Are colour changes magic?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by MohanaMisra, Dec 23, 2020.


Do you like colour changes?

  1. Yes. They are visual and eye-catching.

    20 vote(s)
  2. No. Colour changes are not really 'magic'.

    0 vote(s)
  3. Yes, but they are overdone and overrated.

    7 vote(s)
  4. It's not a COLOUR change, it's a CARD change.

    1 vote(s)
  5. Stop spelling 'colour' that way, it's weirding me out...

    4 vote(s)
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Some context: Our class was assigned a project where we had to use any art form at all to represent a chapter of our liking, from our Literature syllabus. I was naturally excited for it, but due to time restrictions, I could only manage to do colour changes which would represent what the chapter stood for (if anybody's interested, it's the essay 'Landscape of the Soul' by Nathalie Trouveroy).


    I was pretty satisfied with the final video (I did some colour changes, in case you didn't read the above). There was no flashing of any sort and my hands don't look tense.

    However, when I asked my father what he thought of the magic, he said (not verbatim) "Well, it's not really magic, is it? It's more about representing the story with magic." Meanwhile, there have been magicians of all levels of calibre who considered that 'typical' magic.

    It's easy to fall in the 'make the plot important and powerful' trap (which in this case was true because the Landscape of the Soul is a fascinating read), resulting in some solid work (my father thinks it's a great video with great content) but not necessarily solid magic.

    Do you think that colour changes are inherently magical?

    Is their general mechanics so obvious (it's either about adding or removing a card) that they become a classic case for the 'too perfect theory'?

    Do you think a story/plot behind them, adds (or subtracts) to their inherent "magical-ness"?

    The colour change is technically done well, and the story does seem to add to their meaning and make them stronger (clearly, that's what I always thought, until now). You could make a case for the plot being distracting from the impossibility of one card changing into another right under someone's nose, but then colour changes should have a motivation regardless.

    Did I break a Darwin's principle by making the story important?
    Or do colour changes fall victim to the Too Perfect Theory easily?
    Or are colour changes weak when done consecutively, regardless of the story/plot/motivation behind them?
    Scodischarge likes this.
  2. No. It is only magical if there is a reason for it happening. Magic needs motivation.

    No. I saw an auditorium of people gasp at an Erdnase change done in an introductory video for a performer. Think like a lay person.

    It typically adds to it. See magic needs motivation above.


    Potentially. A lot of meaningful magic tends to overshadow weak magic with strong meaning. A color change is insignificant. It is a stunt if there is no context for why it is changing. It is like a meaningful story being illustrated by a simple coin vanish. There isn't enough substance to the magic to support the meaning in the presentation.

    Too Perfect Theory is a mess. It is better to focus on the audience not thinking about the method than worrying if the method is too perfect.

    Yes. Think of vanishing three coins in a row with nothing else.
    Scodischarge likes this.
  3. I often classify magic either as "the story illustrates the magic" or "the magic illustrates the story". In tricks of the first category, the story has the function of giving the magician a reason for doing something (e.g. "In ancient Egypt, magicians would take the ball and ...") while - ideally - not boring the pants off the spectator. In tricks of the second category, the story is supposed to be in the foreground; it may be a profound life lesson, or just a good story that would be worth telling even without the magic to accompany it.
    I won't say that either way is in any way better than the other, or even that I personally prefer one or the other. Both are different styles of performing and I've seen some amazing magic from both categories.

    From the context you gave above, it seems appropriate in your routine for the magic to illustrate the story. And why shouldn't it? The fact that your sleight of hand "merely" illustrates a deeper story doesn't make the end result (the magic) any weaker.
    I'm reminded of a video you once uploaded: If I remember correctly, the story was an old Indian tale and ended with everybody turning to statues (forgive me for putting this so bluntly; unfortunately, that's all I remember at the moment). Even though you illustrated it beautifully with a series of colour changes, the magic couldn't have stood alone -- it needed to accompany the story to make sense. On the other hand, you could well have told only the story and still had the audience's rapt attention; the magic wasn't necessary for this. The fact that you did use magic to illustrate the story made it all the more memorable and elevated it beyond what it else would have been.

    My point is: Just because the effect of sleight-of-hand wasn't the main focus of your routine, doesn't mean it's "not really magic". It's simply a different kind of magic routine.

    I think that colour changes are inherently trivial.
    Imagine doing only a colour change for somebody. For one, all the questions you mentioned above about the obvious-ness of the mechanics arise. More importantly, why should the audience care? Why should they care that you just, without reason, changed one card into another?
    Colour changes need to exist within the context of a larger trick. The simplest form of giving a colour change this context is of course the ol' "That's not your card? Well, how 'bout this one?" The magician fails to find your card, so he uses his "magical powers" to transform it. Another way of using a colour change is within a trick where your card changes place with one the spectator is holding. I rather like this, because in this context the colour change fits and makes sense, as it visualises the moment and the process of the cards changing places -- it just fits the plot overall.
    Kelvin Chow also has a nice way of utilising colour changes by not changing one card into another, but by making a jack appear gradually on a blank card.

    Colour changes are useful tools, but can't stand alone -- they have to make sense within the trick.
  4. That, is a really interesting idea and some great food for thought.
    Is it completely yours? Is there any work on it that I can read more about?

    I do believe that the restriction of having to integrate a chapter from the syllabus into my performance lead to me performing magic in a way that illustrates the story (though I'm sure that with a bit more creativity invested, there'd be ways around that). In this case, it makes sense and is, as you say, appropriate.

    I just wanted to wonder out loud and discuss this issue, so as to make sure that my decision to have the story illustrate the magic or the magic illustrate the story in future effects, is a deliberate one instead of an (unfortunate or happy) accident. Thanks for your reply! It helped straighten things out for me. :)

    I understand. I think a lot of work in order to make my magic (just my magic) better...

    A really well done Erdnase Change where there is zero motion that screams "ERDNASE COLOUR CHANGE" (to those who are aware of it) is often more magical than the fancier colour changes out there, in my opinion.

    Thanks a lot!

    This Fitzkee vs Darwin Ortiz ideas really throw me in a loop when trying to write a script or develop an effect. Of course there is a sweet spot where both ideas combine, and I'd love to write scripts which are strong and also accompany really strong magic. But while achievable, it's still impractical to think that one will be able to hit that spot every single time. I often find myself wondering if I should abandon an idea simply because the premise is too strong for the magic to uphold. I have to keep shelving it hoping I'd come up or across some effect that will be strong enough.

    It's easy to let go of an idea where the story is something like "Imagine that the Jack of Spades broke into your house last night", but when you start designing an effect around a story (whether by choice or by a requirement, like in my case) that's more interesting, relatable and/or personal, it becomes really difficult to let go of that initial idea. In fact, the better the story, the more difficult it becomes to have magic stand up to that. You really want to tell the story and also perform great magic.

    Is there any work solely dedicated to discussing the idea of storytelling in magic?
    Scodischarge likes this.
  5. Other people's ideas are to be tested against your experience. Find what is true for you and discard the rest.

    I have a number of strong effects looking for a great presentation and a number of great presentations looking for strong effects. It is like sorting sock... the more you get that don't match, the higher the likelihood that the next one will be a match.

    Nobody ever said it was easy. Sometimes it helps to collaborate with others to get ideas of the magic to use. Also, read and learn everything you can so that you have a full toolbox of magic to apply (but I think you know that already).

    Anything by Robert E. Neale (most of the good ones are out of print).
    Transformations by Larry Haas
    Tales of Enchantment by Walt Anthony (a number of routines with meaningful patter)

    The problem is that most of them are examples... there isn't anything about HOW to come up with them. The key is to read... everything. Some examples are Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Book of Virtues, the Jungle Book and One Hundred Wisdom Stories. The more stories you read, the easier it becomes to write them.
    MohanaMisra and Scodischarge like this.
  6. I highly doubt that I'm the first to think of it that way, but I don't think I got it anywhere else.

    You seem to be suggesting that it would be better if the magic did more than just illustrate, is that right? I'm curious: why do you think so?

    Before, I only talked about either the story illustrating (or elevating) the magic and vice versa. But you and David already touched upon the optimum of both elevating each other (though I hate using Madison's choice of words in this context: there being a "marriage" between magic and story). David talked about his egg bag routine a couple of weeks ago in another thread, and I think that's a great example for this "marriage":
    The egg bag routine is good enough to stand on its own (see: most stage and parlour performers). The story he tells is good enough to stand on its own, as well. It's a moving tale of how there may be goodness in people you wouldn't expect it from, and you don't need the magic trick to understand the meaning behind it. But having the magic routine accompany it, and more importantly, interweaving magic and story the way he does, elevates the routine beyond what either could achieve on its own. That's what I will be aiming for when writing a performance piece.

    Unfortunately, we can't always achieve this perfect union of trick and story. For all the other times, I think we shouldn't be afraid of the imperfect results of either the magic accompanying the story or vice versa.

    For those of us who aren't quite as well-read, would you mind quickly recapping these Fitzkee and Ortiz ideas?
    RealityOne likes this.
  7. True, I'll keep this in mind. I keep forgetting it, and the more eminent the author of the book (on magic) I'm reading, the more easily it slips out of my mind that what works for somebody, may fail me badly.

    Thanks so much for the book suggestions! I'll look into them. I'll also try reading the other books you mentioned. It's scary how few books outside of those dealing with magic (and other forms of entertainment or art) I've read in the recent years.

    You're right. For some reason I think that if in any presentation, magic illustrates the story, I 'lose' as a magician, even if the presentation is just fine. It seems that forming independent opinions is more about unwinding and deconstructing things one is lead to believe originally.

    Out of Dariel Fitzkee's "Fitzkee Trilogy", I have only read Showmanship for Magicians, and I have read Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz. Both the books have tons of great information which need to be read and re-read several hundreds of times to properly sink in. However, Darwin talks about "Fitzkee's Fallacy" in Strong Magic. He says, (and I quote):

    "This sort of magic results from what I call “Fitzkee's fallacy,” the belief that magic has no inherent entertainment value. In Showmanship for Magicians, Dariel Fitzkee's prescription for making magic entertaining is to introduce music, dance, comedy, and sex appeal into the magic performance. In his view, magic is some sort of bitter pill that you have to sugar-coat in order to get the audience to swallow."

    ("This sort" means magic which is "mindless entertainment that momentarily diverts but is forgotten almost the instant it's over.")

    He goes on to clarify that while there's nothing wrong in making a performance strong by using those elements, the best way to make a magic performance stronger, is by making the magic itself, stronger. As I said before, I'd like to adhere to this principle, but there are exceptions where the magic typically can't be made stronger or as @RealityOne said, it simply can't support the presentation. A lot of effort could make the effect look better and be able to bear the weight of the plot (and we should all strive for this perfect scenario), sometimes we just run short on time.

    Now, Fitzkee's book has around 5 or 6 entire chapters dedicated to introducing music, rhythm, youthfulness, sex appeal, comedy and other such elements to our presentation. His main concern seems to be that a typical magic performance doesn't live up to the usual 'modern' (in his time) entertainment standards. Nowhere did he seem to suggest that 'magic is some sort of bitter pill' that needs sugar-coating. Maybe that's the way Darwin interpreted it, or I have forgotten reading it (at this point, I'm more wondering out aloud rather than actually asking a question).

    In my opinion, Fitzkee is looking at a magician as an entertainer, and Darwin Ortiz is looking at a magician as a magician (somebody who makes the audience believe emotionally in magic). That's probably why their statements seem to clash.

    Of course, both of them make great points, and with strong (polarising) statements like "If you don't believe that magic can be entertaining by itself, you should give up on don't belong in magic" (from Strong Magic) or "...the bulk of opposition will come from those with little experience..." (from Showmanship for Magicians) it becomes difficult to not be swayed to the writer's way of thinking.

    If we call the perfect case (where both, the magic and the story is strong) as a 'marriage', then most of my performances are Ross Geller.
  8. I think that having a perfect balance is impossible. Either the magic or the presentation will be stronger. The key is that both the presentation and the magic are individually strong and the combination makes them stronger.

    In my egg bag routine, the story is stronger than the magic. Both are strong individually. However, the egg bag routine is stronger in the context of the story and the story is stronger being accompanied by the egg bag routine. Other routines have a different balance, but the key is the presentation and the magic are each made stronger by being accompanied by the other.

    We have Fitzkee to thank for illusion shows with women assistants wearing sequined outfits... :rolleyes: I agree with Darwin Ortiz in part. Fitzkee's "additions" have no relationship to the magic. They don't make the magic stronger (by providing a context) but just add extraneous elements ("if you buy this big box illusion, I'll throw in some scantily clad dancers and some hip music!"). Even Darwin Ortiz adds stuff that really doesn't make the magic stronger (look how he talks about money and sex as attention grabbers in Chapter 4). The problem is that a torn and restored $1 bill isn't interesting because it involves money... it is interesting because of the magic.

    Take a bill in lemon routine. That is strong magic. How about a story of your first attempt to make money as a kid? Good story. What if you combined the story about your first lemonade stand to give context to the vanish of the bill and the reappearance inside a lemon? The magic illustrates the story and the story provides context for the magic.

    There is a discussion in Larry Haas's book Transformations about how to make a trick into a performance piece. That is the process of creating real magic. The process includes everything from the presentation to the selection of the props (how about making your own cigar box with a magic themed cigar brand to use to vanish the dollar bill in the lemonade stand routine? Having a real pitcher of lemonade on stage with you? Figuring out a way to do the airborne effect using a lemonade pitcher). The amount of effort is no different that making a musical or theatrical performance piece. You want the audience to notice the effort and professionalism that you put into developing your performance piece.

    If you look at the major non-magic shows when Fitzkee was writing... they all look exactly like what he was describing. Back then, people wanted every show to be something grand. Ortiz is a close up performer and his style is much more focused on what he is doing than his presentation. Seeing him perform, he really doesn't attempt to do much in terms of presentation and relies on showing people what he can do with cards. Haas is a former philosophy professor and is focused on imbibing magic with meaning. I think those differences in background explain the different perspectives. I think Larry Haas' approach is to sIf you read Fitzkee, Ortiz and Haas together, they agree on the idea that you design your performance pieces to reflect what entertains your audience.

    For me, stories are part of what entertains the audience. However, as Eugene Burger said, shows need texture. Some presentations can be playful (how about having a couple take a compatibility test), a bit absurdist (swallowing needles while extolling the virtue of having a glass of wine at the end of the day) or even whimsical (a story about my Uncle Jim's obsession with magic and gin bottles).
    ForceProof101 likes this.
  9. I am quite the amateur in regards to performance theory, so I just wanted to thank you all for having this fascinating discussion.

    The only real disagreement I have is with this one particular statement:

    While you are right that the overall impact comes from the magic involved, the use of money in this specific case involves a sense of urgency and emotion that a playing card or random piece of paper would not. Perhaps this is not true for a $1 bill, but imagine asking for a spectator to give you $20+ and then ripping it right in front of them. While they likely know that you are going to restore the bill and hand it back, there is a very brief moment of astonishment and panic. Now that could probably be achieved another way. For instance, I can imagine some method that would use “one-of-a-kind” photographs that obviously have sentimental value, but money is a much more expedient and natural way to get this raw panic.

    Again, this is just from my admittedly limited personal experience, so take it with a grain of salt.
    RealityOne likes this.
  10. That was my point... using a $1 doesn't make it substantially more interesting than using a signed card. If my memory is correct, Ortiz made a broad statement that any effect involving money is interesting. The use of the money in the routine needs to be interesting... not just the fact that money is used.
  11. True. This reminds me of Penn and Teller's performance where they took David Letterman's watch and smashed it with a hammer, only to reveal it was unharmed. If they had taken just any random watch out of their pockets and done it, it's not really interesting. But BECAUSE it was Letterman's watch, the presentation got stronger even without really changing the props or patter.

    I mean, to be fair, he wasn't completely off with his assumption that adding scantily clad women would increase sales of tickets. I don't think the problem was that women are assistants in magic, the problem was that people thought women could only be assistants in magic.

    I'll have to read Larry Haas' book then. I might as well get another writer's perspective on this issue, and it sounds like his book has some really great concepts.

    The question also arises that which magic show/performance is actually better, and if one was forced to choose (temporarily, because ultimately they should keep trying to better their performance) what they should choose.

    Somehow this discussion reminds me of the movie The Prestige. There is a part that shows how Angier is a better showman and Borden is a better magician. It's only after Borden improves his showmanship abilities that his success becomes at par with Angier, which seems to suggest that people love strong presentations (even if it's the same old cliche magic tricks) more than just strong magic. While the movie is a bit off about certain things in magic, they seem to show this part kind of accurately. We all know several magicians who are technically average but get more sales and just fame in general, meanwhile several technically superb, creative magicians are well-known only in the magic community.

    The funny thing is that when I asked people about which magician's show they'd go to, they always choose the magician with so-so showmanship, but great magic. They never choose the magician whose magic is only average but presentation skills are wonderful. This was unexpected. I thought that only magicians will choose the technically better magician but non-magicians will choose a better overall experience.

    While I hate putting down non-magicians, I can't help thinking that maybe in this case, they really don't know what they want or weren't able to articulate what they thought correctly (think Houdini being more famous and richer than Vernon and Marlo). Or maybe, when they think ''great magic'', they don't just think 'technically superb' and think that 'great magic' automatically means 'great presentation' as well, so it's just a case of miscommunication between me and those who opted for the 'better magic than better overall show'.
  12. Maybe the question is wrong. After seeing both shows, the question should be which was the better show.

    I think this is correct if you substitute "technically superb" with something that conveys the level of impossibility of the effect. Take three effects: 1) a coin vanishes from one hand of a magician and reappears in the magician's other hand; 2) a bill vanishes and reappears in lemon selected from a fruit bowl that in plain sight that was never touched by the magician; 3) a person vanishes from a locked chest on stage and reappears in the audience. The first effect is the least impressive and the third effect is the most impressive in terms of impossibility seen from a layman's perspective. The first effect will pale in comparison to any meaningful presentation. It just can't support it. The third will probably overpower any presentation. The second one could surpass the third one with a strong presentation that both adds meaning, provides context and enhances the impossibility (see my lemonade stand example above).

    I think the better magic show has strong effects with interesting and relevant presentations that provide context to the effects. To make reduce it something quantifiable - rate each effect on a scale of 1 to 10 for strength of effect and for the presentation. Add the two scores together. Use the performance pieces with the highest combined score.
    ForceProof101 and MohanaMisra like this.
  13. When you ask this question to a layman you also have to ask yourself, "How am I presenting the options?"

    While it's not the same as it was even a decade or two ago, it's still relatively rare for someone to see multiple live magic performances these days. They may see tons of videos online or TV shows, but that's not the same thing.

    Videos will generally benefit the technical prowess, because they really just highlight that one bit for a video. But a live performance can't do that - there's too much other stuff going on to rely solely on technical skill.

    So if you've asked people which of two performers they'd like to see based on videos, they're going to be skewed due to that perception.

    As RealityOne mentioned it would be better to ask how they compared two shows they've seen live.

    As a little digression, I think something that a lot of up-and-coming performers don't realize, is that having a show on stage, or being a 'professional' performer, has little to do with the quality of the show (sadly). It has far more to do with the performer/manager's ability to convince a venue that the show has value. So really, in my opinion, the only way to judge the quality or effectiveness of a show is by asking the audiences and people who've booked that act what they thought about it, and whether they'd book or see that performer again.

    Repeat viewings or bookings are really the best metric, in my opinion, in regards to how 'good' a show or performer is. The people who are successful in the sense of creating a show that resonates with an audience have loyal, repeat audiences/clients. My friend Daniel is a great example of that. He spent most of his career as a renn faire/convention performer and a lot of people would go to said events solely because he was performing there.

    Does that mean his show is 'magical' in an objective sense? Perhaps - I can't really answer that because I've seen it so many times I could probably do it myself at this point - but it's absolutely entertaining and engaging, every time. As someone who knows how pretty much everything he does is done, I still go out of my way to see him perform whenever possible because he is just that good on stage.

    This also brings up another important question - are you (the performer) creating a performance in order to satisfy an audience's perception of what is magical, or are you creating a performance to express something and hoping that the audience will resonate with it?

    Personally, I create to express. I don't try to create a performance for a specific audience - I create to express myself, and I let the audience find me. Because of that, the things that I find 'magical' and the things the audience find to be 'magical' tend to be pretty similar, so everyone has a good experience.

    On the other hand if an audience were inclined to seeing technical skill they'd find my performances boring. I have done hour long performances without a single sleight before.

    When questioning the 'magical' nature of a performance, the audience has to be considered.
  14. That's some practical advice...thanks! I'll be using it.
  15. That reminds me of a quote from Richard Bach's Illusions: "Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself. Being true to anyone else or anything else is not only impossible, but the mark of a fake messiah." The reference to a "fake messiah" makes sense in the context of the story, but for our purposes you can substitute "phony magician" and it makes sense. If magic is art, then it has to be an expression of the magician's self. True magic is found in the resonance of the performance with the audience.
    ForceProof101 and WitchDocIsIn like this.
  16. It's all been said, so I won't add much on.
    I could not vote because correct the correct answer wasn't available: Yes, if...; no, but...

    That's the answer when anything, essentially based on opinions, is stood alone outside of context and must be proven to have merit, E.G. "is X magic?"

    I understand this is a large world and many spell it "colour", and the differentiation between a Color or Card change matters little to me, that's for the bored philosophers.
    I'll say "you can call the trick a tomato! Is it cool? That's all I care about".
    A change at the right time done well is as amazing as anything else you can do with a deck of cards.
    Although I'll add that a color change, like most (If not all) sleights, alone is simply a curiosity. It need substance to become more.

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