The best special effects ever

GollumI love really good special effects in films, but the more tech takes over, the more difficult it can be for actors. According to this article, acting with invisible people (who would be added later in post-production) in the new Hobbit movie pushed Iain McKellen to the brink! He said “Pretending you’re with 13 other people when you’re on your own stretches your technical ability to the absolute limits. I cried, actually. I cried. Then I said out loud, ‘This is not why I became an actor’. Unfortunately the microphone was on and the whole studio heard.” And Skyfall has a really interesting mix of CG and real effects as this article explains (look out for the spoilers though).

Here are a few of my favourite classic effects from the movies:

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Weirdest coincidences ever

The Titanic disaster was predated a few years before by a story about an unsinkable ship called the “Titan”. Creepy…

Have you ever heard a word on the radio just as you were reading the same word? If you think that’s weird, this will blow your mind.

The 1898 story “Futility” is about the maiden voyage of unsinkable transatlantic cruise liner, the Titan, which sinks on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg. Many of the other details, like the date and number of people on board, were very close to reality. Continue reading

The weirdest side-show acts ever

I’ve just been reading about carnival sideshows. They seem quite cruel to us these days, but maybe we haven’t changed as much as we think. Any magician will tell you, people are definitely still drawn to the weird and wonderful things in life. Here are some classic sideshow acts – would you have paid to see these?

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How to see things that aren’t there

Hallucinations in Trainspotting. Who knew this harmless hobby could have such devastating effects?

Ever seen something that wasn’t there? As a magician I’m always thinking about how the senses can deceive, so I couldn’t help but notice there are a few new books out at the moment about hallucinations (like this one by Oliver Sacks, which looks really good).

It’s not just people who are mentally disturbed or on mind-altering drugs who have these experiences. People who are losing their sight can get Charles Bonnet syndrome, where the brain concocts elaborate visions (usually faces). Hallucinations are a really interesting reminder that our senses are all we have to go on! Cut off sight and sound and the brain starts to amuse itself.

Check out this amazing clip from Horizon. Volunteers stayed in totally dark rooms without any sensory input, for 48 hours. What do you think happened? It includes an interview with former hostage Brian Keenan, who had some very scary experiences indeed: Continue reading

The best ways to die

Keep dancing. Not always the best advice.

Ever get that thing where you can’t stop laughing? In 1962 in Tanganyika, hundreds of people were afflicted by the giggles. It started with some schoolgirls and quickly spread through the town. Months later, schools were closed, and people were experiencing pain and fainting as a result of these ‘laughter attacks’. As a magician I want people to enjoy my gags but not get ill from them! It did make me think of this, though:

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Is this a real time traveller?

Look at the picture on the left there. Spot anything odd? The picture was taken in 1940 but chap in the sunglasses look a bit modern? Here he is closer up.

This analysis explains that most of this look is in keeping with the 40s after all, but what about these…

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How to predict the future

Magicians are always claiming to read minds but (I know this will come as a shock) some of us are cheating, some of the time. Not always, of course. Most of us are magic.

Personally, I am magic, but I’m still impressed by the idea of Remote Viewing. Could it be the real deal? If you’ve seen or read Jon Ronson’s “The Men Who Stare At Goats” you’ll be familiar with the stories about secret military units who use psychics for spying. Ronson found soldiers are being trained to walk through walls and kill goats just by staring at them! The Stanford training unit was closed down in 1995, but research into this stuff is still going on.

The Farsight Institute, for example, get lots of interesting results.  They’re doing a psychic climate-change study at the moment, and they do seem to have detected a LOT of disasters before June next year. Luckily there are several different timelines, so we might be OK.

Check out Project Stargate, and these pictures of sketches people have created while remote viewing. Even if you think all this is nonsense, you have to admit some of the predictions are pretty amazing…

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