The Magic Café
Username:
Password:
[ Lost Password ]
  [ Forgot Username ]
The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Notes from a Designer's Logbook - by George Ledo » » On inspiration and adaptation: a trade secret revealed (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

George Ledo
View Profile
Magic Café Columnist
SF Bay Area
2871 Posts

Profile of George Ledo
This is an expanded version of a post I made in pmzz.org as a response to a comment on using copyrighted material and the "fact" that there's nothing new in the world. As a professional creative person, I believe very strongly that we can not only still come up with new and fresh ideas, but that we will be able to continue to do so for a long time. It's all in the mentality and the intention.

******

I'm continually amazed at the amount of discussion in the magic forums as to what's acceptable and ethical when using someone else's effects, or what's legal or illegal to borrow or adapt, or what the owners and/or their lawyers might or might not do. It would seem that the amount of time and energy being spent to discuss this, and to justify or “work around” using someone else's intellectual property, could be put to better use either creating something new or just looking for something else.

Of course, if we like an effect that much, buying it is always an option -- what a concept!

But a fundamental question still remains. If we see something we like, can we use it as the starting point for something new and entirely our own? And to what degree is it legal, ethical, and acceptable to adapt from it? Where is the dividing line between using someone else's work as inspiration, and downright knocking it off?

The funny thing is that using someone else's work as inspiration is nothing new: architects, writers, musicians, creative persons, and lots of other creatives have been doing this for centuries, in a way that is perfectly acceptable, legal, and ethical in the real world. Real creative types don't like to steal ideas -- they like to think their ideas are better than someone else's. It's an ego thing, and for them ego is a far stronger motivator than finding a good loophole.

So I'm about to reveal a secret (Oooooo noooooo, Mr. Bill!). Part of what I'm going to say is from a book I'm writing on how to turn your home into a Halloween attraction using professional theatre and theme-park techniques but on a low budget. As I already mentioned, it's a secret that's been used by lots of creatives for centuries.

Obviously, I'm going to oversimplify here; I'm not looking to split hairs or get into semantics, or to show how to find loopholes. I'm just going to explain what professional creatives very often do.

Ready for this trade secret? Okay, here it is: "Go for the original source."

Let's say you want to do a fairy-tale castle like Cinderella's digs at Disneyland. Don't adapt from her castle. Do what Disney's creative persons did: take a look at Schloss Neuchswanstein. It's a real castle, built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 1800's and it's still there. That, plus a couple of books on Arthur Rackham and other children's book illustrators from the early 20th century will provide lots of ideas. Adapt from that. Lots of small amusement parks, miniature golf courses, and book illustrators have done this, and it's perfectly legal and acceptable.

Of course, lots have also adapted from the real Cinderella’s castle, and the results show it. Not what we want to do here.

Wanna do a cartoon mouse character? Look at a real mouse. At least one comic strip in my area has a mouse. It doesn't look or act anything like Mickey, so it's a totally different character, and therefore Disney's legal department probably couldn't care less.

Wanna do a modern-day adaptation of West Side Story? Go to Romeo and Juliet. Or better yet, go to some of Willie's original sources for the play.

Wanna do an adaptation of Star Wars? Study Bullfinch and Joseph Campbell.

Incidentally, the creative persons at LucasFilm have turned this technique into an art form. They have adapted so much of their visual design from classical architecture, animals, machinery, regional dress, and other sources that it's mind-boggling. And they do it beautifully and seamlessly.

Did J.K. Rowling invent most of her stuff? Heck no. Hogwarts is based on real castles; in fact, some of the outdoor scenes were filmed at a real castle. The idea of a boarding school where students and faculty wear robes is very British; and the wands, trolls, and so on are based on lots of research. A lot of the spells are plays-on-words on Latin terms. And some of the place names ("Diagon Alley") are downright puns.

Okay, fine, so it’s easy to say, “Go to the original source and come up with something new.” Not everybody is a creative person; not everybody went to design school and spent years learning how to draw, paint, build, and so forth. But you don't need to be a creative person or a genius to come up with a fresh idea -- and I can guarantee you that most of us in the design professions aren’t geniuses.

In the next post, I'll bring this whole argument home and right into the world of magic.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
www.georgefledo.net

Latest column: "Sorry about the photos in my posts here"
George Ledo
View Profile
Magic Café Columnist
SF Bay Area
2871 Posts

Profile of George Ledo
Before we go on, I guess I need to point out that this technique, as simple and straightforward as it sounds, may not work in all cases. As I said in the introductory note, my main interest in magic is in illusions and stage manipulation, so I'm not very familiar with card tricks and other close-up effects. I believe the basic idea here could still work in these cases, but it may need a little tweaking.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
www.georgefledo.net

Latest column: "Sorry about the photos in my posts here"
George Ledo
View Profile
Magic Café Columnist
SF Bay Area
2871 Posts

Profile of George Ledo
Say you like Johnny Amazing's Floating Vacuum Cleaner, which won first prize at last year's Inter-Galactic Federation of Magicians conclave. Now Johnny is selling it. You love this thing, but it doesn't quite exactly fit into your show "as is," so you don't want to buy it.

But you don't want to rip him off, either. That's the key right there.

So what to do?

First, look at the thing itself. It's a vacuum cleaner, a free-standing device that people in the audience will (hopefully) recognize as an ordinary household item. That’s all it is.

And it floats on command. That’s all it does.

Second, look at it as a magician. Basically the thing floats. It has some connection to the old floating table from Hoffman’s days, but, from the presentation and the photos, we can guess that Johnny probably uses a method more related to Zombie.

Now here’s what a typical creative person would think, more or less in order:

“Okay, so we have this floating household item that seems to be at least somewhat based on Zombie.”

“Why does it have to be a vacuum cleaner? I like the idea of a floating household item, but it could be anything else.”

“Why Zombie? There are other ways of floating stuff.”

“Why does it have to float vertically? Why can’t it tilt and float horizontally?”

“How else can I float this thing? Let’s see what the literature says…”

And, eventually, he or she would ask a very, very important question:

“What resources do I have with which to build whatever I come up with? How much can I spend? What are my limits? Would I be better off just buying Johnny's effect itself?”

After a few days of coming up with more questions, and letting ideas rattle around inside his or her head, our creative person would come up with another floating item, possibly using a combination of methods. And he or she would know that building the thing (or paying to have it built) is feasible.

The final result, whatever it is, will have been inspired (no question about it) by Johnny’s vacuum cleaner. But, if our creative person did his or her homework and started from the basics, it will be a totally different floating effect. It will be new and fresh.

And it will not be a rip-off.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine
www.georgefledo.net

Latest column: "Sorry about the photos in my posts here"
The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Notes from a Designer's Logbook - by George Ledo » » On inspiration and adaptation: a trade secret revealed (0 Likes)
[ Top of Page ]
All content & postings Copyright © 2001-2020 Steve Brooks. All Rights Reserved.
This page was created in 0.16 seconds requiring 5 database queries.
The views and comments expressed on The Magic Café
are not necessarily those of The Magic Café, Steve Brooks, or Steve Brooks Magic.
> Privacy Statement <

ROTFL Billions and billions served! ROTFL