Revealing The Secrets Behind Great Optical Illusions

Written by Dr Matt Pritchard

Revealing The Secrets Behind Great Optical Illusions
Screenshot from Matt's Elephant illusion

During the pandemic lockdowns, my work switched from live performances to creating optical illusions and short magic videos for social media. Mainly for my own amusement to fill the depressing void in my diary and to learn some new technical skills to help navigate the virtual world.

The Magic Circle announced the new ‘Virtual Magician of the Year’ contest earlier this month. This got me thinking about the opportunities and pitfalls this recent lockdown fuelled medium has created.


Magicians deal in assumptions—leading our spectators to think down incorrect paths and skip over crucial details that might betray hidden workings—making a smooth journey without any hint of the crunching of cognitive gear changes. At the final destination, it’s hard for viewers to deconstruct the magic effect because they have nothing to grip onto.

However, as magicians, we can often be both the victims and villains of making bad assumptions. They are often so insidious we’re unaware that we’re making them, which can lead us to limit our performances inadvertently.

An essay by Michael Close that helped open my eyes to the more creative use of assumptions can be found at the beginning of Workers 5—It’s recommended reading.