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Next List: Cyber Illusionist Marco Tempest

Aired November 13, 2011 - 14:00   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You're about to meet Marco Tempest; he is a cyber illusionist. Now I really have no idea what that means. But what I can tell you is this, like most agents of change, he is a force in his field. You see in Marco's world, what is often perceived to be real, is just an illusion. And he uses technology to blur the lines between what is true and be what is not. Still confused? Well, truth is even after getting to know him over the next 30 minutes, you may still be left scratching your heads. But you will understand why Marco Tempest is on THE NEXT LIST.

MARCO TEMPEST, CYBER ILLUSIONIST: My name is Marco Tempest. I'm a cyber illusionist, which means I combine magic and science to create illusions. It's deception, it's science, technology, gadgets. Calling myself a magician evokes a certain image. Like if we hear magician we immediately know what that is. It's a guy who does a magic trick. A cyber illusionist, requires explanation, its a conversation starter. That is what my work is all about.

GUPTA (voice over): Magic as old as time. And throughout history it's been celebrated and feared. But now this age-old art form is being re-imagined by Tempest. And he's taking it to another level.

TEMPEST: My tools are very outside of the realm of magic. I use computer vision, high-speed photography, video graphic designs. Thermal imaging, robotics, neural (ph) network, learning, semantic systems, it is all these things which enable me to create my illusion.

Do you see the umbrella?


TEMPEST: All right.

I'm kind of completely abandoning magic as we know it.

GUPTA: Some might say technology is magical. It makes possible what may have once seemed impossible. Technology blurs the lines of what is real in our lives. That's the concept at the heart of Tempest's work.

My ultimate goal is to tell a story and to maybe explain real life in a magical way and evoke this kind of conversations within my audience. So they might reflect on things that have happened in their life which is seen in my magic.

When we're little kids everything is magic, like soap bottles, rainbows, snowflakes. Then we grow up and magic disappears out of our lives somehow. Now a magician, if he does it right, has the power to re-enchant people. To give them that feeling back, for a short amount of time and then I think that's a really good cause.

GUPTA: Tempest performs for audiences all over the world, from random sidewalks to grand stages, even online.

TEMPEST: One of my favorite magicians is Carl Jermaine. He had this wonderful trick, where a rose bush bloomed right in front of your eyes. But it was his production of a butterfly that was the most beautiful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the creation of life.


TEMPEST: For me it's very important that my work is understood by large audiences and also by international audiences. That it's easily translated into multiple languages. I love to perform in local languages where I am.

(Speaking Japanese)

GUPTA: Tempest has also found a niche, helping corporations it tell their stories.

TEMPEST: I make my living by doing a lot of corporate performances, which means I help companies emotionalize their content, their messaging, their products.

As technologies evolve I have to evolve with them. And the great way to do that is to work for big corporations which make these technologies. So a lot of times I'm actually out there introducing new products or new concepts, future concepts of living and interaction. And by that I have the opportunity to get access to these technologies at a very early stage. Sometimes I might have a product, six months or almost a year, before it's out in the public. And that gives me just a little bit of an advantage over the general audience.

Innovation is really essential seam in my work and pushing boundaries, working and collaborating with people outside of my comfort zone, completely different backgrounds and, expertise, and creating tools that might not have existed before to actually create my magic.

OK, vamonos!

GUPTA: Hey, Marco.

TEMPEST: How are you doing?

GUPTA: Good to see you.

TEMPEST: Come on in.

GUPTA: Coming up we go further into the mind of cyber illusionist Marco Tempest.


GUPTA: Hey, Marco.

TEMPEST: How are you doing?

GUPTA: Good to see you.

TEMPEST: Come on in. Let me show you around.

GUPTA: So this is literally where the magic happens?

TEMPEST: Yes, it's my secret magic lab.

GUPTA: I feel magical already just being here.

So, what are we looking at here, Marco?

TEMPEST: This is a new piece I'm working on. It's a magical crossword puzzle. There's some empowering words and this should like kind of show this in a fun way. I can start it up real quick, you maybe give it a shot. I don't know if you recognize any patterns within the letters, which are on the table right now. You can just arrange them if you feel that you see-

GUPTA: It would be a little embarrassing if I didn't get this. Now, I'm just moving these and I saw that when you touch the letters, they didn't have these letters on them in the beginning.


GUPTA: So, you did something to bring these letters --

TEMPEST: It gave you complete and, oh, we have another one.

GUPTA: Wow. That's-

TEMPEST: Please.

GUPTA: I'm just trying to see what you did there. It was fascinating.

TEMPEST: This is just kind of like a pro-typing station and kind of to figure out how things could look later on. That's my domain, actually. Quickly. Put this together.

GUPTA: You got that one pretty quick, yes.

Do you mind if I pick one of these up?

TEMPEST: Sure. Yeah. These are the smallest possible screens available right now. They're kind of educational toy, which lends themselves excellent to do some magic with, and make it very tactile and possibly have audience members interact with it, and do magical things. GUPTA: You even have CNN. You're pushing all the right buttons, so to speak.

So, what is your thinking? What is your process? How do you come up with this stuff?

TEMPEST: Sometimes it's inspired by technology, like these. I was able to get my hands on these. They are called safe tails (ph). I got a developer agreement so I can actually put my own content on them. Sometimes it's the technology which starts the process and other times it's a story, or a fragment of a piece of information, which might lead to a trick. So there are different roads which can lead to a finished trick or finished segment.

GUPTA: So, someone may show you this, and say this is one of the smallest screens and in your mind thinks I can do something with this, something that's a deception, or a con, or magic.

TEMPEST: Yes. It was just so compelling. It's such a playful way. It's like the most minimal computer you could think of. There's no interface. The interface is just how you relate these to each other. So it is magical in itself, and that makes it perfect for the kind of things I'm looking for.

GUPTA (voice over): Tempest's love of magic started out like it does for many in his field, with a magic kit at a young age. He grew up in Switzerland in a working class family. By the time he was 12 he was performing with the children's circus in front of thousands.

TEMPEST: Back then I didn't really know what magic was all about or how the tricks would actually work. But magic very soon provided a sort of an escape from reality. I think for a lot of kids this is exactly what magic is.

GUPTA: He began winning awards and competitions but within a few years Tempest got bored.

TEMPEST: There was a time for me I started disliking magic. Magic felt old and boring and almost dead. As it turned away from magic I actually discovered that there's so much other stuff out there in popular culture, which are relevant to today's audiences which could be brought into magic and make magic relevant once again.

GUPTA: For Tempest adding pop culture to his tricks in the mid 80s meant emulating what he loved most of all, special effects like those he was seeing in the movies.

TEMPEST: People would actually go to the movies to see special effects. So, if I could bring the special effects of the movies to the stage, then in my mind, sure enough, I would have a recipe, the DNA to do magic which is contemporary and which would attract larger audiences.

GUPTA: But equipment to create special effects was hard to come by at that time. So Tempest made a bold move and called companies that had the high-ends gear he need and asked to use it. TEMPEST: I said if you let me use that gear, in return, I'll be able to show you a magic show which has not existed before, which will incorporate your products. And I give you a free show.

GUPTA: The companies agreed. And it Tempest found himself with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment at his disposal. His magic would never be the same.

(On camera): Is this what magic is going to look like in the future?

TEMPEST: I think so to a large part. At the same time I don't think that all magicians should now use technology. Magic is such a huge field, , so many ways to express yourself. If technology is your thing, then use it, if it's not then, do something else.

GUPTA: He's a YouTube phenom, he's a street sensation, but wait until you see what happens when Marco Tempest takes the stage. More NEXT LIST continues after this.


TEMPEST: In my corporate performances, a lot of times it's about revealing a product or bringing on a speaker in a stage environment, or giving a key communication message in a magical way. So the corporations approach me. They give me their messaging, their products and I incorporate them into, you could say, a magic routine. And I try to incorporate as much as possible without it being corny, but at the same time like stay true to their messaging, and make it fun for the audience.

I'm from Switzerland and over there, we love it when technology makes our lives easier. There's really only one thing we like more, and that would be chocolate.

I work with a marketing departments and I look at what they try to say about their products, how they want to position themselves in the marketplace, or what ways there would be to make their products resonate with their audiences.


That's actually a super fascinating process, to get access to technology before it's outside in the marketplace.

I get a glimpse at a possible future sometimes, like what is going to happen in pattern recognition, or speak recognition, or computational photography. So these are very, very exciting themes, which then later on can be incorporated back into my magic.

Some of the companies I work for are like Apple Computers, IBM, Intel, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Panasonic. There are pharmaceutical companies, there are services companies, big telecommunication companies, everything which is loosely related to technology.

There's also fashion brands and luxury fashion brands. So there's a broad range and there are many, many markets all around the world. MATT KENDALL. SR. VP CONCEPT ARTISTS: I think Marco's biggest contribution is that he takes one of the oldest art forms in the world of magic, and modernizes it. And he is able to dance this dance between virtual reality and actual reality in a way that is inclusive and open and appeals to everyone.

TEMPEST: I feel that I succeed when I can give them that moment of being enchanted and maybe give them a glimpse at a possible future. And if within that I manage to somehow have a corporate message, which resonates with me and them, you know, even better.

Making art is not my aspiration. My aspiration is to do what I love; like to show my passion to my audiences. And if I can be passionate about something in a corporate event and I can show that to my audience, that's totally enough. And that's exactly what I want to achieve. It's terrible.



TEMPEST: So the type of magic I like, and I'm a magician, is the magic that uses technologies to create illusions. So I would like to show you something I've been working on. It's an application that I think will be useful for artists, multimedia artists, in particular.

It synchronizes videos across multiple screens of mobile devices. I've borrowed these three iPods from people here in the audience to show you what I mean.

One of my favorite magicians is Carl Jermaine. He had this wonderful trick where a rose bush would bloom right in front of your eyes. But it was his production of a butterfly that was the most beautiful.

Ladies and gentlemen, the creation of light.


TEMPEST: When asked about deception, he said this: "Magic is the only honest profession. A magician promises to deceive you, and he does."

I like to think of myself as an honest magician. I use a lot of tricks, which means that sometimes I have to lie to you.

I feel bad about that. But people lie every day. He's going to say, hey, where are you? I'm stuck in traffic. I'll be there soon. We've all done it, right?

GUPTA: Not me.

TEMPEST: Some days we lie. Oh, let me stop this quick.

So yeah, the secrets are all behind.

GUPTA: There's a little butterfly. TEMPEST: Actually, this is one of my biggest secrets here. This is the prompter, the teleprompter. And if I start this, this kind of tells me where I am in the piece.

GUPTA: Really? So you look up there and have at least some sense of timing.

TEMPEST: Sense of timing, but really the most important thing about this is how it starts. This is my super trade secret. I have smiley faces on the back of all of my props to remind me to have fun with what I do. Because sometimes this stuff is very, very challenging, but this is kind of a reminder to enjoy myself, no matter what.

GUPTA: That's so funny to me, because here we are in this technologically sophisticated lab. And you literally have a smiley face to say, you know what, have fun with this. That's great. You know, technology needs, I guess, just old-fashioned little reminder like that.

TEMPEST: A lot of people think performing magic is quite easy. Actually it's nerve-racking to be in front of a room full of people and do something that has to be very precise. This is a very good way to kind of prepare mentally, to say hey, let's have great fun.

GUPTA: Technology, as we all know, can fail. I mean, things may not work. My phone fails on me all the time. What happens in a situation like that?

TEMPEST: I found that when things go wrong, the audience typically is very forgiving. It's like you smile, and say, let's start this again. Everybody is laughing. They go see, even he's not perfect. It's like it usually a situation can be diffused easily. Like if something goes wrong. A lot of times little things go wrong and nobody knows because the audience never knows what to expect.

GUPTA: Right. And it's a little bit of a peek behind the curtain for them into what you do.

TEMPEST: But at the end of the day I hope things go as planned.

GUPTA: That's fascinating. Again, this is just something anybody could get, this particular software?

TEMPEST: The software is called Multivid, like multiple videos, it is available for free at the app store. I try to give away the technology, but maybe not the poetry. Ideally they will make their own contents but --

GUPTA: That's an interesting way of putting it. You would like to give away the technology but the poetry is still a very -- that's an individual thing.

TEMPEST: Absolutely. I think everybody should use these digital tools to express themselves in their own way.

GUPTA: In their own way. You've come up with a very clever way to do it.

TEMPEST: Thank you.

I think maybe a theme or like an overarching theme, will be that in my work, I constantly have to solve problems and get acquainted with new things. And that's a big theme in all our lives. Our lives change so rapidly and we have to adjust to all the new things coming into our lives. And maybe watching my show puts that in a more lighthearted view, so to speak.

What I put out is not the end of things. It's the beginning. If I succeed, it's the beginning of a conversation, it's the beginning of real engagement. I think artists these days, have to find ways to show what they do and their point of view, who they are, to find audiences which attracted to that, to that combination of things.

So, I think my work talks about creativity, being yourself, showing yourself to your audience, hopefully, and treating them nicely and giving them a magical experience.

GUPTA (on camera): Like Marco, everyone you're going to meet on THE NEXT LIST, is a force in their field. They often see opportunities where others do not. They chase personal passions often in the face of challenges and resistance, and sometimes those passions, they come about quite by accident. Other times, it's as if they were born to do it. They are a unique collection of people coming from all sorts of different worlds but they have this one thing in common, they are all agents of change. And that's what earns them a spot on THE NEXT LIST. I'm Doctor Sanjay Gupta.