For his first TV special that aired in 1997, magician David Blaine walked away from a crowd, stood with his back to the audience, and lifted off the ground some two feet to the amazement of the spectators.
To start, Blaine was not wearing any special shoes and was freely walking around and performing for spectators. Anyone who was there would have been able to examine Blaine and his shoes, and they would have found nothing. The crowd could have also examined the area where Blaine performed the levitation, both before and after, and they would have found nothing.
So how could Blaine have managed this trick? Was it pure magic or just an illusion?
Blaine isn't the first magician to master the art of levitation. What he's doing is something called Balducci levitation, which is an optical illusion. The reason Blaine steps 10 feet away from his audience is so that when he rises up on the toes of one foot, it will appear like he's floating because of the angle the audience is viewing him from. Wearing long pants further obstructs the view of the magician's feet, which heightens the optical illusion.
Blaine can also use various camera angles and tricks to make it seem like he is levitating. When Blaine is shown hovering a few feet off the ground, there are no visible audience members, which means he most likely used props to lift him which the cameras were able to hide and only made it appear that he was levitating some two or more feet off the ground.
Showing reaction shots of an audience after the footage of him rising a few feet off the ground makes it seem like an audience was present for the entire trick. While the crowd’s reactions were real, what they saw was Blaine lifting up a few inches, not two feet. The illusion was nothing more than a camera trick. There's definitely more movie magic than real magic in his stunts.
While the trick played off well on television, Blaine makes it hard for other magicians who have long performed the traditional levitation. Now when a magician performs the levitation, crowds might ask why the performer can’t lift up two feet like that Blaine guy.