Magic: Making Big Things Disappear

There was a show on TV last night, hosted by Harry Anderson, that purported to explain how (actually, they said “why”) various magic tricks work. Like most of these shows, it explained some simple parlour tricks but didn’t really explain anything interesting.

They showed one illusion where magician Franz Harary apparently made a mountain disappear. They suggested it was an optical illusion, but said no more than that. (Actually, they implied that nobody knew but Franz Harary and perhaps his assistants.)

Anyway, I’ve looked at that segment over and over again and I’m stumped. Actually, I don’t think there’s enough information on the tape to have all the necessary facts.

My question is: how did he do it?

This didn’t appear to be one of those tricks where the audience is looking through a window. The stage appeared to be “open air”, though I can’t guarantee that; there were metal-grid columns on either side of the audience that might have been holding up mirrors or something … I have no idea.

Anyway … does anybody know?

P.S. For any magicians out there who might be miffed that I would ask such a question, I’m not interested in being a killjoy. I am a skeptic by nature and I like to be aware of the various mechanisms of deception.

When David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty “disappear” in front of cameras and a live audience, I believe the whole stage was turned (unknown to the audience and cameras that were sitting on it). Obviously when the curtain was dropped, the viewing audience was facing away from the statue and appeared to be ‘gone’.

Lemme dig around for a link to verify this.

Sure, its a pretty common technique. The people watching are on a rotating platform, that rotates really really slowly. When the draw down the curtain, it rotates to another angle where you don’t see the mountain, up goes the curtain & poof! no more mountain.


If that were the case and they fell for it…people are dumber than I though.

Would people notice that NY was now on their left side, as apposed to their right side when they came in???

My 2 Cents.

Would anyone like to visit Britain and “disappear” the Millennium Dome?

(I’m usually very anti-exposure, but since it’s out…)

If I understand correctly, they didn’t turn the stage very far. The statue was seen through two large towers that held up the curtain. With the curtain pulled, the stage turned just enough so that one of the towers was between the audience and the statue.

Dr. J

I’m aware of the “moving stage” trick … that’s why I mentioned that the audience wasn’t “looking through a window”.

When the magician on the show made the mountain disappear (actually, he made it MOVE), I doubt the stage was turned. As I said, the stage appeared to be “open air”, with clouds clearly visible above and to the side of the “curtain” held up by the two assistants. Visually, most of the background was visible and only the mountain itself was covered over.

As I said, the stage appeared to be “open air”. The effect was that the people were outside, not in an enclosed area. Of course, there’s the question of those metal grid-work columns … I don’t know why they were there.

The mountain was out at sea, and you could see a stone jetty protruding sea-ward. Some portion of that jetty was visible at all times, so if they’d moved the stage, people would have noticed. Moreover, when the “curtain” is removed, you can plainly see the jetty, with the mountain in a completely different position relative to it.

Hmmm … I’m wondering if that jetty might have been part of the illusion. I’m trying to think if it’s possible that somehow the stage was moved but somehow the parallax shift was exaggerated. I have no idea how that would be possible. I know you can etch glass with a laser to make light act in funny ways, but I didn’t any evidence of a large pane of glass … unless it was between the audience and the magician (such that the camera couldn’t see the top of it).

That would explain the metal grid-work columns. Perhaps the audience thought they were in a large glass-enclosed booth as “protection from the wind” or something, but that fact wasn’t mentioned to the TV audience.

I’m really reaching, here…

Sometimes the audience is in on it.

I saw the one you’re talking about, but I don’t remember how it was done. I think they changed the angles just enough to obscure the mountain, but leave the jetty.

While I didn’t see the show mentioned I am pretty certain that one (or a combination) of the methods mentioned were used to affect the vanish. My question is: Who cares? Hell, when Copperfield vanished the Statue of Liberty in the early eighties it was novel. It was also “just for television”. That should have been the end of it. Now it seems that every television special featuring magic must end with some mondo-humongous mega trick involving the vanish of a building or the teleportation of some starlet across the Grand Canyon. My question stands: Who cares? Gimme a good close-up magician any day.

BTW, how’re you doin’ DoctorJ? We always seems to meet up on any question around here regarding magic. Where’s sdimbert?

I agree: it’s possible that the audience was in on it. When he moved the mountain, they clapped appreciatively instead of gasping, fainting, running amok etc. I mean, it’s a friggin’ mountain f’r cryin’ out loud!

Still, I think it would be breaking a magicians code of some kind to fake it that way.

I didn’t see the show. So I can’t complete all the details. duh. However, the rotating platform is indeed how it is often done. You really don’t think that he made a real mountain delete do you?

If you really want to know, ask about it in:
alt.magic.secrets you’ll have the real answer.

From talking to the folks at Abbott’s Magic Company, they seem to think the audience was in on it and that it was all camera tricks.

You’ve nailed it. Slydini could do more amazing tricks in five minutes than David Copperfield could in his entire career.

The audience is indeed usually in on the gag. Watch for other background cues to confirm that the stage has been moved (such as clouds, which I noticed moved quite a bit in the 10 seconds that the space shuttle was covered by the curtain during one such illusion). Note also that, although the space to the audience’s sides is usually open, the camera usually perfectly frames the curtain supports, so that the camera sees nothing peripheral after the curtain is drawn.

Those big tricks don’t often impress me anymore, but there’s one I have yet to figure out: Copperfield’s “walking through the Great Wall of China” stunt. I mean, walking through a wall is fairly stock, but I haven’t figured out how he got to the other side so quickly without anyone noticing or his being captured on camera. Perhaps ol’ Dave has a double…

Sorry, sorry… got here late. :slight_smile:

I agree with you 100%, mono. Magic ceases to be worthwhile when the focus becomes the method instead of the effect.

I mean, no one, no one really believes Harary makes crap that big vanish. So there is no wonder. Everyone becomes concerned with the method. The only possible outcomes are audience anger, if they can’t figure out the method, or audience cynicism if they can (or at least think they have). It’s a no-win for the art of magic.


Remember that “Flying Across the Grand Canyon” crap that Copperfield did? He didn’t even televise that, did he? As far as I know, he just published blurry pictures. Wow.

It annoys me when “magicians” perform this sort of crap. It makes me think well of a local magician here in KC who does a show that consists of almost no magical effects at all. He manages to play around so entertainingly that the magical methods are secondary to the sense of wonder and humor he creates (like David WIlliamson, but calmer).

Remember Al Goshman? People would sit all day long and watch him slip bottle caps back under the salt shaker. Even if they saw him do it, they loved his show, because it was about the effect and not the method.


Fourteen posts in and nobody linked to the relevant Straight Dope column yet? Tsk, tsk.

My browser won’t link, so I’ll throw in 1.5 cents.

Tim, I’ve seen the same program with Harry Anderson. But I’ve also seen another special with that magician in it where they do completely reveal the secret. He creates a large, highly detailed mural that is perspectively correct (new term?) that the audience sees set up through that metal scaffolding. Notice that the seating for the audience isn’t very wide, and they are fairly far away from where the mural is placed, which reduces the angle of the vanishing point.

I hope that’s right. Its been a while. Can someone sum up the link above for me?

Houdini is often cited as the greatest magician in history,
but why? He was most famous for doing escapes. I find it hard to think of escapes as “magic” in the same sense as
close-up magic with cards and balls, or even big stage acts
where somebody gets sawn in half, or vanishes.

So somebody escapes
from chains and handcuffs, well, big deal. Not that I could do it myself, but there’s no sense of wonder and suspension of disbelief that should be the result of true magic.

Posted by Javaman: Houdini is often cited as the greatest magician in history, but why?

Houdini was a magician first and foremost. He was also a showman. When he discovered how big escapes played to his audience, they became his “gimmick”; the way he garnered publicity and filled the halls for his shows. In his early days Houdini’s posters proclaimed him the “King of Cards” and he and his wife/assistant, Bess, performed stage illusions. But by and far it was the almost single-minded pursuit of publicity that allowed Houdini to achieve his success and legendary reputation among both magicians and laymen. It’s exactly the same thing that Copperfield’s managed to do with the Statue of Liberty vanish-the illusion itself wasn’t all that spectacular, but people remember it and associate the effect with him even today (@ 18 years later).

And sdimbert, while I won’t attempt to quote from your earlier rant, I’m with you! It seems that the only way that a producer can sell a magic special to network television is by promising some goofy “mega-illusion” that can be used as a teaser to keep the audience tuned in. Hell, bring on quality magic presented by top-quality performers and there’s no reason people won’t watch.
Take Lennert Green for example. Here’s a guy who was selected to compete at FISM (sort of an Olympic competition for magicians held every three years) with his close-up card act. He was so good that the judges assumed that he was using gimmicked cards (a no-no akin to illegal drug use at the Olympic games) and disqualified him. BTW he was using regular cards and managed to return three years later and take first place with the same act.

And RealityChuck: Ditto on your comments about Slydini.

Hope I haven’t taken the OP too far afield here-apologies if I did so-but I think the comments of myself and others apply.

Connor: Your suggestion that a mural was used has a few problems (such as the fact that a lot of background was visible at all times), but it’s much better than my arcane hologram idea.

It occurs to me that the “curtain” (actually a large cloth) was moved sideways by the assistants, and if there was a moveable mural, it could have slid along. It would be interesting to get some GIFs of the scene and see if the background clouds could match up in TWO places.

Yup, I think you’re on to something: the audience did not expect to see perspective, since everything was so far away.

Incidentally, for the person who suggested that I might find the answer in alt.magic.secrets: their FAQ says that people who ask, “How did so-and-so do such-and-such?” will probably get flamed. It’s still a good newsgroup, though, with lots of little tricks explained.

Finally, like many people here, I prefer a good close-up magician to the wretched “artistic” excess of David Copperfield and his ilk. I keep wanting him to just get the darn trick DONE and stop dancing around.