“When the theater is empty I like to go out on stage. It’s lonely and beautiful. I look at your empty seat and think about you being in it. … Then I practice. I often practice stuff you’ll never see. For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a hundred-year-old trick called the David P. Abbott Ball. It is a very, very hard trick, almost like juggling. I put in an hour almost every day. I try to get the tricky moves so deeply into my muscles and brain that I can forget I’m doing a trick. Soon I’ll know whether the ideas I have for this trick are possible. But I won’t know that till I learn all the moves and invent my own. If the trick doesn’t work out, you’ll never see it, and I won’t be sad. I had fun every second I was working. I love the stuff you never see.”
That's Teller, from this 2008 profile in Las Vegas Weekly.
Great magic is like great craftsmanship of any kind. It means doing an incredible amount of work, while hiding the fact that you've done any work at all. The practice and effort is invisible in the final product, and that's what makes it magical. It takes a rare combination of diligence and humility, because frankly, most of us want some credit for working hard.
I see things all the time that make me think about this quote. Here are a recent few:
Dark Sky is a 4 dollar iPhone app that does one thing exceptionally well: predict whether it's going to rain in the next hour. It doesn't try to do much else. I was wooed into purchasing by its clean UI, and then amazed by the accuracy of its results. The single-mindedness of the app conceals the huge amount of engineering complexity behind that simple histogram. Take a quick read through this article about their methods.
Make it Real: Greg Petchkovsky
We haven't begun to scratch the surface of what's possible with 3D printing, so when someone pushes way past what anyone has done thus far, it really does seem like magic. The meticulous care with which Greg Petchkovsky creates these subtle public art pieces is amazing.
I haven't spent much time with Paper, the iPad drawing app, but I loved reading about their trials and tribulations coming up with a realistic-feeling color mixer. The trouble is that mixing colors in a way that seems realistic has more to do with human perception than it does with math and science. There isn't a single model that will account for all the eccentricities in how we perceive color, so it takes a lot of work to create a color mixer that feels simple and natural.