Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Automaton Recreation of Robert-Houdin's Acrobat

Here is a very ambitious recreation of Robert-Houdin's famous acrobat automaton named Antonio Diavolo. This version was created by automata expert Kevin Wright as a tribute to Robert-Houdin's original Acrobat.

Wright's automaton, entitled Dante the Daring, performs the same routine as Robert-Houdin's automaton from 1849. The original was approximately 34 inches tall, while this one is 40 inches. He is fully functional with the ability to nod, turn his head left to right, and perform somersaults and handstands.

Robert-Houdin was trained as a watchmaker and is widely regarded as the father of modern stage magic. To recreate one of his automata is an astonishing feat of mechanical detective work and craftsmanship.

Visit Kevin Wright's site called The Clockwork Universe to see this and other amazing projects.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Robert-Houdin's Home - La Maison de la Magie

One of my top five heroes is Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. He is widely regarded as the father of modern magic, having taken it from the streets and into the parlors for respectable European audiences.

Trained as a watchmaker, he developed a passion for magic. He produced some of the most amazing mystery clocks and automata ever.

His home in Blois, France is open to the public as a museum and theater. Here is a short promotional clip of the Maison de la Magie (House of Magic).

There are many books by or about Robert-Houdin. Dover published an inexpensive reprint of his memoirs that you can probably find used. Steer clear Houdini's book on The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, unless you are interested in exploring Houdini's misguided attempt to defame Robert-Houdin.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Video of Robert-Houdin Automata in Action

In this clip you see some of Robert-Houdin's famous automata including: The Orange Tree, The Pastry Cook of the Palais-Royal, The Trapeze Vaulter (Antonio Diavolo).

You'll also see some of the non-automata stage illusions that he made famous including The Ethereal Suspension (levitation of a boy), a glimpse of one of his Mystery Clocks, and shots of the Robert-Houdin Musuem.

The complete DVD is available in French or English. Here is the link to ROBERT-HOUDIN, A MAGICIAN'S LIFE DVD.

Learn more about Robert-Houdin and his automata in the book: King of the Conjurers.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Robert-Houdin's Orange Tree Automata

Robert-Houdin Orange Tree Magic TrickThe Orange Tree Illusion was invented by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, automata-maker, clock-maker, electricity experimenter, and father of modern magic. A fanciful version of this illusion was recently featured in the film The Illusionist. This, more faithful recreation, is performed by Paul Daniels on his BBC TV series. The piece was refurbished by John Gaughan -- a famed a manufacturer of magic acts and equipment for magicians.

I couldn't embed the video here, so you will have to visit the link to YouTube to watch it. Witness Robert-Houdin's Orange Tree Automata.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Featured Artist: Pierre Mayer

One of my favorite fellow automata makers is Pierre Mayer. Like me, he has made contemporary automata that perform and/or depict magicians and magic tricks.

Making an original contemporary automaton function is a challenge in itself. Making the automaton perform a trick that is actually somewhat deceptive or mysterious is a HUGE challenge. This is where Pierre Mayer's work stands out.

In this piece, the sequence starts with a small orange tree. The tree then blossoms, and bears fruit. Next an orange opens at the top of the tree and two butterflies fly out holding a silk handkerchief.

There is a long tradition of automata depicting magic tricks. The famous magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin started his career as a watchmaker -- a skill that served him well in his next occupation as a magician and automata-maker. He created the original orange tree piece that inspired Mayer's contemporary version.

The piece shown in the recent movie The Illusionist with Ed Norton borrowed from Robert-Houdin's piece, but showed the tree itself growing. Robert-Houdin's did not actually do that.

Check out Cabaret Mechanical Theatre's page on Pierre Mayer's Orange Tree Automaton

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Book: Essential Robert-Houdin

The Essential Robert-HoudinRobert-Houdin (1805-1871) revolutionized the art of magic with his incredible stage mysteries and lifelike automata, and he thankfully left a number of books recording his philosophy and techniques.

All the classic works of the great master of magic, Robert-Houdin, under one cover, lavishly illustrated with hundreds of beautiful prints, engravings, and photos. The Essential Robert-Houndin cointains the following books:

  • The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic

  • Card-Sharping Exposed

  • The Secrets of Stage Conjuring

  • The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin

  • The Priory (Robert-Houdin's automated house)

  • Selections from Robert-Houdin's never-before-translated scientific writings

To my knowledge this work is only available at The Miracle Factory

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Short Biography of Robert-Houdin

Here's a nice page biography page on the magician/automata-maker Robert-Houdin from the PBS show The American Experience that profiled Harry Houdini.

A short biography of Robert-Houdin