Friday, July 22, 2011

On Creativity

There seems to be a common misconception on how an idea is brought into the world. We usually think of geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci who could conjure up complex ideas that are perfect the way they are.

That is not how it works. Any creative process starts with a brain storm. Basically every single idea you have is treated equally. This is the first step were people tend to fail. They get a thought and then dismiss it as being stupid and forget about it.

If you think of a magic trick for example people claim they start thinking of the effect and work out the methods later. An while this is generally true, it is far from being complete. Sometimes you have a nice method. And that method makes you think of many applications, creating new effects.

Let me give you an example. I have a split coin. While playing around with it, I realized I could fit an expanded shell over it. Then I played around some more, realizing, that when you have the gimmick in split condition, you can fit one half into the shell and the other half over the shell. The shell is basically sandwiched between the gimmicks. That "coin" can be handled quite naturally. you can show the front and then "split" the coin in two. and because the shell behind it becomes visible, there is no gimmick to be seen. It looks eerie and is fun to do. So that is when the coin fusion plot started to go off in my head.

What if I didn't bring my gimmicks? So I started working out a non gimmicked version. The result of that thinking has become the first few phases of my coin routine. So you see it started with a gimmick, which led to a method, which created an effect. Then the gimmick and the initial method became worthless (although I am sure Craig Petty might wanna sell that whole routine) and I got a solid routine that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

So creating magic is not that hard, if you do not oppress your own ideas. Sure 99% will be crap. But think of it as an idea dump. Whenever you got a creative spark, go back the the pile of ideas and see if you can manage to put stuff together. We all have this drawer of magic crap that we have bought over the years. Why not put that to good use?

And I forgot the biggest part. The best ideas are the ideas of others. Let me explain. You are just one person. With limits. The best magic ideas I ever had was when brainstorming with other magicians. Not with the kind of magicians who filter all their thoughts, no... the kind of magician that lets out every single word that comes to his mouth. And those words may spark off ideas that you would have never had.

I remember talking to another magician one day about Two in the Hand, One in the Pocket. We talked about changing the props. Instead of sponges or coins we thought about using nuts. So then one thing led to another. What could the new prop do? Well hazelnuts are great to manipulate. They have the right size, are organic and familiar. They are above suspicion. Walnuts are a great too for the same reason but you can have stuff in there. How about starting with a hazelnut, splitting it two and three and then doing Two in the Hand, One in the Pocket. (although at that point you don't have to do that anymore) In the end you are down to one hazelnut again and you transform it into a walnut. Then you could break the walnut and inside is the hazelnut. Oh wait... you see what's happening here? I write down a few I ideas I had in the past and now I think of additions.

Let's rewind a bit: How about are down to one hazelnut. You place that in your hand and then bring out a walnut. You drop the walnut into the same hand and when you open it, only the walnut is seen. Then you break the walnut and inside is the missing hazelnut.

Fuck that... forget I said anything. How about not using nuts at all? How about using buttons? They work like coins and, you could start off with a piece of cloth from which you drop the coins. The cloth is placed to the side. Now do a routine with the buttons. Maybe even Two in the Hand One in the pocket. At the end of the routine all the buttons are in the pocket. You reach for the cloth and proceed to put the buttons back in the cloth. You claim that you will vanish the buttons. People may peek into the cloth and will see the buttons you placed there.

But the vanish fails. Instead something else has happened. As the cloth is opened the buttons are seen to be sewed on.

Anyone with basic sleight of hand knowledge could work out the methods required within seconds.

But why stop at sleight of hand...?

Here is another idea for the ultimate card to wallet. Here is what the advertisement would say:

The wallet is placed on the table and opened up. In the one of the transparent compartments is a card. Just the back is being seen. "A prediction" the magician claims. The wallet remains open at all times. From a deck of cards a card is picked and signed on it's face. It's a free choice of the card. The card is lost and attention is brought towards the card in the wallet that has been there the whole time. The magician picks up the wallet and his empty fingers reach into the transparent compartment and he pulls out the card. The compartment is definitely empty, there is no place for a "dummy". The card is turned over (no switches at all) and it turns out that it is the signed selection.

Sounds good? How about combining the atrocity that is WOW (the face down version) by Masuda with a regular Mullica style wallet? The "cover" vanishes as soon as the real card is in. Now build that thing and sell it for about 140 dollars! Suddenly the plastic nature of the gimmick becomes an advantage.

Being creative is not that hard. Just don't force yourself to come up with a perfect idea. Sometimes it takes year to realize you can put two half backed ideas together making a much better trick. Here is an example. I used to do the standard matrix with the coins and the cards. I never liked the cards. Why cards? They got nothing to do with the trick. Then I used coasters. But the card/coaster always seemed to float on a flat surface. Also there was a noise issue on a hard surface. My routine changed over the years. Why the square layout? Basically it is all about the coins going under the one leader card. So I naturally I got rid of three of the cards and used just one.

At the same time I did a routine with a small frame purse. A coin would vanish and appear inside the purse. And then I put the two routines together.
Suddenly it solved all the issues. The purse makes sense, as the coins are there from the beginning. No more loose coins in the pocket. I used the purse instead of the card. There was no more "floating". The metal frame of the purse made a natural sound when placed on a hard surface, perfectly masking a sound of secret coin work. Also I had a kicker finish of the coins vanishing from under the purse and ending up inside, naturally ending and reseting the routine.

So was this creative...? I guess so. A small step for a man, but a giant leap for practicability.

Here is another thing. I have this table that I use on the street. On the table I have a cloth covering the table. Wind blew away the cloth. So I put a big rubber band around the table making sure the cloth was secure. Then I did my sponge ball routine. And at that point time it got really windy. So instead of placing the sponge balls on the table I put them under the rubber band. Natural thinking, but looking at it, how the rubber band seemed to split the ball I thought of the "Splitting the ball" move. I had a sponge ball palmed at that time. So I pinched the ball on the table with thumb and index finger of both hands and mimed pulling the ball apart. In reality I just pulled it free from the rubber band bringing the other sponge ball into view. It actually looks better than splitting it with the finger.

So this was a creative input by accident.

So here we go the with the inputs:

- by thinking about methods and effects
- by talking to other magicians
- by changing the props
- by combining ideas / existing props
- by accident

Now make of that what you will! See Andrew... you are not the only one who can write long articles. Hehe!


Harapan Santoso Ong said...

I like this post a lot.

My own way of looking at creativity is that it's a volume business. In other words, you come up with a 100 ideas, but only 10 of them are original, and only 2 of those 10 are even usable.

The key is not to stop creating and trying. The more effort you put in, the more you get out of it. Flashes of inspiration are rare and hard to come by. Hard work WORKS and can be more fun.

Just my thoughts on your post, which I like very much.

- harapan. magic!

Justin said...

In his (fucking excellent) introduction/essay to Carneycopia, John Carney basically lays out a similar concept. He says that when it comes to creating magic, a good thing to do is think of an effect, and then write down every possible method for it, good or bad. He goes on to point out that sometimes those bad methods will lead to the perfect solution.

The key is just doing the thing.

Great post.

darkstar said...

Nice Roland!

And I must say Justin just mentioned my favorite introduction in a book. That essay is powerful.

Bizzaro. said...

My create process is usually thus -
"Wouldn't it be funny/cool/weird/awesome/etc if (insert absurd thought here)?"

And then I go from there. Creating magic for the sake of magic makes for weak entertainment.