Everyday Magicians

Everyday Magicians

Today I have been thinking about magic as a profession. If you think about it, we’re exposed to magic constantly, and often don’t realize it.

Magic Pairings

I have been following the recent split between Amanda Congdon and Andrew Baron, the two most recognizable people from video blog Rocketboom. They’ve split due to creative differences, which I find interesting because the story is (1) unexpectedly melodramatic and (2) tales of business partnerships gone awry provide interesting insights into motivation. Nevertheless, the combination of Congdon and Baron created a successful video enterprise; Dave Winer commented that “they have a magic thing”. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare individually through their continued work on the Internet. It’s not often that a creative team splits in a medium as immediate as video blogging. It’s a bona fide soap opera, unfolding in something close to real-time across the Internet.

These kinds of magical pairings are all around us. Every piece of music we hear on the radio is a product of magical synergy between music producers with incredible ears, technicians who know how to wring the best signal out of any recording environment, and vocalists who somehow can resonate with our very souls…they’ve somehow all found each other, and together they can create 10x experiences. Individually, they are mortal like the rest of us.

Digital Magic

While browsing Congdon’s website links, I came across this kgpost linked from Karmagrrrl. The reel, created by Manhattan digital production artist collective R!OT, shows before and after shots of various commercials they’ve worked on. It’s magical…as a friend of mine said, “you’d be surprised how much out there is fake”. Digital effects have come a long way, to the point that they are utterly invisible and convincing in our everyday media viewing.

0713-riot01.jpg0713-riot02.jpg0713-riot03.jpg At the same time, being exposed to all this fakery can lead to false expectations of ourselves. For example, there’s a rather startling sequence of actress close-ups, with their less-than-perfect skin, baggy eyes, and too-wide noses…they are transformed before our eyes. As Karmagrrrl notes, To all the grrls outs there. The next time you see a makeup commercial, with perfectly beautiful models, remember this video!.

That aside, the editing rhythm of the montage itself is fun and snappy that initially seems to be just another commercial reel, but slowly starts to wow you with what they’re showing you: the secret world behind the imagery. It’s like watching a close-up magician at work; you only experience the magic even if you know how the trick is done. It’s a joy to see a trick superbly executed by someone of great talent.

Being Comfortable with Magic

When I see work of this caliber, it makes me wonder how digital artists deal with impossible client requests. Because they’re magicians, maybe they just wink and say, “That sounds impossible. Sure, we can do it.” The normal reaction would be to start covering your ass and put conditions on everything, but that’s an energy-sapping approach, and isn’t fun for anyone. I’ve been guilty of it myself more than once for even minor projects, and now I’m feeling a little embarassed about it.

After seeing these two pieces, I’m thinking I should make an effort to be more of a magician in my day-to-day. Back when I was seriously pursuing video game development, I used to talk with my friends about showmanship and the impossibility factor as elements of creating a powerful impression. I seem to have forgotten that.

So this is yet another brick I’d like to add to my foundation: become a practical magician, with the confidence to create those moments of impossible synchronicity. One thing I’ve recognized that helps is that my “creative DNA” is firmly anchored in the visual design of data, not so much in “pure creative”, and that raises a question: what does it mean to be a magician in the context of information graphics?


  1. Bill Busen 16 years ago

    Spending a lot of time on Edward Tufte’s website?


  2. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Heh, that’s a good idea. I just went to go see what he’s been up to, and see that he’s got upcoming seminars that aren’t too expensive, considering you also get copies of all his books. There’s one in CT that is driveable, even.

    Although, I don’t really get the sense of magic from him from his work or his site. It feels more like being in a museum or reading poetry, rather than the sort of “WOW HOW DID HE DO THAT?” feeling I think I want. I’m thinking something more Penn and Teller, I guess.