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Engineering Thursday - E-textiles Magic!

Talking with Mario the Magician about the magic of embedded electronics!

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Have you ever had that moment, after you've sweated every detail, solved and re-solved every problem, and the project is finally done, when someone pushes the button, and - as far as they're concerned - what they're looking at is magic? They don't see the hours you put into designing, constructing, or coding. They just see the result- an object that obeys your will against all reason. A delightful surprise.

Mario the Magician knows that feeling well.

Not since The Wizard of Oz has a maker so thoroughly evoked Clarke's Third Law: that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Mario augments his trade as a street and stage magician with Arduino-based tricks, props, and projects, and he's showing folks young and old the magic of making! He was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to make an e-textiles project for us:



Full tutorial here

I recently had the opportunity to ask Mario a few questions about his latest projects!

Your projects are endlessly imaginative, and you're impressively prolific. What project do you get the biggest reactions from?

Thank you, Dia! The electronic projects that get integrated into magic and comedy for my show get the best reactions. For example I have a suit jacket that has multiple servo motors that cause all kinds of chaos - award ribbons that spin randomly, a magic wand that repeatedly pops out of my breast pocket, a lapel flower that constantly falls to the floor, shoulder epaulettes that pop off my shoulders. All are controlled by an Arduino and lithium battery. The jacket falls apart for three minutes and the kids go crazy! They love seeing an adult experience a moment of non-control.

Were there ever any exciting disasters?

That's a great question, because my whole character, Mario the Magician, is someone who is followed by constant "disaster!" But, yes, there have been times when a loose connection or a low battery has caused my circuit to stop working mid-performance. It can be scary! But it's very rare, and when it does happen, I just pick myself back up and continue. Through mistakes we gain experience and knowledge, so its something I welcome. When a mistake happens, I make changes and take preventative measures so it won't happen again. It's the only way I've gotten this far with my show. Also, since I'm coding electronics to perform comedy, it can be weeks before I get the right laugh at the right time. If a gag is too long, I change the code. Same if it's too short.

**Are there any technologies you haven't integrated yet that you're excited to get started with? **

A friend of mine mentioned an idea that I should develop a virtual magic show for kids - something where I can do a whole show live on Google+ or Skype for a kid's birthday. It's a tricky thing that will require a lot of adjustments to how I perform my show, but I like the challenge.

You're making amazing use of what's out there, but are there any tools for magic NOT available yet that you'd love to see?

I wish 3D printers would print faster and were more portable! They can be a great tool for magic. I would love to do quick demonstrations, live at a magic show. But in reality, the greatest magic routines always come down to 2nd grade science, so maybe live 3D printing mid-show would be too complicated. That's why magicians say that if you have a new trick, and you want to really know if it's good, perform it to a child. They will be bluntly honest, and they have minds that are not jaded with complicated ways of thinking. The best illusions always have the simplest methods.

We first learned about you from the biographical short film Kal made about you - Building Magic. What was it like being the subject of a documentary? Was that stressful, and are you ready to make the feature-length documentary when your Kickstarter campaign is finished?

Both great questions. It was exciting and a lot of work. Was it stressful? The short answer is yes! It's a lot of pressure to be on point and show my true character on camera. I've worked harder in the past seven years than ever in my life. Pushing projects out, trying to find meaning in my projects, pushing things that can pay the rent and bills, and not stopping, ever. I have hundreds of completed projects that sit and collect dust. But out of those hundreds, I have three or four diamonds that come to life with me, into my show, they make kids laugh, and entertain an audience. It makes it all worth it.

The amount of love we have received from the five minute doc has been amazing. I am beyond excited to see this turn into feature length film, if the Kickstarter campaign succeeds.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Mario!

Want to know more about Mario’s work? I highly recommend checking out his Kickstarter! There you’ll find the original short film, Building Magic, as well as details about the new film they’re funding!

Comments 3 comments

  • Heh, very cool. :) Time to get a few servos to play with.

    This must be Magic Month at Sparkfun - Simon Says MAGIC!


  • You rock Mario! Please keep showing kids awesome tricks.

  • For 2.0, he should try something with a reed switch and magnet, instead of just timing it all. Or maybe wiring a micro-switch down to his shoe. They are a bunch of other sensors that he could use to "wake up" the flower.

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