
To design magic well, Darwin wants us to think like lay-people rather than magicians who get excited when they are fooled. Magic is not just about fooling people, because deception is simply a tool used to accomplish the greater aim of creating an impossible illusion. That is what makes something truly magical, and makes it seem like a true miracle rather than a mere puzzle: is it constructed and designed so as to appear completely impossible?
Causality : If an apparent miracle is presenting something that seems truly impossible , what is it that makes something seem impossible? Humankind is wired to think in terms of causality , so one of the keys to making something seem impossible is to eliminate any possible cause that could explain an effect, so that the spectator is left with no option but to say "No way!
To analyze this properly, Darwin wants us to look at tricks from two perspectives, and consider their outer reality what the audience thinks is true and their inner reality what you as a magician know is actually true. This is an important way of thinking that is essential to designing miracles, and in the next four chapters Darwin will explain four ways of designing a magical effect that from the spectator's viewpoint eliminates any possible cause , thus creating the impression of what is a miracle.
Temporal Distance : Here Darwin introduces a concept he calls "the critical interval", which is the difference in time between the " initial condition " and the " final condition " in an effect, for example the moment you last see the apple, and the moment you first see it reappear as an orange.
If you can be perceived to do nothing between this critical interval, the change appears to be a result of genuine magic. And there are ways to create this perception, especially using what Darwin calls " time displacement ", in which you shorten the critical interval as perceived by the audience with the help of acting, psychological convincers a concept described in detail in Strong Magic , magical gestures, mimicked sounds, or devices like a dummy which duplicate an object.
All of these allow you to do your dirty work beforehand, falsely extend the time of the initial condition and move it forward so that it appears that nothing has happened yet when in fact the method has already been accomplished. In addition to such " forward time displacement ", a similar sense of miracle can be obtained by " backward time displacement ", in which the method happens after the final condition has apparently been reached; when in fact the dirty work still needs to happen, and can now happen easily because the audience has dropped its guard and thinks the effect is already done; acting plays a big role in achieving this.
Don't decide on a sleight based purely on the move, but also take into consideration whether you can do the dirty work before or after the critical interval. Sometimes instead of changing the move , you can change the moment to improve an effect for the better, 5.
Spatial Distance : Darwin now demonstrates that the principles about temporal distance also apply to space. By separating the method and the apparent effect in terms of place and where they occur particularly when combined with temporal distance , you can remove evidence, which will protect the secret and conceal the method. In other words, this allows you to flee the scene of the crime after doing the dirty work.
Using duplicates is a good example of this, and Designing Miracles makes some fantastic points about the kinds of requirements that are necessary to allow a duplicate to work. If you can successfully make a spectator unable to know when something happened, you are well on your way to making them unable to know how it happened.
The next step is to engineer things to make them connect this with a false moment. Just like spatial distance can help hide the method, so false proximity can help even more, by making your spectator think the magic happened at a moment that is truly impossible - which is exactly the miracle of magic you are trying to create!
In other words, the goal here is to use distance to conceal when a method really happens, and use proximity to falsely position the moment of the effect in the audience's mind.
Conceptual Distance : Another way to obscure causality is by creating a conceptual barrier , much like an apparent brick wall causes people to turn in the opposite direction. Darwin discusses ways of achieving this through physical barriers and information barriers. A physical barrier like a glass, box, card case, or sealed envelope, will typically be assumed by a spectator to be impenetrable; but all you need to do is cut a hole in a container in it in order to give yourself access to something your audience has assumed is impossible.
An information barrier works in a similar way; if the magician apparently lacks certain information early in an effect, then he can't possibly have accomplished certain things later in that effect.
Darwin then describes what he calls the " Veils Principle ": while one single barrier might be transparent, multiple barriers in a single effect will almost certainly make an effect impossible to figure out.
For example, a marked deck on its own might arouse suspicion, as might an Invisible deck, but when used together the one helps cover the tracks of the other. Darwin emphasizes the importance of thinking like lay-people rather than magicians here, because unlike magicians, lay-people will typically suspect the obvious method, and it's your job to disprove any possibility of that method being used.
Rather than encouraging them to think about the method, by eliminating the possibility of certain methods you get them to mentally concede that a plausible method is an impossibility, thus heightening the sense of magic. It's especially important to do this with what spectators would consider to be obvious explanations, and make it clear to spectators that you aren't using those methods. The False Frame of Reference : An additional way to make it difficult for the spectator to discern the method is by creating what Ortiz calls a " false frame of reference ".
To explain this, as an image of the critical interval between the initial and final condition he gives the example of a tunnel. A straight tunnel is easy to figure out, but a curved or indirect one is not, and that's what you need to aim for in design. The goal is to create a gap between method and effect, ideally using a "banked shot" approach, where the method doesn't even use the direct line that the effect seems to suggest.
What this does is cause the spectator to ask the wrong questions about how the effect is done, and as a result they will never even consider the true answer, so enhancing the chances of the effect seeming impossible, and thereby accomplishing your aim of a perceived miracle.
This sense of impossibility won't happen when the method and effect are too closely related, but combining different methods to achieve an effect will often assist with this. Visual Magic : Magicians often speak about visual magic, and Darwin describes what is meant by this as magic with a very short critical interval, and where there is very little time between the initial and final condition.
But creating the illusion of impossibility requires more than just a visual element, since true magic must challenge the mind. A visual gag lacks true mystery and won't create lasting wonder, even though it entertains momentarily, because spectators realize how it is done and so there is no sense of miracle.
Thus it is important to lay the groundwork in advance, disproving all explanations in advance, before the visual moment of apparent magic, because then what happens will seem truly impossible.
Darwin suggests that giving thought to careful design can accomplish this. He goes through the techniques discussed previously e. In other words, your goal is to use visual magic to emphasis the magic moment in a way that is separated from the actual method, making the audience think that the magic happens at a different time or place than the actual method, and thereby making it harder for the mind to track back clues and discover the method.
Visual magic can also have other roles; it can also function as one phase of a larger routine to strengthen other phases that use non-visual magic.
Review: Designing Miracles (Darwin Ortiz)
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Darwin Ortiz is one of the most important close-up figures of our time. With Strong Magic he wrote himself into the annals of conjuring; that instant classic will be studied for years and years to come. Designing Miracles is the sequel, and it too is an absolute must-read. Ortiz writes with authority and good humor, and raises all the right questions. But Designing Miracles is an investment for life, as you will return to this book again and again. In Designing Miracles, Darwin Ortiz continues the task he began in Strong Magic: to explore and raise the level of craft in magic. This time he presents a groundbreaking study of how laymen think and what it takes to amaze them.
Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz
Discussion in ' Product Questions and Reviews ' started by descartes , Jul 12, Designing Miracles is the second of Darwin ortiz's books on magic theory. The first one is Strong magic, which is regarded as a modern classic in the genre. Designing Miracles is essentially about making your magical effects stronger by using good design principles. To my knowledge, this is the only book that is exclusively devoted to the question of design in magic.
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