Just as stairs are a magician's friend that enables him to accomplish all sorts of appearances and disappearances, bases act in a similar way.
We touched on bases when we mentioned the classic sawing in half effect, and there is no doubt that they are the single most common item in countless stage illusions. Sometimes they are combined with other principles too, but you will not find a stage illusion show that doesn't use some kind of base as part of an effect.
So what do we mean by bases? A base is an area of a prop that can conceal one or more persons. However, they are carefully built so as to look much thinner than they really are, as well as to look as though they are meant to be just a simple support for the main prop. For example, stage illusions are often wheeled on and off stage. It's this base which supports the main prop that is sometimes the secret to the trick, although audiences obviously perceive the base to be just that - just the bottom part of the prop that's used to wheel the main item on stage.
Sometimes bases have physical trapdoors that allow the performer to exit or enter, but very often a material known as spandex is used. Spandex is a flexible, black material that when stretched across a frame appears to be a solid surface. By using two pieces of spandex slightly overlapping in the middle, a secret compartment is created that makes it even easier to exit and enter.
As for the depth of the base, there are some clever techniques that make it look narrower. For example, building in an angle from the edge creates an illusion of a narrower depth. Sometimes a thin colourful line is painted down the side of the base, this too is an optical illusion to make it appear much smaller than it is.
Another factor that helps is that most stage illusions are custom made for the particular magician or assistant that is in the show. In real terms this means that the individual is measured precisely, and the props are built to their specifications - so a strict diet is also needed! The plus side is that the props are built no larger than necessary; they accommodate the magician or assistant, but no more.
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