by Paul Driscoll

The preceding thoughts are from a man who knows the illusion business "from the inside out"...Mr. Johnny Gaughan. His thoughts, quoted here from the April, 1974 issue of Genii magazine, echo my feelings on the presentation of illusions.

I believe that to be a great illusionist, you must possess a variety of skills, more than are necessary for any other branch of magic. There is so much more to performing illusions well than just purchasing the prop and learning the mechanics of it.

The action of wheeling an odd looking cabinet on stage, placing a person in it and dividing that person into two parts is not "magic" and it is not entertainment.. .it is a puzzle. A good illusionist does not deal in puzzles, he deals in entertainment, as should any professional entertainer. An audience will not pay to see someone present a puzzle___not even Rubik's Cube with a line of dancers and back-up singers can produce real entertainment.

you be working on and set-up problems show over".

3. Will the illusion require a special sized assistant? Will you be restricted to

PrinfSAf^rS^StaM ?«rfoi™nce? ^ e^ple being the classic Disembodied

Princess. After investing in a replica of the young lady's face, you will want to make sure she will be around for more than just a few bookings.

4. What do you want to accomplish with the illusion? Are you shooting for a dramatic or comedy presentation? Will the illusion be part of an overall segment or skit?

5. What method of transportation do you have? A car, station wagon, van, truck, tractor trailor, etc. Consider the size of the illusion and the other props you will be transporting.

Once an illusion has been chosen...WHO SHOULD BUILD IT?

I have had illusions constructed for my show in two manners; by local craftsmen and by established illusion builders. The majority of my props were custom made by magic builders, but there are a few that were produced through what might) be called the "do-it-yourself" plan.

When I worked under this plan I employed a number of local craftsmen for several different projects. These men were not experienced in the construction of magic props, but they were master craftsmen who could work their own special magic with their hands and a shop full of tools. I did not merely hand them a set of plans and say,"go to it". I worked with them very closely all the way through the planning and building process. This was part of our agreement. I sawed, nailed, glued and even painted...the glamour of magic.

I provided all the materials right down to the last nut and bolt. The craftsman was paid a fee, for which he supplied his expertise and workshop. Basically, you are looking at the cost of materials and the builder's fee. Also, you must consider your time, which is a very valuable commodity.

Beside the economics, there are other advantages to "doing-it-yourself", such as the quality control factor. You are there at every turn to oversee the project. If a problem arises, you are on hand to evaluate it.

Building an illusion well is by no means a simple task. Even when you have the finest plans available...such as the ones from Illusion will encounter "hidden" headaches along the way. This is even more true when you are building an original, untested illusion. However, the solving of these problems can be rewarding and can contribute to the overall satisfaction of building the illusion yourself.

When I first ventured into the world of illusions I had my first props built by local craftsmen...mainly for economic reasons. I was very fortunate to have two friends who were master craftsmen...Sam Hawkins and Sam Gainer. These two gentlemen contributed a great deal to the success of my show.

The other option in illusion building is to turn the job over to a commercial magic builder. The majority of the illusions in my show were constructed by two of the finest builders in the business today, John Gaughan and Associates and George klmerv of Chalet Magic.

I would recommend that you contact the builders to obtain a price quote illusion you desire. If it is a standard item, such as a Zig Zag Girl or Thin Sawing simply write or better yet, call for a quote. Unless it is a totally unique illusion or concept, he should be able to provide a price.

Options and modifications of this nature will definitely afiect the p2ce. ^^

If the illusion is a creation of your own, something that has never been h,HT-

haye to consult with him and provide more information. .. J ILelv sietc^.T '

illustrate your concept. Once the builder has an idea of what you waii and ^ it can indeed be constructed, he will work up a price. This price may be a "baU park" f^re as he does not know exactly what his production costs will be. He knows exactlv hof^h it costs to build a Zig Zag as he has turned out dozens. Once he p^nges"toiteming process he should be able to pinpoint the price. build-

While I recommend you contacting the builders for quotes, please do not call or write these gentlemen unless you are sincerely interested in having something built. These men are very, very busy. Please do not call just for curiousity's sake.

Now that you have the price quotes, what is the next step? Let me emphasize that the price alone should not be the bottom line when making your choice. You must consider the track record of the builder. Try to see a sample of their work, and speak with a few of their customers and clients. A preview of their craftsmanship may be as close as your own television screen, as many of the builders produce illusions for many of the television magic specials...check the credits.

If you are interested in a particular illusion, such as the Thin Sawing, try to see one that has been built by each of the builders. No illusion builder constructs the Thin Sawing in quite the same fashion. Granted, the basic illusion and mechanics are the same, but there are subtle design differences, paint schemes, graphics, etc. Determine which model appeals to you.


If the illusion is being produced by a commercial magic builder, you can rest assured that he will be using the finest materials. They have the experience and expertise to choose the correct materials for each illusion.

If you are "doing-it-yourself", do not try to cut corners by purchasing cheaper, inferior plywood. In the long run you will regret it. I recommend the use of birch in the construction of illusions.

When working with a magic builder, you must express your desires for any special materials, trim or accents, such as plexiglass, chrome or brass plated trim etc. Whil on the subject of metal trim and accents on props, I would like to

"polished" aluminum rather than chrome plated trim. On stage you cannot disting one from the other, and the aluminum is much less expensive, £

polished to a "chrome" appearance, you will need to cieck the finish. Otherwise, it will require frequent cleaning, due to the tarnishi g

Yellow Pages under "Plating" for those metal shops who plate ^ ^

A wide variety of finishes are available, brass, chrome, copper, nickel,

Consider everv phase and segment of the H^ion Make "^^^^^^i.^otos^nd vour requirements to the builder. I make "^^^erything, from the color color samples when working with a builder ^J^^n o^ation'and then follow up of paint I want to the type of casters I send ^ inform ^ ^ ^^ „ lls with many phone calls to go over e^ Sat^e shouldContact me should he have any will show. I also stress to thebui:"«^^^/^"iation. I want no "surprises question on how to handle a particular problem or when the illusion arrives.

Know exactly what you are getting. I cannot imagine anyone simply ordering an illusion without any discussion of color scheme, design, etc. But, I am sure it happens Leave nothing to chance.

As for color schemes and design, the skyfs the limit. You can direct the builder in these areas. Perhaps you desire an Oriental look...Egyptian...High-Tech...or even Art

Deco. If presenting the illusion within a "themed" or "period" setting, the design and decoration are vital considerations.

If staging a Wild West magic segment, you would not want the illusion to feature plexiglass and chrome trim. The illusion would need to have a Western flavor...a rustic look with natural wood finish and perhaps brass plated trim.

An illusion can have many faces. A fine example, the classic Nest Of Trunks illusion. This illusion can assume any look you desire. Harry Blackstone's masterful presentation of the illusion takes place in a circus ring setting, so his trunks became brightly colored circus trunks. His lovely wife, Gay, is shot from a cannon to the suspended nest of trunks.

David Copperfield presented the same illusion, under a different guise, on one of his television specials. The setting was a discotheque, so the trunks were transformed into large speakers...which would logically be found hanging in a disco. When Bernadette Peters vanished, she was found inside the nest of speakers.

In my show, the illusion is presented in a mysterious waterfront setting. Speakers and circus trunks wouldn't quite blend in with the waterfront atmosphere, so the trunks became "cargo crates". The boxes are painted to resemble packing crates...the type normally found on the docks.

In each of these presentations, the illusion has been "camouflaged" to logically blend into the overall picture and not look like a "magic box".


The cost can be determined quite easily if you are building the illusion yourself. Simply figure the cost of materials and the builder1s fee. However, I would allow an emergency fund of $50 to $100 for any unexpected expenses, as it is almost impossible to foresee every expense.

If the illusion is being constructed by a magic builder you should be able to obtain a price or price estimate. Keep in mind that the price will always by F.O.B., making you responsible for all shipping charges. Don't forget to include in your budget the cost of a case for the illusion. I will cover the subject of cases a bit later.

My experiences have shown that the builder will require a deposit "up front", of at least half the total amount, with the remaining half due upon delivery of the prop.


If building the illusion yourself, the production time will largely depend on how much time you are prepared to devote to the project. When can you work? Evenings. Weekends? When I worked with a local builder, we worked evenings during the week ana all day on weekends. Working around my show schedule and his work schedule, a month of hard work was required to complete the illusion. This included locating materials, building and painting.

When dealing with a magic builder, he will most likely ask you about your lead time, or when you have to have it in your hands to begin rehearsals. Heshould providea fairly accurate time estimate. If it is a rush order the price will automatically

1. Build your own case or packing crate.

2. Have your illusion builder construct a case.

3. Have a case manufactured by a commercial case company.

The majority of cases currently used in my show were constructed by a commercial case company, so I will concentrate on this aspect. I recommend Anvil brand cases for maximum protection and durability. Sometimes called "flight cases", they are widely used by rock bands, orchestras and various touring shows to protect their sound gear, instruments and props. They have also become very popular with the magic world protecting valuable equipment and illusions.

These heavy duty cases are made from laminated plywood with a ^^tot^c»^in a resistant surface bonded on...usually plastic or fiberg^ss. They ^^ rainbow of colors. The wide range of colors is not for aesthetic reasons ^ ^ ^

Suppose you have a dozen or so cases in your truck stage crew in the case containing the Asrah illusion. The typical ifJ°m The onl* problem would be, ^ich one is that?" "Oh, it's the b Ue on T^JS. wQuld allow for is, all the cases happen to be blue. You can see wny t easy color coding of the cases, simplifying procedures.

While fairly light in weight, the cases are practically indestructible. Each case is foam lined and features heavy duty hardware throughout.

-ho «-Lze design and options. This may Case prices ^^ around $300, depending on the size, desig

Determine your lead time, allowing sufficient time for shipping rehearsals < generally getting to know the illusion. Do not cut your lead tiJ ?!t jUSt on the builder's work load, it will take at least four ^ < f * Sh°rt- DePe"ding the builder is involved in'a major project s^as^c n r^ %^lu^s' V

assorted smaller props for a television magic special or an amuLment park shoi his manpower will be solely devoted to this undertaking. An order for a single Zigzag illusion will be placed on the back burner. g 8

Also, allow time to make adjustments once you have received the prop. I have yet to receive an illusion that did not require a few minor adjustments. I do not care who constructs it, or how well it is made, you will have to perform a few odd ioh* m it exactly right for your needs and routining. ---

increase, as it will require overtime.


Basically, there are two methods to ship illusions from the builder to you. The most expedient and expensive is air freight. Unless there is an urgent need to have the illusion the next day, I would not recommend air freight. Shipping charges will run from $200 to $1,000, depending on the size and weight of the prop and, of course, the individual airline's pricing structure. Another drawback is that the shipment must be picked up at the airport.

Motor freight, on the other hand, will pick up the illusion from the builder and deliver it to your front door. It is the most economical way to ship illusions, with costs ranging from $100 to $200. Delivery time averages a week to ten days. These estimates are based upon previous shipments from Los Angeles to Houston, approximately 1,400 miles.

As for crating of the illusion, there are several options:

Regardless of the route you take, get a case for your illusion. After investing hundreds or thousands of dollars in a piece of equipment, it would be foolish to not protect your investment.


In some instances time will not allow the case company to ship the case to the builder in time to meet your deadline. In this event, the builder can crate the illusion in a temporary packing case to protect it during shipment. This temporary case is usually a simple wooden crate, but it will do the job until you have a permanent case built. The crating charge will be passed along to you in most cases.

A commercial case could then be purchased at a later date. Again, you will have another freight charge for the "empty" case. So you can see the ideal game plan is to have the illusion shipped in the case you intend to use, resulting in only one freight charge.

I have had illusions constructed here in Houston and then ordered cases through a magic builder, even though he did not build the prop.

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