Friday, 30 April 2010

Walter Booth, Magician and Filmmaker.

In any of the popular histories of magic there is usually a slight detour into the era of silent films. The French filmmaker Georges Méliès is usually the example cited. A British equivalent to Méliès was Walter Booth. Lamentably, despite his creative contribution to film making he is possibly one of the most unappreciated and overlooked filmmakers of early British cinema.

Booth was born in 1869. He was a porcelain painter and an amateur magician. At some point, he joined Maskelyne and co. at The Egyptian Hall. Some time after that Booth joined the filmmaker R. W. Paul. I don’t know how that came about. It may have been because J. N. Maskelyne and R. W. Paul were friends and therefore Booth would have had the opportunity to meet Paul.

Booth brought a good deal of inspiration to R. W. Paul’s films. Trick photography and themes of magic and magic related topics became subjects of their silent films. Paul and Booth seemed to have shared Maskelyne’s scepticism towards Spiritualism and so there are a couple of humorous films on that, one of which includes an expose of the kinds of tricks that might be used at a fake séance.

Booth moved to several other film companies after leaving Paul’s firm. I do not know of any one DVD that brings together all of Booth’s existing films; however, the British Film Institute released the collected films of R. W. Paul (depending on the outlet where you buy a copy, prices can vary from £6 to £20). For some reason, after Paul left the film industry he burned all his negatives; this collection by the BFI is pieced together from many different sources and many of the short films consist only of fragments. Nevertheless, it is about two hours and twenty minutes long, which consists of sixty-two short films, and the commentary by Professor Ian Christie does discuss Booth during appropriate films which were written and directed by Booth. Booth made about thirty-five films and fifteen are on this DVD. They are not all magic related but his knowledge of stage work, theatre acts of his day and of the trick photography of Méliès is apparent in these films.

In 1915, Booth went into advertising and little is known of his career from that point. We do know the date of his death, 1938.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Conclusions to 3D Tests

The first thing to do is to provide some information which will answer the questions I have been sent.

The most popular format for 3D pictures, without using special glasses or viewers, is the one that uses the cross eyed technique. This sounds a bit odd but bear in mind that the Magic Eye 3D images that were once so popular relied on people going slightly boss-eyed; so it's not unusual for the viewer to develop a knack of doing either. There came a point where the cross eyed method became more preferable, perhaps because it was easier to learn. Way back when, books like Magic 3D by Tom Johnstone discussed how to create the images and may have been the first to use the phrase 'photographic freeviewing' to describe viewing 3D photos without special glasses. The principles involved were partially used in other books such as Boris Vallejo's 3D Magic mixed Magic Eye images with 3D renderings of Vallejo's fantasy artwork. Both books introduced the cross eyed method on some of the images as an alternative to Magic Eye boss-eyed technique.

In some ways the crossed eyed method harks back the Victorian stereoscope viewers. On these the double image of a scene used what is now known as the 'parallel' method. The image for the left eye was on the the left and the image for the right eye was on the right. The cross eyed method has the image for the right eye on the left and the image for the left eye on the right. That is about the only difference.

The images used to be created by one method; there were two cameras, not more than six centimetres apart (to approximate the view of a pair of human eyes), and each take a photograph of the same scene at the same moment. When the photographs are placed or printed side by side they can be viewed by either the parallel or cross-eyed method as 3D images.

Computer technology eventually had a say in the matter and various methods were thought of to take a single photograph and alter it, pixel by pixel if need be, to create a second photograph which, when placed next to the original, would create the required 3D effect when viewed cross eyed or through a stereoscopic viewer.

Hopefully, that is enough dull tech stuff to satisfy the curious.

The results of the software I have been testing is that only the double images created for the cross eyed method are of any worth; even then I still have to correct each image for anomalies. The other 3D images it can produce, such as anaglyph (which require the red/blue lenses on 3D viewing glasses) are abysmal.

Below is a 3D image, for the cross eyed method, of Veronica Lake. I do not know the name of the owner of the copyright of the original to give them credit. This image and the one in the previous blog entry were chosen by others as photos to test the software. Once again, the instructions are to click on the image to load a larger version; then look at the two images cross eyed until a new image appears between them - that image will appear tobe 3D.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Courtney Love in 3D

I have been trying out various software for rendering photographs into 3D images with the aim of rendering some of my artwork into 3D format. So far, one seems to be better than any of the rest but I won't give it's name because I have not fully tested it.

I give an example of the 'crossed eyed' variety of 3D image below. It is made from a photograph that Courtney Love posted on Twitter today [copyright of the original photo belongs with Courtney Love]. To view the image as a 3D picture, click on the photo to load a larger version (it's a large file so be patient); then look at the double image and make yourself go crossed eyed until a third image appears in the centre. That image will be in 3D. Alternatively, if you are a collector of Victorian stereoscopic photos, get out your stereoscopic viewer and look at the photo through them.

The software also has the ability to create a single red/blue anaglyph, which has to be viewed with glasses that have red and blue lenses. If I get the hang of creating those images I might upload an example.

One final note, I've been ill recently and so have not been posting any blogs or updating my websites. Normal service will resume soon, along with another 'Who Is It?' competition.

Friday, 9 April 2010


Dai Vernon is a name that few people interested in magic will not know. Apart from his well acknowledged ability of sleight of hand, another talent he had was cutting silhouette portraits and this skill contributed to his income.

Silhouette portrait artists still exist and armed with scissors and paper, they attend weddings or other functions and can cut a portrait for someone in less than two minutes. Others work from a studio, cutting portraits in a matter of minutes for each client.

Here is a video of Denise Clark cutting a portrait.

Here is a video of Tim Arnold who has been a silhouette artist for over thirty years.

Silhouette artists can also be found in Britain; one example is The Roving Artist Ltd, a business employing more than one such artist.

[The videos are copyright by the named artists]

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Classic Secrets of Magic

This week I acquired Classic Secrets of Magic by Bruce Elliott.

As a writer Bruce Elliott had many faults. His ability varied on each work he wrote and the stories he wrote for The Shadow Magazine, when Walter Gibson would be on holiday, are considered the worst of all the Shadow stories in style and content. The phrase ‘Homer nods’, which refers to when a writer’s standard slips down to far below his or her best, can be applied to Elliott’s work with an unkind frequency. This would not be a big deal with the many magicians who write magazine articles about magic or pen their on book on the subject. They are magicians first and writers second. Elliott, however, was an author who wrote mystery fiction, science fiction and television screenplays. He was also one of the editors of the magic magazine The Phoenix. It is reasonable to expect a more consistent standard in his writing. To throw even more mud, he was published by main stream publishers who should have pointed out his lapses before they were published, providing Elliott with the opportunity to correct them.

So, with these faults, why are his magic books of any value? Quite simply, it’s the magic they contain. Once in a while, not too often to be a problem, his explanations can be as clear as mud but, usually, overall the magic is good quality. In this particular book Elliott’s few unclear moments are made even worse by the illustrations that accompany them. A lot of magic books in the past have ‘stylized’ or cartoon style artwork. This is usually not a problem except when sleight of hand is being illustrated. The unnamed artist (possibly Stanley Jaks) uses an unrealistic style where fingers appear to either be made of rubber and form strange contorted positions or the fingers are bizarrely long as if illustrating sleight of hand for orangutangs. A small number of the illustrations are just plain wrong in what they are supposed to depict and so it is best to rely on Elliott’s text.

Despite its faults, I like this book. It goes over some of the classics of magic and provides, what were then, up to date additions to their performance – as well as the handling of various tricks by (his then) contemporary magicians. The latter, of which I wish there were more, provides details about the acts of performers of that time and their personal ‘twists’ to some well known magic tricks.

Although I’ve criticised Elliott, don’t be put off reading his material. In the greater part of his writings he explains quality magic with an easily understood straightforwardness. The rare hiccup in meaning can be overcome with a little thought and the correct props at hand to follow his words.

Tragically, Elliott was only in his fifties when he died. He was hit by a taxi and the accident left him in a coma. He died about four months later.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

This Only Works on One Day of the Year.

Write down a three digit number. Each digit must be different. The difference between the first and last digit must be great than one. This is number ‘A’. Reverse the order of the digits of ‘A’ to create a second number. This is number ‘B’. Subtract the smaller number from the greater. You now have a third number, ‘C’. Reverse the digits of ‘C’ to create a fourth number, ‘D’. Add ‘C’ and ‘D’ together. The result is number ‘E’. Multiply ‘E’ by 1,000,000. The result is number ‘F’. Subtract 966,685,433 from ‘F’.

Substitute the digits with the appropriate letter from the following list: 1=L, 2=O, 3=F, 4=I, 5=R, 6=P, 7=A. Read the result backwards.