Brian South has spent his life looking at the world differently and expecting more. Now he scatters smiles across the world through magic.
On a particularly chilly night at the Y, Brian D. South (BA ’14) was with his then-girlfriend, Rebekah E. Andersen (BS ’03). His plan was to perform a special card trick for her. He designed the trick to force her to select the two of hearts as her card. He then had one more instruction for her: “Look at the card; if it’s your card, say yes. If it’s not, then say no.”
“I’m showing her cards and she keeps saying ‘no, no, no,’ probably thinking this is the worst magic trick she has ever seen,” South explains. “Then I get to about the seventh card, the two of hearts, and it says, ‘Will you marry me?’”
“I literally tricked her into marrying me,” he says with a little smile.
South is the founder of Creative Magic, a national name in creating magic tricks. South’s tricks have been used by David Copperfield, Chris Angel, David Blaine, Penn and Teller, and up and down the Las Vegas Strip. He even holds the patent for the first magic trick ever performed in outer space.
He has been interested in magic since age seven. By the age of ten, he was already performing and making money at birthday parties and amusement parks. However, after serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he felt that it was time to get serious in his life, so the magic got put in his mother’s attic.
Within just a few months of that decision though, his mother had already volunteered South for a magic show at the local library. This started a snowball effect of shows at libraries and day cares throughout the summer break. Charging about $100 or $150 a show that summer, South earned enough money to pay for his first year at BYU.
Upon his arrival at BYU, South decided he wanted to get into more extravagant magic: illusions. The main distinction between a magic trick and an illusion is the size; a magician might make a rabbit appear out of a hat while an illusionist makes an elephant appear.
To break into illusions, South approached BYUSA. He volunteered to perform a fundraiser and was enlisted by the school’s magic club.
“I came in incredibly confident that I could do an illusion show even though I had never done a full illusion show before. I said I was going to saw a person in half, escape from a box, and even disappear from the stage and appear in the audience. They probably thought they had hit the jackpot. I told them I would do three shows for $900, and I thought I hit the jackpot.”
Using that money, South built all the illusions he would need from scratch. After three successful shows, South’s reputation began to grow; he was recruited by the Busch Gardens theme park in Virginia. Soon, he left the world of kid’s shows and started performing corporate jobs. Though magic just started as a hobby, it became a way to pay for college.
During South’s senior year, he started realizing that he did not like the idea of making a living in marketing (his major). A professor explained that a marketer’s number one goal was to make someone discontent in their current life. “I realized that I didn’t want to do this, so I doubled down on the magic,” he says.
South’s first step was to reduce the size of his props. He owned a trailer to store his tricks, and the trailer was getting full. So he took his shadow box, which was the size of a refrigerator and used for making a person appear, and redesigned the entire trick as a tent that could be stored in a duffel bag.
Every magic trick has an effect and a method. The effect is what the audience sees: someone levitating or vanishing. The method is how the trick is actually performed: the secret that must never be revealed. Every effect has unlimited methods to be performed. When the creation of a new trick begins, the creator must first decide on a new method or effect.
Many magicians take an old method and create a new effect. “It is the equivalent of making cookies out of cake batter. Someone has the cake batter, but decides to use it for a different purpose. Likewise, someone takes a trick to vanish a dog and instead makes an elephant disappear,” South explains.
However, South takes old effects and creates a new method for the performance. While appearing in a shadow box once took a heavy wooden box, South has modernized the trick with new materials to create a more efficient technique.
Other magicians approached South immediately trying to buy the new design. He sold his manufactured product to many others. “This was the first time I thought making magic could be a nice income,” he says.
The rest of South’s senior year was devoted to building his company, Creative Magic. His advertising classes became more meaningful because now his company needed publicity. He designed ads, websites, and a logo in his various required classes for graduation. “I benefited immensely from making all of these classes directly applicable to me.”
As Creative Magic emerged as a sustainable company, the focus shifted from creating new tricks to maintaining the sales of his existing product line. South “freaked out” at this realization and sold the company so he could go back to creating.
South has spent the last several years creating multiple successful Kickstarter projects and working as a creative consultant for a variety of companies.
Currently, South is working on a new program designed to help children develop socially through magic: Discover Magic.
Discover Magic puts magic in the hands of children. Participants learn high-quality, but simple-to-learn, tricks such as the Time Traveling Bandana—where a broken toothpick is magically restored. In each class, they receive secret file folders that teach both the trick and one of the eight traits of a “true magician.”
“A magician is respectful, prepared, enthusiastic, confident, humble, creative, authentic, and giving. Every class focuses on one of these attributes. I feel there is a real need for this in today’s society; children’s social skills are deteriorating fast as more time is spent texting and playing games on personal devices than ever before. Performing magic requires healthy interaction with other people. We have camouflaged a life skills course as a fun magic camp. We are making these traits the core of what we are teaching and giving these children skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” South says.
Discover Magic currently has about 100 presenters around the world teaching these life skills classes in English and recently a businessman in China bought the rights to translate Discover Magic into Mandarin.
“I use magic as a vehicle to do good in the world. There is enough depression, frustration, and sadness; I saw an opportunity where I can focus my life on doing fun things. The whole concept of magic is to make you feel like anything is possible. Most people see magic as a way to escape the mundane of the world for a brief moment, but I prefer to see it as a way to make the world we live in less mundane.”
—Collin T. Mathias ('16)