How Does David Copperfield Do His Tricks?

Written by lisa proulx
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How Does David Copperfield Do His Tricks?
Learn some of David Copperfield's magic tricks and amaze your friends. (John Rowley/Photodisc/Getty Images)

David Copperfield is one of the most well known magicians in the world. Known for his elaborate disappearing and levitation acts, he has amazed and baffled audiences for many years and is a favourite of old and young alike.

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Levitation

The stage lights are focused on Copperfield, who suddenly, without any effort, is able to lift his feet and rise into the air, seemingly floating before an amazed audience. He “flies” back and forth across the stage even rolling and hovering above the stunned crowd. It’s all done with precise wiring, a professional staff to actually make the audience believe he can levitate. Before the flying performance, he is fitted with a body harness that is concealed beneath his clothing and the wires are attached. Oftentimes to distract the audience so he can make a quick exit before “levitating,” he might bring on another performer and have him do a small trick or play a movie on a screen talking about the history of flight. A special background is needed in order to hide the wires and can be anything from a very busy background to one of the same colours as the wires. Another stage effect can be a fan blowing onto the curtain in the background, which will make a rippling effect and make it more difficult to see the wires, which will be against the moving curtain in the foreground. The wires are then attached to a series of heavy-duty pulleys and Copperfield becomes a human puppet. It usually takes two people to operate the wires but more assistants may be required depending on how complicated he wants the trick to be. For example, if he wanted to create the illusion of levitating within a box or glass case, the same procedure would apply. The wires would be fitted on either side of the box lid and Copperfield would continue to be held off the floor. He could even do spins or somersaults since the wires would still be connected to his harness.

Making a Jumbo Jet Vanish

This trick is one of the most significant vanishes of all time and has been performed on live television several times and still amazes audiences to this day. A jumbo jet arrives on the tarmac as a crowd of onlookers gathers. The plane taxis onto the runway into an area at the landing strip, the plane parks, and the crew will disembark while the viewing audience both live and at home will be able to see the plane from all sides. The area is completely illuminated with spotlights pointing on the plane. Copperfield commands the lights to flash on then off then back on again. When the lights are back on, the plane has vanished. The spotlights are directed at the plane but only black space has remained. In the same manner as the plane disappeared, it reappears. After lights flash on then off then on again, the plane is now back safe and sound on the tarmac. There is netting that is used in stage productions that is draped from light to light between the massive spotlights that encircles the plane. At first, when the plane comes onto the runway, there is an opening between the spotlights that is clear of the netting. The technicians hook up this last piece of netting as the engines are shut off and the crew disembarks the plane. It looks as though they are preparing the massive spotlights for illumination but they are really getting prepared for the trick. When this netting is used in stage productions, it provides a backdrop for many scenes. The proper lighting can give the illusion of changing scenes and, when backlit, you are able to see the image appear on the netting. When lit from the front, you can see right through it. With the jumbo jet, the spotlights are set in such a way that at some point in the illusion, the audience can see right through the netting and the plane is clearly seen. For the next setting, they can only see the black of night, which has been secretly painted onto the stage netting. The tarmac is also black so it appears that when the plane has disappeared, you see only the ground where the plane once was. When the plane reappears, the stage netting is dropped to the ground while the lights are off. Turning the lights back on, the plane has reappeared. The circumstances of the trick will determine the positioning of the netting. If the audience is only standing in the front, simply mask the part of the plane that they can view. Use more netting to create more angles, even surrounding the entire plane if necessary. When the proper lighting is used, neither the camera nor the naked eye can see through the netting.

Statue of Liberty Vanishing

David Copperfield is a master of illusion with a keen sense of timing, so pulling off a trick of this magnitude is quite achievable for such a talented magician. The same type of stage netting is used as the one to make the jumbo jet vanish. Years ago, when the statue was under construction, scaffolding and platforms completely surrounded her, hiding her from view. These are tools most likely used by Copperfield to attach netting and to pull off such an elaborate illusion. The audience sees two towers on a stage that are supporting an arch to hold massive curtains that will be used to conceal the statue. The statue is only visible to the television cameras and live audience through the arch. The curtains close, while Copperfield talks poetically to the crowd to avert their attention and, unknown to the audience, the stage is very slowly turned. When the curtains are opened, the statue is actually hidden behind one of the towers but the audience sees only black space out in the water. The Statue of Liberty has vanished. The two towers are so brightly lit up that even if the statue was not completely hidden by the stage, the audience would be “night blinded” by the light. Copperfield also sets up two halos of light, one that he places around the statue and the other one in an undisclosed area that only he knows. When the trick occurs, his people simply turn off the lights that are focused on the statue and turn on the other set so the helicopters can circle and show that Lady Liberty has indeed disappeared.

The Moon Card Trick

David Copperfield is not only known for his elaborate stage productions but his intimate card tricks. The Moon Card Trick is an older trick that he and many other magicians started doing to amaze an audience. Every member of his audience will receive nine cards before the beginning of the show. Eight of these cards are blank but one will contain a picture of the moon. Instead of the old standard, “pick a card, any card,” Copperfield tells the audience right from the start that the chosen card is the Moon Card. With little effort and a lot of instructed shuffling, he is able to find the Moon Card in everyone’s hand.

To do this trick, tell your friends that you are able to read people’s minds but the telepathic link is weak and only images can come through not anything too complex. A deck of cards is perfect for this since they all have pictures on them. Ask for a volunteer from your audience and tell them you have several cards and you will sort them into three cards on pile three, the fourth card on pile four, etc. When you are finished, ask the volunteer which pile contains his card. (The card may be in the same pile or might have moved.) Pick up all three of the piles again. Make sure you are putting the pile that contains the card between the other two piles. Say you are starting to see something blurry and you will have to make the piles again to be sure the image you are seeing is correct. For the third and last time, take the top card and put it on pile 1, the second on pile 2, the third on pile 3 and so on. Ask the volunteer again which pile his card is in then pick up all three piles, making sure to take the pile with the chosen card in the middle of the other two. Pretend to visualise the card while acting mysterious, take each one of the cards, and hold it for a few seconds, then drop it. When you get to the eleventh card, hold it up and show your audience that it is the card that was chosen.

In Copperfield’s case, the chosen card will be the fifth card since he usually does the trick with only nine cards. After he shuffles, there are only four blank cards before you reach the Moon Card and four blank ones after it.

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