Andreas and Chris Ehrlich belong to the international elite of illusionists. They have been named “Magicians of the Year” twice and delight young and old alike with their unique brand of magic during their tour. Shortly before the show in Stuttgart, the Ehrlich Brothers talked about how it all started, how they bring their ideas to life and the technical wizardry behind their spectacular shows.
trends in automation: We’re sitting here on the set of your show in Stuttgart. The sound check and lighting test are underway. Three 40-tonne Megaliners are parked in the courtyard. And tomorrow it’s on to the next city. You’ve enjoyed a rapid rise to fame in recent years. Did you ever dream that you would one day fill venues of this size?
Chris Ehrlich: We started out with just a small magic set when we were children. Never in our wildest imagination – though with our illusions you need a pretty vivid imagination – would we have believed that this would one day lead to such huge success. One of the cornerstones of our success is our love of detail and the determination to always do better. After every show we analyse exactly how it went, eliminate potential for error and improve our illusions wherever possible. Even though something may look perfect, for us it is never one hundred per cent perfect. We always want to try and make our shows just that little bit better.
Andreas Ehrlich: For us it’s just the same as working in industry. We also operate in a continuous improvement process, whether it’s for small tricks or big illusions.
trends in automation: Your show begins in just a few hours. You seem very relaxed – as does the entire crew. Yet everything here seems to involve a great deal of technical effort. Are you familiar with all of the technical details or are you “merely” the artists who do all of the creative work and leave the implementation side to your co-workers?
Chris Ehrlich: We are the architects of our productions and work both in and on them – from the initial idea to the final technical implementation. It’s always been that way. At home we used to spend hours on end working in our father’s workshop. That is where we laid the foundations for the success that we enjoy today.
Our goal was always to understand everything about the technical side of the overall production. We are constantly learning new topics and are often the last people to leave the workshop, long after midnight. We even write our own PLC programs and are heavily involved in the technical production process of our shows.
Andreas Ehrlich: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of building something. It runs in the family. Our father was a skilled toolmaker, mechanical engineer and vocational teacher. He had a huge amount of expertise and taught us an awful lot. In the early days he supported us in constructing our tricks, but always insisted that we help so that we would learn how things work ourselves. Enthusiasm for technology and using technology to captivate people has been a recurrent theme throughout our lives.
Bending spoons is old hat: the Ehrlich Brothers bend entire
railway tracks made from steel with apparent ease.
trends in automation: So technology is a key element of the illusions performed by the Ehrlich Brothers. How much time do you invest in technology and what are your expectations?
Andreas Ehrlich: Technology plays a big part in our lives. The art lies in ensuring that the audience is not aware of its presence. This means that we have to fit the technology into the smallest space possible, but at the same time make sure it is reliable.
Chris Ehrlich: Of course, magicians still use good old-fashioned sleight of hand. But if you want to amaze thousands of people, it’s simply no longer enough. You really need to offer more. And that’s only possible by making extensive use of technology. Strictly speaking, what we do is highly specialized machine building. One of our latest illusions, teleportation, is a perfect example of this. When we were developing this illusion, we couldn’t just walk into an engineering firm and say that we needed a teleporter. This is a highly specialized, individual solution that had to be developed from scratch.
trends in automation: Where do you use automation and how do you benefit from the high level of technical back-up?
Chris Ehrlich: Obviously we can’t give away the secrets behind our illusions. However, one technical innovation we can tell you about is the central roll-up projection screen that we have over the stage, which is driven using a Festo servo motor. The advantage of this is that it can be moved to any position. This means that we have maximum flexibility despite the infrastructure that changes from venue to venue. The roll-up projection screen is controlled by our own PLC structure, which operates the Festo controller.
Andreas Ehrlich: We used to use a turnkey standard solution, but it wasn’t reliable enough for our requirements. The screen didn’t move precisely enough to the required position and the projected image therefore didn’t always fit on the screen. With the new solution we no longer have this problem. It is taught before every show and once that’s done we can be sure that it will operate with one hundred per cent reliability. Automation gives us security, it relieves the pressure on us and gives us the freedom to focus on our performance on the stage.
The interview with Andreas and Chris Ehrlich took place on 29 January 2015 at the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart, Germany.
trends in automation: Festo components are now a permanent part of the automation for your show. How did the cooperation with Festo come about?
Andreas Ehrlich: The first contact we had with Festo was in the sales office in Bielefeld. In 2005 we devised a system for a show in which we wanted to implement a special compressed air application, and we were looking for a partner who could provide us with both the pneumatic hardware and the necessary technical expertise. We got to know a Festo sales engineer. After we had given a brief performance, he came backstage and gave some suggestions as to how we could improve certain technical processes. And that’s when we began working together. In the years that followed, the expert from Festo was instrumental in our success and development, providing us with Festo products and sharing his knowledge of pneumatics. Whenever there was a problem, he would time and again examine the technical details and present us with possible solutions. He is the one who introduced us to pneumatics.
Chris Ehrlich: We rely on perfect technology that can deliver maximum reliability during every performance. To illustrate just how much we trust Festo, you only have to look at the saw that I lie under every night. It’s controlled by a valve terminal from Festo – a CPX/MPA, to be precise.
trends in automation: The time flies by for the audience. People are fascinated by the smaller tricks and the interaction you have with them, but it is the big illusions that really get them going. When is an illusion perfect for the Ehrlich Brothers?
Chris Ehrlich: When it is one hundred per cent reliable and one hundred per cent emotional. The emotions of the audience are hugely important. We aren’t just a show that presents technical special effects. Technology provides the foundations on which we can build a show that delivers maximum emotion for the audience. You could say that we transform technology into emotion.
trends in automation: You put on some of the biggest illusion shows in the world right now. Even David Copperfield wanted to use some of your tricks. What are your goals for the future?
Chris Ehrlich: To put on a magic show on the moon. We’ll make zero gravity disappear.
Andreas Ehrlich: We actually do think it would be really cool to perform magic in a space station. But that is probably still a few years away. Will it ever happen? Who knows. We all have to have dreams. And we’ve always tried to make our dreams come true so that others can dream of a new reality.
Andreas and Chris Ehrlich were born in 1978 and 1982 in Herford, Germany. As children, they loved experimenting with a magic set. Today, their spectacular illusion shows fill entire arenas, with audiences of up to 10,000 people. Before joining forces as the Ehrlich Brothers in 2000 they worked as solo performers, winning numerous awards for their magic shows. They have been members of the Magic Circle in Germany since they were seventeen and eighteen years old respectively. In 2004 and 2013, the Ehrlich Brothers were named “Magicians of the Year”, following in the footsteps of world-famous magicians including David Copperfi eld and Siegfried & Roy. The enormous illusion shows that the brothers put on transport the audience to an amazing universe with fascinating special effects. But it takes many years of conceptual and technical development before an illusion is ready to be performed on stage. Automation plays a key role here. Whether it’s driving a motorbike off the screen of an iPad, a six-bladed saw cutting Chris into pieces, effortlessly bending railway tracks or growing an entire orange tree from a single orange seed, technical perfection provides the foundations for illusion through emotion.