Newark Charter School in Newark, Delaware needed our help to create a Beast Transformation effect for its February, 2016 production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. The effect had to be cost-effective, easily performed by cast with no prior magical illusion experience, and most of all, convincing to the audience. It also had to fit into the overall set design for their production of Beauty and the Beast.
We relied on our magic consulting background to devise an illusion for transformation of the Beast back into the Prince. The images below show the transformation area in context of the overall castle set. The set consists of a library area on the audience left side, a grand entryway in the center, and a transformation area on the right.
The trap door is a 2 foot high by 3 foot wide hole in the wall, covered by a door of the same size. It is hinged at the top in back so it opens back and up. Seams are disguised by gluing narrow strips of GORE-TEX® fabric that cover the trap door seams and a thin and durable, enabling the stone wall to be painted over them in a way that the seams are invisible, even from close up.
To motivate covering the Beast, we had Belle notice he was shivering on the ground after he had been mortally wounded by Gaston. The tapestry was present on the wall throughout the show, so it was quite natural for Belle to pull it down to cover him. Belle needs to buy a little time for the switch of the Beast Double to exit through the trap and the Prince to enter, which she gains by shaking and spreading out the cloth. With even more rehearsal time, this switch can be very fast. In this performance it was still very quick, and the audience reaction was gratifying.
Once the Beast (really the Prince) is covered, it is a matter of making the revelation as surprising and magical as possible. We chose to use a well-known, one-person levitation. Here's a fun, how-to video made by a young magician we found in a quick YouTube search. The Beast rises once a little bit like his body is trying to escape its earthly bounds, goes back down, and then rises much higher. At the peak of the rise and with the music in crescendo, the actor pivots and whips the cloth off while simultaneous removing and wrapping within the cloth the partial Beast mask he was wearing that sold the initial presence of the Beast under the cloth after the switch had been made.
Here's a talk-thru of our version of the Beast Transformation Illusion from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, as we devised it. Included after a description of the steps to accomplish the switch is a portion of the performance that shows the finished illusion. The Beast is played by Ben Strong. Belle is played by both Lindsay Hawtof and Brooke Chalfont.
We'd be happy to field your questions and offer advice if you are looking for ideas for the Beast Transformation. This was one of the most satisfying illusion projects we have tackled in recent years because once the technical details were worked out, it was straightforward and even fun to construct and coach.
Tom Way is a computer science professor, software engineer and entertainment professional who likes solving problems that challenge, vex or annoy him and others.