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Saturday, April 15, 2000

Illusion meister's imagination creates world of visual fantasy

Staff writer

When we were children, the world was a place full of magic and mystery. In our minds, Santa Claus really existed; a ghost lived in the attic; and we could easily imagine our favorite doll coming to life overnight.

Once we grew up, however, we lost the ability to create exciting illusions in our everyday lives, and had to pay money to see them in a theater.

Some people, however, never lose touch with the creativity and wonder of childhood, and American mega-illusionist Franz Harary is one of them. He has accomplished such fantastic feats of visual wizardry as making the Rainbow Bridge, the Taj Mahal and the NASA space shuttle disappear, and moving Hawaii's Diamond Head from one location to another.

All these illusions were done on television, but for his Tokyo show, he claims he will become the first illusionist in the world to move a person from one place to another -- live. Harary explained recently that he was excited this event would take place in Tokyo, because the city, with its wealth of futuristic technology, has been the source of a lot of his images and inspiration.

But he insists that high-tech edginess characterizes only one part of his show, while the rest of it has a more relaxed, L.A. feel. According to Harary, a lot of magicians act as if they're the greatest thing in the world, which can be alienating for an audience. He has no delusions about being a super hero, though, and hopes that people will simply enjoy the magical experience he provides through him.

The "teleportation" illusion, in which he will move a person between the National Yoyogi Stadium in Harajuku and the new Aqua City entertainment and shopping area in Odaiba, will be streamed live on the Internet and broadcast continuously on video at both show locations. "People shopping in Aqua City will get to see a $4.5 million illusion. The technical support that's required (to make it possible) is astronomical," he explained.

Harary was born in Michigan in 1962, where he did his first magic show at a department store at age 13. At that time, though, he says, he never thought seriously about becoming an illusionist. While at college, he majored in classical and vocal music, and was also deeply involved in theater and opera.

His career as an illusionist began in 1983, when he sent a video of his illusions to Michael Jackson. Jackson loved Harary's work and asked him to design the illusions for his 1984 Victory concert tour. Since then, Harary has designed illusions for many musicians, including M.C. Hammer, Bobbie Brown and the Japanese band Dreams Come True. He also designs for other magicians such as David Copperfield.

He says that music will always be a part of his illusions. "Every artist has to do what excites him. I love music and I love the music industry," he explains. "My art will always be affected by the things that excite me."

Usually, an engineer or designer creates an illusion and an illusionist performs it, but Harary undertakes both roles himself. He says that he thinks of himself primarily as an engineer, but feels very fortunate to also be able to perform.

"It gives me a great deal of insight as to how to design magic that would work better for an audience," he says.

Surprisingly, going up on stage and doing the magic is the easy part for him. "Before that ever happens, I have to do lighting design, stage design, set, sound, video, etc. The whole thing is my project, it's my sculpture. After you spend all this time crafting and creating this big single animal, going up and performing is fun," he says.

Harary's next aim is to work on an illusion of the Shinkansen, making the train disappear into its own reflection by placing a mirror at the end of the track. It seems there is no danger of his imagination running dry.

"I'm continuously thinking about magic," he says. "There are really no boundaries, because whatever I want to do, there's nothing stopping me from doing that."

Franz Harary: Mega Illusion, April 29-May 7 at The National Yoyogi Stadium. For tickets and more information, call Ticket Pia (03) 3237-9111.

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