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George Ledo
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Before I continue with ideas and techniques on illusion and prop design, I'd like to offer some thoughts on creativity in general.


Many years ago I found a reference to a publication issued by the Library of Congress Council of Scholars, titled “Creativity: A Continuing Inventory of Knowledge.” I spent years looking for this thing, and, amazingly, couldn’t find anyone at the Library who even knew where to look for it.

But I finally found it, and opened it expecting to find miracles.

Alas, I was disappointed. The book turned out to be about a series of questions on various topics, discussed by a committee, and resolved by the committee in very scholarly, committee-like ways. I didn’t even finish reading it.

That title, however, stuck with me: “Creativity: A Continuing Inventory of Knowledge.” Thinking about that title, I realized that this is exactly the key to being creative. It’s how we were taught in design school, it’s how most of us in the creative professions think, and it’s a technique we use all the time.

So what does this really mean? Okay, let’s cut right to the chase. Here’s the condensed version of the condensed version of a treatise on how to be creative, in six simple steps:

First, stuff as much material into your brain as you can. Read, watch movies, go to museums, concerts, parks, sporting events, and so on. Develop your curiosity into an obsession. Don’t just look at the world around you; observe it and learn from it.

Second, keep all this material open in front of you all the time. All of it. Pretend it’s all on one gigantic table or bulletin board and that you can see it all at once.

Third, when looking for an idea, look at this entire mass of material. Don’t just focus on the obvious stuff.

Fourth, don’t take anything for granted. I mentioned in another post that I’m working on a book on how to design a haunted house, and this is one of the messages I deliver over and over in it.

Fifth, don’t get locked into the first idea that comes to mind. Try different ideas until you find one you like.

Sixth, relax and enjoy the experience. Our brains are actually very good at this type of thing. The trick is to allow the brain do it, instead of restricting it.

That’s it. That’s the basic technique used by creative people all over the world for centuries. Yes, it takes work sometimes. But who ever said anything in life was easy?

If you go back and look at step three, you’ll notice that this is very similar to allowing your brain to work like a search engine on the Web. Because that’s exactly what it’s doing.

Now let’s look at some background and why this way of thinking works.

Most of us went through the same structure in school: a linear, one-subject-by-period system. Maybe the first period was history, then math, then maybe English, then art and so forth. In math period, we studied math. Period.

I could buy a roll of butcher paper and divide it into columns, one column per subject. Let’s see, five or six subjects per semester, times two semesters per year, times nineteen years, that’s about two hundred and twenty-eight columns. This column is Algebra I, that column is History of the Western World Part I, another column is Scenic Projection, another is Topics in Neoclassical Theatre, and so forth.

After twelve, sixteen, or more years of school, most of us have learned to think this way and do it subconsciously. One column per subject. All neatly organized.

But totally segregated.

Then I can add more columns for everyday stuff: my job, cooking, buying a house, and so forth. Again, everything neatly organized by columns.

And still segregated.

So, if I’m looking for an idea that involves Germany in World War I, I look in the History of the Western World Part II column. And maybe one or two others.

Simple. Piece of cake. It’s all right there. In one or two columns.

And, yes, you guessed it: segregated.

But creative people don’t do that. They look at everything at once – every column – for anything that might have anything to do with the subject. They literally do a Google search inside their head and look at everything that comes up.

In the next part of this article, I’ll discuss how to apply this, and then we'll move right on to illusion and prop design.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine

Latest column: "Sorry about the photos in my posts here"
George Ledo
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Magic Café Columnist
SF Bay Area
2992 Posts

Profile of George Ledo
Okay, let’s look at an example of how this works.

Let’s say you’re looking for an idea with a pyramid. Instead of going to a reference on Egypt, grabbing something, and calling it a day, let your mind ramble as you look at everything you know about pyramids.

Remember e.e.cummings from high-school English class? Use the stream-of-consciousness technique. Here’s a typical train of thought used by creative people:

“Pyramids. Egypt. The Great Pyramid. Okay, fine. What’s that thing over there, by Saqqara? Aha, the stepped pyramid of Zoser. Hmmm... stepped pyramids. Didn’t the Aztecs have those too? Yep. And they sometimes had a river of blood pouring down the front from the human sacrifices done at the top. Pyramids and human sacrifices. Who else did human sacrifices? The Mayas? No, but they did have some interesting buildings. Okay, I’ll file that away.”

“More pyramids. The 1970’s and the little pyramids that sharpened razor blades. Hmmm... pyramids and razor blades. The whole tie/dye movement. The book Chariots of the Gods. Hmmm… Thor Heyerdahl and his adventures on Easter Island. Mysterious islands. Jurassic Park and Isla Nublada.”

“What else has to do with pyramids? The glass one outside the Louvre, designed by I.M. Pei. The Da Vinci Code. How about those little glass prisms used on old sailing ships to allow sunlight below decks? They weren’t exactly pyramids, more like faceted cones, but so what? A small glass pyramid-shaped paperweight. Cones… The ball, cone, and handkerchief trick…”

And so on. One thing leads to another as your mind jumps among and between those neatly ordered and segregated columns and finds fascinating things hidden in them. Eventually an idea will come.

But let’s bring this closer to magic. Say you want to do a levitation. Fine, start with the obvious: Asrah, Aga, Super-X, and all their variations. Throw in Zombie and the dancing cane just for the heck of it.

Now let your mind fly in this free-form, stream-of-consciousness manner.

What else is there on levitations? How about those high-speed magnetic levitation trains in Japan? Japan… now there’s an interesting idea. Trains, too. And wasn’t there something in Dick Tracy about some vehicle that reversed gravity? Reversing gravity... Hmmm… Gravity... the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, CA.

Then there’s The Force, the Jedi Knights, and the light sabers. Any other myths involving levitation? Icarus? Nah, that’s been done. That scene in The Exorcist with Linda Blair floating over the bed.

Anything in Egypt? Kellar’s Levitation of the Princess Karnak. How about those theories that aliens built the pyramids by levitating the blocks? King Tut, Howard Carter, and the curse. A floating mummy? Wasn't unwrapping a mummy considered a cool evening's activity among the London elite back in the late 1800's? Anne Rice's The Mummy.

What else floats? Helium balloons. Blimps. The Goodyear Blimp. Super Bowl. Kites. Charlie Brown. Snoopy as the Red Baron.

What the heck has this guy Ledo been drinking?

An hour or two of letting your mind wander like this and you’ll have forgotten about Asrah, Aga, SuperX, and all their cousins, and started thinking in new and fresh directions.
That's our departed buddy Burt, aka The Great Burtini, doing his famous Cups and Mice routine

Latest column: "Sorry about the photos in my posts here"
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