Faith in fiction: our friend, virtual magician Marco Tempest, is back with another must-watch, dazzling effects-laden soliloquy. There’s plenty of sparkling eye candy, but as is often the case with Marco’s work, the content behind the effects delves into the philosophy of what magic, theater, and fiction itself really mean.

The message is timely. Rooted perhaps in Enlightenment thinking, we might see a one-dimensional conflict between magic and science. But neurologists, psychologists, and even people in fields more remote like mathematics and physics increasingly look to the ways in which everything we know scientifically speaking is entangled with perception. Recognizing the power of deception doesn’t weaken science, but strengthens it. And whether you consider what you do in electronic visuals as magic or science or both, Marco’s ideas of what makes theater and wit can be profound.

True to his belief in open, transparent magic, Marco also shares the feats behind-the-scenes, wonders of technology that seem no less magical when revealed. See the video at top, in which the artist collaborates with the talented teams at Berlin studios onformative and checksum5 get very, very deep into Kinect depth sensing and vvvv.

In fact, if you aren’t grabbed by Marco’s ideas about fiction, you may find it interesting to hear the developers talk about how essential it is to be able to tweak work in progress, to adjust in live performance to the demands of the design. Visual patching is a way to keep working live without recompiling. (Live coding or even providing ample real-time controls in non-live environments would, of course, be valuable for the same reason.)

Sadly, I have no witty, unexpected twist ending for this story, so I’ll instead leave the entertainment value and deeper insights and surprise to Marco. See his full TED talk video here – and read more about the ideas and people behind it below.

Marco talks about “Magic and Storytelling”:

I work in the field of illusion and technology. I’m a magician by profession – a cyber illusionist. That means I combine technology and magic to create performances for entertainment.

The aim in “Story Magic” was to find a magical and engaging way to enhance a live performance with interactive graphics. The live component could be anything from a lecture to a performance. The augmentation layer is not pre-rendered. It is generated by a data flow system in real time and in reaction to the live elements. I think that this type of magic can help us to map out what that part of the future might feel like, where 3D projection and gestural sensing are intelligent and ubiquitous.

The collaboration with Onformative and Checksum5 created the perfect synergies to explore my vision. VVVV proofed to be the ideal tool to develop this graphics and computational intensive app. The node based “always running” real-time environment helped with the “relentless number tweaking” that is typically required in computational design.

Magic and illusion are a good sandbox for creativity. Adding the element of illusion to an existing technology allows us to create things that are otherwise not possible. An illusion takes a technology beyond its natural boundaries.

Magic is a unique tool for pre-visualization. By that I mean the illusion created is so convincing that the experience is almost indistinguishable from the reality. In time the advances in technology will turn the illusion into reality. But for now the illusion gives us a very good idea of what that technology might accomplish.

Looking to the very near future, when every laptop or device has a 3D sensor built into it, imagine the entertainment and educational possibilities of a system like this, designed for face-to-face communication.

Psychology and cognition, chemical and engineering, design and computer. These are all disciplines that are employed in magic. They are the tools of illusion but they are not liberally interfaced with other fields of research and that strikes me as a shame. For me the most progress is going to be made by embracing current and future technologies in the best way possible, by sharing and collaborating, and inventing new and seemingly impossible things.

The Team

Created and produced by Marco Tempest in cooperation with onformative and checksum5.

Special thanks to David Britland for his amazing script, Michael Ricar for the music and sound design. Tebjan Halm for additional vvvv programming and documentation soundtrack. Enrico Viola for the relentless OF sandboxing and prototyping. Jason Saragih for sharing his FaceTracker library. Tobias Beckwith for the voice cameos, Sherry and Matt for being amazed and to Steve Cohen for bringing Jean Robert-Houdin to life one last time.

“Magic and Storytelling” is powered by “Generative design studio”

TED talk page

Also seen on the vvvv blog

Cyber-Illusion: A Digital Magician Unafraid of Revealing Secrets, History, in Google Talk

Sleight of Hand with Screens, iPod Magic, and Marco’s Ruminations on the Power of Deception