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Derren Brown and the lottery prediction - The Ex-Communicator

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September 10th, 2009


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08:59 pm - Derren Brown and the lottery prediction
Did you see Derren Brown 'predict' the lottery numbers last night on Channel 4? I like DB; I think he's smart and funny. For those who didn't see it, immediately on the announcement of the numbers on BBC1 he turned a perspex podium around, to reveal a series of balls which showed the numbers which had just been called out on the other channel.

There's a Guardian article here speculating about how he did it, with a poll.

The theories in the Guardian poll are:

34% Split screen trick photography
11.4% Numbers projected onto the blank balls
5.1% 'Writing recognition' software
5.8% The numbers didn't actually exist and we were hypnotised to think he got it right (I must confess I didn't actually notice if they were the right numbers - rely on others to check)
4.1% The podium was swapped
18.5% It was filmed in reverse and played back as if in real time (I don't think this is possible, but it's the solution he has hinted at)
20.8% Debbie McGee wearing a cloak of invisibility

My son thinks DB spent the past year recording 50 or 60 thousand 'reveal the balls' scenes, and the correct one was spliced onto the studio feed. Although there are many more combinations than that, this gave him a better than evens chance, and if he'd missed one number he would have talked his way out of it.

I think split screen trick photography is a rubbish method, and I hope he didn't use that. I think swapping the podium during the camera pan is an elegant solution. At the time it happened I thought there might be an LCD display built into the balls, and I see the first comment on the Guardian blog suggests that.

DB says he's going to reveal how he did it on Friday. A further question is whether he's likely to tell the truth about the method he used. I think he's more likely to make something up: his 'revelations' are generally fake.

(20 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:mraltariel
Date:September 10th, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
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He'd only need a delay of a couple of seconds on his "live" feed (after all, we already get it delayed by several seconds by the broadcast process) and splicing in a pre-recorded bit as they turn it round to swap in the right balls.
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From:communicator
Date:September 10th, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
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That's definitely possible. I think it will be disappointing if he did it with blunt camera or film trickery. It would dent his standing as a magician in my eyes.
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From:mraltariel
Date:September 10th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
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Me too. Do you know if there was a live audience. If so - then the delay would still be a good approach (like in The Sting), and a bit of sleight would be required to get the numbers on the balls.
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From:communicator
Date:September 10th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
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I think he said he was alone in the room with two cameramen? Then we only saw one camera used, which might be significant.
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From:ajr
Date:September 10th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
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That's correct, there was no live audience. We did 'see' two cameras used - there was a brief wide shot showing the initial cameraman filming him before it cut 'back'. Probably more trickery here - while there may have been two cameramen, it's more than likely there were actually three cameras, and that the cutaway there was so it could cut 'back' to camera three, one attached to some kind of pre-programmed motion-control rig that enabled the split-screen trick to be pulled off with the illusion of hand-held camera shake.
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From:hawkeye7
Date:September 10th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
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That's what I thought. The old "wire" trick.
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From:mraltariel
Date:September 10th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
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You could probably even avoid doing a splice, with cunning use of angles and two cameras.
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From:communicator
Date:September 10th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
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As seen in The Sting. I rather hope it wasn't that though.
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From:ajr
Date:September 10th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
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Looks like split-screen photography to me. The giveaway is the fact that just before he's ready to do the reveal, one of the balls moves slightly, as if the assistant placing the numbers in didn't manage to get that one in properly.

As for the other options, most of them can be discounted easily. Projecting the numbers onto the balls would be terrifically difficult to manage, especially when he wobbles each ball one by one. 'Writing recognition' sounds like 'magic', and needlessly complicated. Can't see how filming in reverse would work, given it was 'live'. Likewise, the Sting solution is unlikely to be the answer, as any delay was a scant matter of seconds, not enough to have set the results up ahead of time.

It's also unlikely that he pre-recorded any 'reveal the balls' scenes, as that would take *far* too much time to even get a handful of reveals ready.
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From:communicator
Date:September 10th, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)
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I want it to be something more satisfying than a camera trick. I kind of hope he did it backwards and used split screen just to pipe in the 'live' TV footage onto an already-recorded reverse sequence. I haven't quite got the logistics worked out though.
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From:iainjcoleman
Date:September 10th, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC)
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However he did the trick - and I lean towards a clever version of split-screen and some pre-recorded segments - what really sells the illusion is his excellent showmanship. All his terrible nervousness about whether the trick would work, his aim to get maybe five of te six numbers right - all just performance, but all crucial to drwing us into the drama of the trick.
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From:communicator
Date:September 10th, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
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Yes, he's superb at that sort of stuff. And even better there's a further layer on top where he is projecting 'but we know I'm just pretending to be nervous, don't we, smart kids?' but that is also a bit of showmanship too
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From:mraltariel
Date:September 11th, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
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He has a chunk on his website "for professional magicians" which is actually frantically easy to get at, on which he is selling some rather excellent books about how he does a lot of his illusions.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 11th, 2009 08:16 am (UTC)
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I love you!
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From:communicator
Date:September 11th, 2009 08:18 am (UTC)
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Not sure if you are Derren Brown or Debbie McGee - but either way I'm up for it

Edited at 2009-09-11 04:29 pm (UTC)
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From:iainjclark
Date:September 11th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
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And, yes, he made something up!

A bit frustrating actually, as I didn't buy into any of his explanations, including the winky one at the end. Hmmmm... It was an interesting programme about randomness and how bad we are at understanding it, and I do think the man is a genius, but frustrating nontheless.
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From:communicator
Date:September 11th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
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Yes, his explanations were complete bullshit, and I think those 'demonstrations' were sleight of hand. Good fun though.
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From:iainjclark
Date:September 11th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
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Yes but never mind all that HOW DID HE DO IT? ;-)

The demonstrations were definitely some kind of misdirection and/or just random chance. I do like the way he constructs pseudo-logical chains of misdirection through myths, half-truths and subtle non sequiturs. The link with the 'wisdom of crowds' is specious because there's at leat a small experiential chance of guessing the weight of a cow, but none at all of predicting a random number.

I wouldn't put it past him to have held 50 different focus groups on different nights and have shown only with the one that got the best hits -- although the fact that it was the last two weeks and that they were held during the lottery counts against that.

[User Picture]
From:sugoll
Date:September 11th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)
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It's all in the balls. Literally. There are numerous - 'scuse the pun - ways you can get digits to appear on a ping-pong-sized ball if you're willing to invest in a little technology and they don't have to stand up to any analysis afterwards.

As for the explainer show, the only truthful bits were the beginning and the end. "It's a trick." Which is option four, of course: not predict, but convey.
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From:communicator
Date:September 11th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
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That's what I thought at the time, as he revealed them. I think it's a slightly dull way of doing it, though better than a split screen.

I had to laugh at the poor dupes who apparently thought they had picked the numbers for him through automatic writing. Still, I suppose they had a fun time. I said 'I don't think he should mislead all those people' and H said (rightly) 'That's his job'

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