A new online film for amusements boutique Art of Play is like a treasure chest come alive. It opens on a dark, well-appointed study filled with various curiosities. A wooden top, orb-headed figures and knick-knacks sit quietly on desks and shelves--until a a light bulb turns on.
The pieces then start to jostle, jump and spin, joined by flying cards, shifting puzzle parts and other delights in a wonder-world of magic, set to an enchanting track that feels straight out of Hogwarts.
The film, titled "Wonders Come to Life," takes the viewer through the retailer's actual "Secret Showroom" in San Diego. It's yet another example of in-house creative, led by the company’s Director of Puzzles and Games Adam Rubin, a former agency creative from Firstborn who left his 9-to-5 job after gaining success as a children’s book author. (With illustrator Daniel Salmieri, he created the wildly popular “Dragons Love Tacos” books, “Robo-Sauce” and “Those Darn Squirrels.”) Thanks to the books, Rubin has been able to dedicate his creative energies to his true passions--one of which is magic.
Art of Play is a boutique retailer founded by Dan and Dave Buck, twin brother magicians who have amassed a following for their talents in playing card manipulation, a form of magic that’s come to be known as “cardistry.” Their company began by selling custom-designed playing cards but has since branched out to other goods.
Rubin had known the Buck twins through the magic community and had originally approached them hoping to produce a product of his own (a pair of plates whose sizes seem to shift depending on how they’re positioned). “They told me they were fans of ‘Robo-Sauce’ and that they were looking to expand Art of Play into the world of puzzles, games and amusements. I had been obsessed with those sorts of things since high school.”
What was meant to be a brief Skype meeting then turned into a three-hour show-and-tell session, and soon after, Rubin stepped into his new role.
The new film appears on the Art of Play site and on YouTube and was shot entirely on location at the Art of Play showroom. The production came with a few challenges. “When you sell super unusual stuff, it’s harder to explain what it is,” Rubin says. “The goal for the film was to capture these incredible curiosities in action. To watch them spin, float or transform is fascinating but very hard to fully capture in still photograph.”
So to direct, Art of Play tapped illusionist Homer Liwag, long-time design director for David Copperfield, whose own story was captured in a Land Rover film. “He was always our dream director for the project, even when I was writing the initial treatment,” Rubin says. “He does everything from typography to lighting design. The level and variety of his talents are astounding. He inherently understands how to manipulate objects and imbue with them with magic.”
The original script, for example, called for a shot in which a wooden top spins on an outstretched hand, but Liwag’s storyboards and test depicted an even more “impossible” version of the idea: “Homer immediately sent us test footage from his phone--a closed fist turns palm up and a wooden top in the hand somehow flips upright and begins to spin,” Rubin recalls. “It looked like sorcery--everyone at Art of Play comes from a magic background but Homer fooled us all completely.”
His trick? He played the footage backwards.