Inventing the Impossible: Storytelling Tips from Cyber Illusionist Marco Tempest
Cyber illusionist Marco Tempest uses technology to “invent the impossible.” His unique blend of science, tech, and magic creates one-of-a-kind experiences—most recently, a dancing swarm of twenty-four drones. The power of his illusions comes from the way they tease our imaginations into believing that we are seeing something just beyond what we think we know can be real. As Marco puts it, “Magic makes possible today what science will make tomorrow.”
His interest in technology has inspired several hit talks at TED, and his creative approach is instructive for both aspiring magicians and those of us whose daily lives are firmly grounded in reality. His work reveals the power of persuasion and the value of keeping your imagination open to any inspiration.
In order to create a successful illusion, Marco emphasizes the importance of creating a believable story for the audience. “Once that story is embedded in the mind it’s difficult to change, and that makes it difficult for the audience to discover the secret of the trick,” he explains. “Magic, at its core, is about storytelling.
“Every magician will tell you about spectators they have met who have told them about the tricks that other magicians have performed. And all those tricks seem utterly impossible. That’s because the way the stories have been remembered, with all the vital details missing, they are impossible. The magician created a story that is difficult to unpick. Magicians are unreliable narrators, and audiences equally unreliable witnesses. But that’s what makes the magic a moment to remember.”
Marco started by learning classic tricks like the Cup and Ball that remain effective a thousand years after they were created because their stories still work. Once Marco learned the foundational tricks, he began to put his own spin on them. He believes it’s important to deeply study your craft—in his case, not only magic tricks and new technologies, but also the psychology of an audience. He had to learn how to build anticipation in audiences in order to figure out how to subvert their expectations.
Marco keeps his mind open when he is brainstorming new illusions and starts with the creative vision rather than focusing narrowly on what may be technically feasible. “Sometimes an idea occurs and I have no idea what technology will make it possible,” he says. “At that stage all I have in mind is the type of effect I want to do. Then begins a long research process of technologies old and new.”
This approach may not yield immediate solutions, but it’s important not to get frustrated or give up too soon. “Not every problem has a solution, at least not a perfect one,” he says. “When you hit a creative barrier, whether you are an artist or technologist, it is too easy to give up and start something new. Instead of giving up, lay it aside. Do something different. But keep those notes and those thoughts and an eye on the territory you are interested in.”
Marco says his best ideas for illusions often come when he least expects it. And he considers staying on top of the latest technology to be a part of his job, both so that he can keep his act fresh, and to push the boundaries of how we relate to our technology. “Technologists solve practical problems but often don’t realize how the technologies they develop will impact upon society,” he says. “It is the user who takes that technology and uses it in totally unforeseen and creative ways. Human behavior changes everything.”
The Future of StoryTelling (FoST) explores how storytelling is evolving in the digital age. http://www.fost.org