Immersive Magic

by Guy Frum

Immersive Magic Exhibit Turning Heads in Toronto

Finding safe forms of entertainment in the current and post-COVID-19 environment has not exactly been easy. Movies reduced to streaming releases, concerts cancelled for months to come, and festivals trying to figure out if it’s safe to host a mosh pit again, when those are basically the polar opposite of social distancing. Canadian production company Lighthouse seems to have figured out how to blow audiences away while keeping them properly distanced with its interactive magic show Illusionarium, which has escaped more death blows than Harry Houidini considering how many times it was slated to open in Toronto during 2020, only to be pushed back by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Immersive Technology at Its Best

Illusionarium, created by Jamie Allan, who styles himself as a British master magician, is the synergy of the latest in immersive technology and practical magic, combining LED walls, interactive social media, 3D projections, 3D mapping, and lasers to name a few things. The show is spread across four rooms, each of which brings to life a different era of magic through multiple immersive effects. The Palais Royale is hosted by none other than Houidini himself and includes some mind-reading sequences and dual layer 3D volumetric hologram technologies which create objects in three dimensions. 

A second room takes visitors back to ancient Egypt with immersive room effects that conjure up vanishing ats and levitations. An enchanted TV studio features famous magicians, including Penn & Teller, who do their best work on television, and the futuristic Evo-lusion seamlessly blends futuristic magic and technology. This is no virtual reality or flight simulator where audience members are crammed into a small space where all details can be controlled. The show takes place in the printing press rooms behind the building that is the home of the Toronto Star newspaper; a space that engulfs some 23,000 square feet.

Artsy Beginnings

This is the second immersive show the company has put on in Toronto, the first being Immersive Van Gogh. Currently on tour throughout North America, the exhibit celebrating the works of one of history’s most esteemed and mysterious painters includes 500,000 cubic feet of projections, 60,600 frames of video, and more than 90 million pixels. The event allowed visitors to step into some of Van Gogh’s more famous paintings, such as “The Starry Night”, “Irisies”, and “Sunflower”, using 15,000 square-foot screens and 360-degree projections. Originally created at New York’s Pier 36, it sold out in Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in its pre-COVID runs. Immersive Van Gogh’s creator is Italian digital art master Massimiliano Siccardi, a pioneer of immersive exhibitions in Europe with shows and art pieces dating back some 30 years. His original creations debuted in Paris, installations that have been seen by more than 2 million visitors all told. To completely bury audience members in the experience, Siccardi paired with composer Luca Longobardi, who uses the influences of Arvo Part, Alessandro Cortini, and Ludwig von Beethoven to drive his musical passions inside the exhibit.