The Magic Behind the Curtain


This is my yellow brick road, corn field and all!

In the world of film we use the word magic with casual ease. We talk about the magic hour, the magic moment and when a scene is good you will hear that it was magic. We create the illusion of other worlds and by-gone eras each and every day.

Movie magic is always described as the smoke and mirrors of the industry. And yes for the outside world that is the magic of movies. Although for us, those that live with the wizard behind the curtain, our magic is very different but no less amazing.

In Don Levy‘s TedTalks, A CINEMATIC JOURNEY THROUGH VISUAL EFFECTS, he talks about the magic of visual effects and the principles of illusion:

Assumption – things are as we know them.IMG_0337

Presumption – things will behave as we expect.

Context in reality – our knowledge of the world as we know it, such as scale.

Never betray the illusion – If the visuals are of poor quality or if the context of the story is not adhered to, the illusion is betrayed and the audience will be pulled from the experience.

This last principle has become an obsession, a constant quest for perfection in film today.

For us on set our magic exists in the everyday. Even though I know the reality of the illusion I still believe in the mystery of it. A brilliant stunt, a stunning outfit, or an amazing visual effect can still give me goose bumps. Sometimes all I need to do is step back and take a look, like the distance needed to see a painting, to make me truly appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to work where I do each day.


A moment of illumination at the circus.

A movie crew is given the opportunity to see the entire image and not the shot that has been edited for the audience. We get to be mesmerized by the glow of a ship on fire sinking into the ocean before our eyes and then get ready to see it again as it gets pulled back up for take 2. No matter how amazing this all looks on the big screen, being involved in the moment of creation is the brilliance of the moment.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Clarke’s Third Law of Prediction

I love blue screen it is like a floating sea, I want to run my hands on the walls... I don't though, I promise!

I love blue screen, it is like a floating sea. I want to run my hands on the walls and see the ripples run to the top… I don’t though, promise!

When I think back on the different times of my career I can think of so many magical moments.

I could look at all of these as nothing more than my every day job, but then why?

I have worked in some phenomenal places that so few get to go, and all because of being in film. I’ve been in the tunnels under a city, under the walls of a castle and in an ancient roman sewer system. I could say that they were all hot, damp and stinky places… and yes they were… although, while I watched the cast run through shafts of light reflecting off pools of water throwing shimmering waves across the ancient brick walls… it was more than the air that took my breath away.

I wouldn’t trade those bewitching memories for anything!

I can remember horseback riding through a river with an arm load of costumes, praying not to fall in… riding in the caboose of a train for days being warmed by a small stove in the corner while my costumes swung gently from the cross bars on the ceiling… not to mention glass bottoms helicopters, blue ice caves in the north and dolphins jumping around our Viking ship as we floated in the ocean. Really, how many people can say to their chiropractor “I am in a hurry, I have to get back and help dress the seven dwarves!” and speak the truth.

Oh, the magic of it all!

I have had to haul, cart and carry tons of costumes to some truly amazing locations here, there and around the world. Trust me there have been many prayers, lots of grumbling and a few words that I can’t type here. In spite of all that… or perhaps because of it… my life has been magic. I am able to live everyday following my own yellow brick road, walking through a field of dreams that come true right before my eyes… and you know what, I truly appreciate it.

When I click together my red shoes I end up in the wardrobe trailer… and truly there is no place like home.

Imagination is a force that can manifest a reality.

James Cameron

So I am putting out a challenge for everybody; go to work and try to stop every once in a while, take a look around and see all the wonder that is there… the magic in your everyday.

It is today possible to realize the most impossible and improbable things.

George Mèliés (1861 – 1938)

2 thoughts on “The Magic Behind the Curtain

  1. I love this post, Dawn. It is such a good reminder of why we do what we do. Sometimes we forget to look at the magical moments of our work, whether it’s in costuming or otherwise. Thank you for the reminder. And, wow…. the places you’ve been! 🙂

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