I chose to illustrate the process of Houdini’s escape from the Water Torture Cell aka Upside Down. Little did I know that there wasn’t any detailed information out there as to how the Water Torture Chamber worked, after studying a million photos and collecting what information was out there, I made a hypothesis of what he did. Resources said that the key that locked the hasps to the contraption (that held the stocks together) were actually trick keys. I concluded that there must be a secret space within the stocks, as in the photos there was a random metal strip running along the stocks. The keys actually connected to a spacer inside of the stocks, that when turned one way, opened up a space to slightly push the stocks apart. Houdini then pulled his feet free, turned around. He then used the pick he had on him to undo the lock and push the stocks out.

I was then left with the conundrum of how to communicate this process, I decided to use ‘cutaways,’ red and circles to focus in on the areas of the tricks (the trick keys, the spacers, the secret air pocket, the pick). I also decided to start with the process of illusion with two pictures–one of Houdini in the tank and the other accompanied by the words ‘Two Minutes’  as he stood in front of the curtain, to demarcate the area of ‘illusion’ appearing to the audience. As a thematic piece I decided to blend it in with the title, which I kept simplistic and used a FUTURA font as it nodded to the Deco movement, but was clean and minimal.

I placed the ‘How Houdini accomplished his trick’ on the left in a circular motion, that connected the arrows of the trick but also the idea of a process being performed. It was important to define direction for the viewer, as diagrammatic vectors decrease detail. I used a vintage colour palette, that was reminiscent of Houdini posters and provided a yesteryear aesthetic that simultaneously looked fresh and modern. I predominantly wanted the graphics to speak for themselves, aided with arrows, but considering the complexity of the process, I accompanied the diagrams with minimal language, again with a FUTURA font.

I abandoned the rule of thirds in places, and designed to an extent the layout around the graphics. Perhaps this unruly look doesn’t fit into a clean aesthetic but I quite like the nod to Saul Bass, that things are asymmetrical. It expresses the psychological asymmetry of an ‘escape artist’ and the strangeness of illusion. I think perhaps I went beyond the ‘iconographic’ process and perhaps should have been a little more conservative in my approach but I feel as though the process of illusion is more complicated than iconography can explain. I still retained a few iconographic things like keys, feet, locks etc. If I had the time I would have put more information in it, as in: water levels, size dimensions, time lapse etc. but then again it may have crowded the piece.

While I looked at photos for references, I didn’t use them to trace anything, all traces are based off my own pictures. The pen tool, grids and guidelines  became my comrades during the process.

As an admirer of diagrams and cutaways to secret dimensions, this process has been incredibly exciting to communicate. Perhaps this isn’t exactly how Houdini accomplished this trick but in my mind it makes sense and hopefully I have communicated it clearly.


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