Ollie Mealing: The unique creative process that led to moves in Control

March 10th, 2014 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

About 10 months ago, Ellusionist introduced Ollie Mealing’s Control — 11 controls infused with finesse, refinement and class. The collection of beautiful, natural sleights represents a brilliant combination of skill and magic that lets audiences appreciate the beauty of card handling without spoiling the mystery.

The project was his Ellusionist debut — soon after filming that project in Toronto, he was hired by Derren Brown to work on his “Infamous” tour. Despite a packed schedule of working with Brown and filming new performances, he got a chance to recall a bit about the filming of Control and one of the biggest lessons in creativity that can be learned from it.

It’s been more than two years since I flew to Toronto, yet it still feels like yesterday! After a long flight, you can imagine how nice it must have been to be greeted at the airport (two hours late) by Ellusionist’s very own cinematographer extraordinaire, fantastic magician and dear friend Peter McKinnon. I still haven’t forgiven him.

The next few days consisted of shooting, sightseeing, laughing at Pete’s ridiculous (in a good way) anecdotes and generally being pleasantly introduced to new ways of life and the Canadian dream! (Something to do with loyalty to Tim Hortons and escaping rush hour.)

So on to the point of this post, the project itself — how the controls came to fruition and a few things which up until now I haven’t previously mentioned.

Controls command attention

My initial conduit into the ever-growing world of magic was through sleight of hand. I learned a few basic sleights aged around eight through a book which I discovered in the school library and an old, dog-eared deck of cards which my dad had recently taught me how to shuffle with. Excited by these new found skills, I continued to seek out instructional material and tip-toe further into the magic abyss.

Somewhere along the line, I upgraded to a pack of Bikes and, bearing remnants to Andy and Woody’s parting in “Toy Story 3,” unfortunately I too lost touch with my old best friend, the dog-eared deck. (Who knows what adventures it could be having right this second?) As for the book, I kept it, effectively making me a thief — a word which has become fairly synonymous with magicians today. I fear returning the book will ensue the largest library fine in history. On the plus side, Ollie ‘Guinness World Record’ Mealing has a nice a ring to it.

During these years of learning sleights, controls have always stood out to me as being the most fun to learn. I love their clever engineering, their beautifully deceiving aesthetics and the satisfaction you get from knowing you’re a step ahead, especially when you can still see the “selection” out-jogged!

Another aspect to card magic, or I suppose any art which I love, is finesse. You know those cool moments that internally make you go ‘Oooh’, those small touches that you could watch again and again, the moments that transcend an otherwise ordinary action into something memorable and special. As opposed to a subtlety, finesse is something that is recognised and appreciated by a laymen audience.

These moments always make me realise just how much more there must be to discover, how we’ve only really scratched the surface and that with some fresh thinking we can and will unlock so much more. We are only limited by the limitations we give ourselves.

Visual representation

It was a similar train of thought that inspired this next point: Visual representation. This is a technique that I independently devised a few years ago and to my knowledge created — at least with relation to magic. This is a technique that you can use anytime, anywhere and, most importantly, helps to ensure that your creations are original.

The technique is this: Look at the scene in front of you and in your head, decide what the key features are of that image; mentally note what’s prominent. Now re-create those prominent features using playing cards and/or any other props you would carry with you, such as the box, your watch, phone, etc. Once you’ve re-created that image, ask yourself, how can I get into this image during a trick, where would this moment be placed, what’s the motivation.

Rarely at this point will you have a discovered a great effect. That’s totally fine, because what we’re primarily trying to achieve in this exercise is to construct an abstract starting point. If you try to create from what you already know, you’ll end up with something you already have.

In visual representation, you create an off-the-wall, fresh starting point, which encourages you to think outside of the box and generate fresh ideas. Whatever idea you end up extracting might end up bearing no resemblance to your starting point, but it has still effectively stemmed from that image. Without that initial starting point, you wouldn’t have gone on to discover what you did.

If we want to come up with truly new material, we ultimately have to come up with new ways of thinking.

Similarly, you can achieve the same objective by indirect representation — just assembling your own strange assortment of objects & continuing from there. But the real joy for me in visual representation is that when you then revisit/see those places/images (if you can), you’re reminded of the trick you consequently created — in essence forming a trick-based journal of your life’s movements. A beautiful thought.

At one point, these representation techniques (of which I’ve discussed here) were one of my foremost methods for conjuring up creativity. I’ve since dramatically changed most of my processes and now tend to consider the audience before any other step (See my previous post for more about this).

By now you’ll have started to piece the above together and recognise how these factors crystallised to inspire the body of work that is Control. A love for controls, flair and an experimental design structure paved the way to create a project which to date, forms one of my proudest achievements — not just for what it is, but for what it represents.

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