How does David Copperfield fly?

Inspired by this thread

I remember Copperfield’s TV special where he flew onstage. Man, it seems so boring to just type those words, but I was profoundly moved by the performance. I was alone in my living room and I literally stood and applauded along with the TV audience (I never do this). My thoughts were, “Of course it’s a trick, but I don’t care.” It was so beautiful.

A few years ago I saw Copperfield live. With my own eyes I saw DC do the same feats he had done on the TV show - no camera tricks!

How does he do it? Levitation illusions are old as hat, and DC’s performance featured what at first thought was a dead giveaway: the rotating hoops feat. Two hoops attached through the diameter at 90 degrees of each other are continually rotated by two assistants on either side, describing a sphere if you will. While still spinning thusly, the hoops are brought to where DC is hovering - appearing as if he was hovering inside the sphere while the hoops pass through where cords would be. Watching carefully, though, you can clearly see the movement is well timed such that the hoops never really do pass through the regious of space above the hovering magician (man, that was hard to describe, but easy to see if you watch it).

Aha, thinks I, a very clever cord contraption it is - albeit more articulate and smoother than any I’d ever seen before. And then DC flies into a transparent box. They put a transparent lid on the box. People walk on that lid. DC floats around like a guppy in a fishbowl. They remove the lid and the sumbitch flies out!

The only explanation Mrs. Call and I agree on is this: he’s sold his soul to Satan in exchange for gnarly powers. Can anyone offer a plausible alternative explanation?

It’s all distraction. Those people walking around on top of the box? They do that to give your eyes something to focus on so you don’t see the nearly-invisible strings poking through the top.

Pretty much everything about “magic” is basically distracting you with Pretty Shiny Things (volunteers from the audience, scantily-clad assistants, background music/noise, smoke machines, spinning rings, etc) so that you don’t notice the Very Bloody Obvious.

This addresses the flying routine with the box and all.

And her is David flying around like Peter Pan. All the cheesey harnessed-based movements youd expect. Matches the computer animation, rings and all, explained above.

Cheesier than I anticipated.

Am I the only one who thinks that Copperfield’s flying is very clumsily executed? He’s always either pivoting around the attachment point at his waist, or he’s being moved around by the crane, never a combination of the two, which makes it painfully obvious that there is an attachment point. I’ve seen much better in, say, performances of Peter Pan.

I with you. He never makes an effort to move in a way that doesn’t remind everyone of someone flying around on the typical harness.

I also remember seeing this special on tv and was really impressed, not just with the illusion portion of it, but from an esthetic point of view it was beautiful to watch. He clearly spent many hours in the rig, coordinating the movements. He really seemed to swim throught the air. As far as the illusion goes, his performance was almost flawless. After watching it a dozen times, pausing it, watching it frame by frame, I never saw a wire. The only flaw I saw was at one point his baggy sweater gets pressed against his side by the wire(s) when he was rotating.

Yes, it was the beauty of the performance more than the illusion that impressed me too.

But even though that computer model explains the mechanics (thank you!) how does the harness work? If I suspend a bottle using two threads, it will remain vertical. If I attached a second bottle to one end (to simulate picking up a second person), it will spin until the second bottle is on the bottom.

When DC is in mid-air and does a sommersault, I see no obvious “throwing” of his weight to begin the spin. Is the harness motorized? Is there some locking mechanism on the harness that anchors the angle of the cords? How is the lock engaged/disengaged? by DC or the crane operator?

In First Class, of course.

The mechanics have been covered fairly well. Just jumping in to add that the first time I saw Copperfield in person, the overall experience was as close as I’ve ever come to feeling that real magic existed in the world.

I’m as analytical and skeptical as they come. In the back of my mind I knew everything was an illusion. I even knew the secret to a lot of the tricks he did. But, man what a show.

That is all.

David Copperfield is secretly a Ninja.

That video at MetaCafe is a little confused. He keeps talking about the “two ropes” that suspend the performer. Actually, there are 14 very thin wires on either side of the harness. The video has shots of the patent drawings (check at 0:33) for the apparatus which show exactly what it looks like. You can also search for it at the US Patent Office site if you are so inclined, but freezing the video will let you take a pretty good look at how it works. As you’ll see, the wires fan out from the performer’s waist and spread across wide support beams above him. This gives him the stability that two wires, or ropes, would not.

Freeze-frame it at 3:05, when they’re spinning the double-ring around him. Look at the eyes of the girls w/ the rings. They’re looking at the top of it.

Ditto, totally. I mentioned to my family how beautiful it was, and I just kept on using the word “swimming” over and over.

BUT – IIRC, the final portion of the show had him outside the theater, over the street, flying over the people who were on the sidewalk. My first thought was that this was not really part of the show, only the closing credits, so maybe they could get away with some trick photography. But the people on the sidewalk were clearly looking and pointing at him, and that had convinced me that there couldn’t be any wires. Now I’m thinking that perhaps they were not random passersby, but part of the crew, who were able to see the cranes and such. Anyone else remember that part of the show?

You remember correctly. But those people watching outside would have been stooges who could see the workings of the illusion, as you speculate. Ditto the folks sitting on the stage during the performance and the girl he flies away with.

So, in a related way, how does he do this duck trick?

I get that there’s a second duck in the bucket (that semi-hinged lid probably helps obscure it during the initial “show”), but what happened to the first duck?

The box is disassembled into very thin portions. The stool has legs you can see through, and does not appear to be thick enough to conceal the duck, and DC certainly doesn’t continue to have the duck on him. Is it perhaps a fake duck? (looks real enough to me)

It’s probably an easy answer but watching it several times, I’m flummoxed.

No, David Copperfield is actually Chuck Norris and Chuck Norris doesn’t need ropes to fly he only needs a reason.

Discussed to death here. Pretty simple, like all tricks once you know the trick. As others have pointed out, it’s the showmanship that really makes it work.