Field Report: Little Man

If you want to feel like you've got one foot in the grave, I'd like to point out that the Paul Harris Presents' effect Little Man was first announced almost 10 years ago.

If you weren't around for that release, you missed quite a clusterfuck. 

It started when the ad was released which stated this...


You bring out a small gift bag and pull out a standard container of kid's clay. You peel off the lid, pull out a lump of clay and let your audience freely squish, pull and play with it. You then help the audience mold the clay into a little man (or woman!) The only reason you help is to insure that his little proportions are correct. 


A spectator then takes a final bit of clay and shapes it into a tiny clay heart. She warms the heart in her hands... and for a moment... she THINKS SHE MIGHT feel a tiny heart beat. She gently sticks the tiny clay heart onto Little Man's chest. You then stand the little guy on the flattened empty bag. Someone gently blows on his heart. Then a moment later...unbelievably... Little Man takes his first step! 


This is where you have to see the on-line demo to experience the devastating wonderfulness of it all. His entire clay body VISIBLY TURNS AND LURCHES FORWARD with each dramatic step. And not that you'd want to, but you could leave the room, go out for a burger, and Little Man would keep on walking! And after about 10 steps, when Little Man finally stops, anyone can immediately SQUISH HIM INTO A BALL OR TEAR HIM APART... AND THERE'S NOTHING TO FIND BUT A LUMP OF CLAY! 

Based on people's reactions to the trick once it was released, it seems like they were expecting the little clay man to move something like this.

Or at the very least like this...

And instead it moved like this...

I think the problem was their usage of the phrase "actually walking" in the ad copy. I don't know what that thing is doing, but it's not quite walking. If your friend started moving like that you wouldn't say, "Oh, Bobby's walking." You'd say, "Dear god, Bobby's having a stroke!"

But I think if you just saw the trick without coming in with preconceived notions of what it was going to be, you'd actually find it cute or charming. Instead of a letdown. You might not think it's $300 worth of charming, but you might find it at least a worthy release, which was not quite the consensus when the trick eventually came out (after numerous delays, if I'm remembering correctly).

I have two friends, Andrew and Michael who have had a significant influence on the style I've developed for my performances. Andrew in regards to writing and scripting, and Michael who was one of the first people I saw do what I think of as Tantric Magic. That is, tricks that don't need to conclude in 2-5 minutes, but instead can be extended over the course of half an hour or so. I've taken this and run with it, extending effects for hours and days.

A couple years after Little Man came out, my friend Michael was putting out the feelers to buy a used copy of the effect. I wondered what he had in mind. A few months after that, I found out.

We were at Michael's apartment in Astoria, Queens. We were getting ready to go out. There were four of us—Me; Michael; Michael's girlfriend, Tara; and my girlfriend, Heidi. We were going somewhere. Somewhere we needed to be at a specific time. It was probably a movie or maybe dinner. I can't remember.

We had met up maybe an hour before we had to get going and we were just talking and watching tv or whatever. Michael told us he had something he had to do for his niece before we left. "I've been putting it off for like two weeks now. I told my brother I'd make her this stop-motion animation thing she needs for one of her classes. I used to do stuff like this when I was a kid."

He pulled out the Little Man stuff and started going into the process of forming the man with Tara. I immediately knew there was something up, but I didn't know quite where he was going with this. He gave me a conspiratorial look. We have a pretty long history of being magical wingmen for each other so he knew I wasn't going to bust him or something.

So he's making this stop motion animation "movie" with Tara's help. Heidi and I are off to the side, half paying attention. Michael has his phone on a mini-tripod. He takes a picture of the little figure, moves it slightly, then takes another picture. He tells us he needs to make a video of the figure walking along this little black pad (actually I think it was a flattened bag if I'm remembering correctly), then have it turn at the end. His brother (the father of his niece) would then add sound and some titles to it. I forget all the details of the story he spun, and so does he.

Time was ticking and we needed to get going. It had been about a half hour and the little figure was only halfway across the pad. Michael was being very particular about things. "Let's see how this is looking," he said. He was using an app that strings all the pictures together to create a stop-motion film from them. He watched it, then he played it for Tara, then he plays it for me and Heidi. I'm immediately excited by what I'm seeing.

I still didn't know exactly what his plan was at that point, but he had created a stop-motion video where the little figure moved exactly as he does in real life when you perform the trick. So he's established this motion as being the motion of this figure when it's animate.

At this point everyone was agreed that we didn't have time to wait for him to finish this movie before we left for our engagement. "Shit," he said, "I promised my niece I'd have this done and over to them by 8." We sat there for a moment. "I didn't want to do this," he said. He asked for a strand of his girlfriend's hair. He lit it on fire and blew the smoke at the the little clay man. Then he started chanting something under his breath.

"You guys can't tell anyone you saw this," he said.

He put his camera back on the tripod and started recording video.

30 seconds passed and nothing happened. 

Then the little man started to move. The girls screamed. I screamed. He walked across the little black pad, just like we had seen him do in the video. It was surreal. We were seeing claymation in real life.

He finished his walk and turned out towards us. 

Michael stopped the video, said, "Great, that's done now," and squished the little man.

"Let's get going he said," putting on his jacket.

I asked him this weekend if he ever performed the trick again and he said he doesn't believe he did, other than to show some magic friends what it looked like. I asked him if it was worth the $240 he spent on it. His response was, "It was too much for that trick. But it's a fair price for the memory."