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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Notes from a Designer's Logbook - by George Ledo » » Illusion and prop design, Part 3: Conceptualization, aka Schematic Design (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

George Ledo
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I covered this subject briefly in the column on phasing, but now I’m going to go more into it, as I feel it’s the most important part of a successful design project.

Let’s say I want to build a Square Circle. The simplest approach is to say, well, an SD is about so big, so high, has the tube inside, and has an opening in the front. I can paint it this color, or that color, and maybe use a grille to cover the hole. Done deal.

Reading through the Café, however, I’ve found that members have designed and made SD’s in a number of different ways, basically taking the old principle and using it in a different “container.” Sometimes these new “containers” are designed to work visually and thematically with the rest of the show, which is very effective from a theatrical point of view.

The whole process starts with conceptualization, which is just a fifty-cent word that, in this case, means “What the heck do I want to do?” It starts with inspiration, and inspiration generally starts with research. And, as I’ve said before, research can come from anywhere -- from simply keeping all the mind-files open at the same time.

Conceptualization is also where we refuse to take anything for granted.

So let’s say I do a character act geared towards a family audience, mostly straight magic with a bit of a whimsical twist. My character (my on-stage persona) is Elbert Mackelbery, a slightly bumbling but very likeable history buff who’s traveled the world looking for magic. Obviously, I’m just making this up on the fly…

Anyway, so Elbert has this “box” with a window and another box inside, and he can show it empty and then pull stuff out of it. But what’s the box? Where did it come from? What’s the story behind it? And, just as important, what will it be sitting on? His magic table? Its own stand?

Here’s where research comes in: travel magazines, art history books, a few National Geographics. Maybe the illustrated edition of The da Vinci Code. Suddenly something grabs me: a photo of a tower-like building in Tuscany, showing the effects of time and weather, and with a large arched opening in front.

Now, since all my mind-files are open, I think that Elbert could have a blast with an architectural model of such a building: a model he picked up in Italy. And maybe the model came with its own display stand. Now there’s a background to this thing, and it’s consistent with my character.

That’s inspiration. That’s where I want to go.

Now, with the books open in front of me, I start doing very small sketches, very loosely, just to get the overall idea down. At this point I don’t care about the details; I’m only interested in the shape and proportions. Maybe I need to do more research – furniture books, or museum catalogs – to get an idea for the stand. My very small and very loose sketches are taking that building that originally inspired me, and slowly but steadily turning it into a Square Circle.

But I’m not done yet. Here’s where I refuse to take anything for granted. Maybe the front of the building has the arch and some architectural elements. But the sides don’t have to be stone. Why do they have to be stone? It’s an old architectural model, isn’t it?

So maybe the sides and back are where the original architect did some more sketches, or made notes, or put in some symbols. Maybe the windows and stuff on the inside box were just drawn in pen and ink. Back to research. Architectural models. The notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Period sketches and drawings. Photoshop.

More very small and very loose sketches: I’m still in the conceptual stage, so I don’t need to get into the details yet. That’ll come next.

I can't emphasize this enough -- I keep it loose at this point. I think about the forest, not about the trees.

But finally I have a very small and very loose sketch of my Square Circle on its stand, and I know in my mind exactly what Elbert will do with it on stage.

That’s conceptualization.
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
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Magic Café Columnist
SF Bay Area
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It’s Sunday morning and I’m starting on my second coffee, so I’m going to do a little rambling... Smile

The example above – including the building I used for inspiration – was based simply on the fact that I spent fifteen years in the architectural field and am tuned in to this stuff. It would have been just as easy to pick something else if my interests and background were different. A Square Circle is really just a set of nesting containers; it doesn’t have to be a square outer box with a cylinder inside.

For instance, just picking out a few ideas at random... two nesting cardboard boxes (a package from a magic shop?), with a window in the outside box; a jewelry chest with an inner box (look at some of Faberge’s work for the Russian court); two nesting pieces of Sonotube, HVAC duct, or stovepipe; a small dollhouse (hmmm... there I go with the architecture again).

Some time back I had an idea for an SC designed along the lines of something from a starship, like the food replicator from Star Trek. This could be a lot of fun, except for one thing. To me, if it’s a piece of scientific or technological gear, it’s not magic. But yet, if it’s not a piece of equipment from the ship, but just a set of nested containers, it could still be magic. Here’s where I started playing with octagonal shapes to create a different look.

And here’s where I also started playing with doors (hinging and sliding) on the outer box to give the prop more interest and create more possibilities.

So -- getting away from architecture -- if we look at a set of nested boxes, with the outer one having a door, we can begin to expand the options. An Egyptian funerary chest. A display box from Merlin’s castle. Some kind of reliquary (think Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code, or Preston and Child’s The Relic or Cabinet of Curiosities, among many others). An Art Deco display case. A Victorian medium’s ghost cabinet. Something from the kitchen in a haunted house.

So far we’re still in the conceptual stage: we’re not concerned with the details or with how to build the prop. But this is a really good time to start thinking about the storyline and presentation.
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
And, once more, just to show that inspiration can come from anywhere...

Think of an old Victorian house that burned down or collapsed. Somewhere in the rubble we found a section of the original kitchen stove flue (made of lath and plaster) with a section of stovepipe inside. This doesn't need to have a "haunted house" theme: think Sherlock Holmes, or the opening scenes in Titanic, or an old West story, or even Santa Claus.
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 » » Illusion and prop design, Part 3: Conceptualization, aka Schematic Design (0 Likes)
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