Sub Trunk Size

Discuss your favorite platform magic and illusions.

Postby Guest » 08/28/07 07:02 PM

I have already posted in "best substitution trunk," but i think this will get more attention. I am about 6'1" and want to know how big of a trunk i would need to perform metamorphosis without problems due to my height. I want to add this to my routine and will probably perform it at an outdoor venue, so i was thinking i will probably need a "top" load trunk. If anyone has any tips, please post. It is much appreciated because i have no magic dealers in my area.
Thank you,

Postby C Howell » 12/27/08 02:30 PM

It's quite an old post so not sure if my comments are still of use, but I'm almost 6'3 and my sub trunk is about 28" tall with a top load. I'm quite slim and with this size there is room to move around as necessary and still be able to get out.

Really you'd do best to try it out live before you buy or get advice from someone built like you who has used the same size trunk. I bought my trunk from someone who bought it and was too short to easily stand on top, so all these things should be considered.

Good luck! :) Hope this helps.


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Postby Comedy Writer » 02/12/09 02:00 PM

Yes - Build a mock-up first. I've used both regular and jumbo sizes and the bigger is better.
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Postby GAMOLO » 02/16/09 08:11 PM

As I got older and heavier, it became apparent that I could more comfortably get into and out of the trunk by using a back loader instead of my Abbott's Canvass Covered trunk top loader I modified the back panel.

I suspect if you are very tall you may also find it more difficult in one move to drop down in the top loader trap and then bend your head down and roll around without shaking the trunk....whereas by gently easing into the back loader already crouching down you are preset in your inside trunk position. Of course, some speed is sacrificed this way, but I find that comfort and safety are more paramount as one becomes older and the audience is not really less entertained because of it. The effect is so well known that the audience is ahead of you anyway, and selling the escape/switch by you performing it smoothly & faultlessly is more important than establishing a speed record.
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Postby Jonathan Pendragon » 07/26/10 10:18 AM

The sub-trunk is like a suit, it should be tailor made. The beautiful red trunk Charlotte and I used for many years was custom fitted to us by John Gaughan. When the arrow went through my heart, it hit my liver and the muscles that work the lungs first. The damage to my body was severe. I could no longer manuver in the red trunk, which was rather small. We took our back-up trunk, a Chalet, and adapted it with my lid design.

An important element of size is determined by who does what. I firmly believe that there is no "magician role" to the effect. I went in first, so did Roy. Doug Henning jumped on top of the trunk as did Siegfried. Houdini did both roles at different times in career. My rule is simple, whoever performs their role best, gets that part. I got out faster than Charlotte, she jumped in faster than anybody. The size of the trunk should take this into consideration.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 07/26/10 10:31 AM

JP, with luggage and packing changes in the last few decades, what's your feeling on using a more modern packing box as the container for the Metamorphosis (sub trunk trick)? The pretext being the box is how you transport part of your act perhaps even with some of the foam eggcrate stuff inside. -JonT
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 07/26/10 11:15 AM

Id be very interested in Jonathans answer, but from my point of viewan observerthe illusion is no longer about the trunk, so what it looks like is meaningless. From Hennings One, two Three; its me! to Siegfried & Roys lightening fast transposition and then ultimately the Pendragons remarkable speed (enhanced by JPs tear-away cloth), its about speed. The other common denominator in all three of these presentations is that neither the trunk nor the bag is inspected. Audiences know about trap doors but it doesnt matter. No one can move that fastor so it appears. Done properly, its still one of the greatest illusions ever.

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Postby David Alexander » 07/26/10 11:41 AM

How one presents the Sub Trunk/Canvas Covered Box depends on the venue one is working. As described by Dustin it was done in a stage/review-type setting. For club dates it was often done differently.

At one time Southern California had Bill & Mary Chaudet, Chuck & Phyllis Kirkham, Chuck & Jan Jones, and Piet Paulo all doing either the Sub Trunk or the Canvas Covered Box. There were probably others but they don't come immediately to mind.

For many years Bill and Mary Chaudet did the trunk as the finale of their club date act. The trunk was a simple plywood packing-type box with four small wheels. It wasn't painted or even varnished as I recall. It looked like what it purported to be: a box the show was transported in.

Bill and Mary did not use a bag or cuffs or a change of costume or anything like that. The box was inspected by a committee from the audience.

Mary got into the box and it was locked and roped. The committee held a black cloth tent as Bill wrapped it around him and they made the change with Bill ducking back and Mary's head taking his place. As she stepped forward the committee was instructed to drop the tent which draped itself over the trunk.

Mary thanked each of the committee and sent them off stage and then unwrapped the trunk and revealed Bill inside.

I asked Bill why he didn't do any of the extra things like the examined bag/handcuffs and he told me that within a short period of time all the audience would remember was that he and Mary changed placed quickly. That was good enough for him.
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Postby Glenn Bishop » 07/26/10 01:37 PM

My dad called it the triple challenge escape. There were a lot of gags he did using the two audience helpers. He used the abbots canvas covered box with a special red canvas cover.

He did it in Circus, Night clubs, banquets and in just about every show and venue one can imagine.

In my opinion without the canvas cover - it is not much of a trick. The canvas cover is that added effect that really fools them - plus the six locks. I used my dads box for several years after he retired - it worked great till it fell apart due to age and thousands of shows.

Todays magicians may think that the canvas cover and six locks and all the added little bits of business takes up to much time today - and they seem to want to do the trick fast - to me almost at a throwaway speed.

To me the difference between the canvas covered box and the sub trunk is the same difference between the thin model sawing and the selbit sawing. Two different styles of performing are needed and two different kinds of magicians favor each.

Just my opinion.
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Postby SteveP » 07/26/10 08:17 PM

Dustin Stinett wrote:The other common denominator in all three of these presentations is that neither the trunk nor the bag is inspected. Audiences know about trap doors but it doesnt matter. No one can move that fastor so it appears. Done properly, its still one of the greatest illusions ever.


Henning's presentation had a volunteer come up and inspect just about everything. I first saw his live show in Vegas about 1978 and was chosen to come for the illusion.

He had me kick the trunk, examine the lid, check the locks on the shackles once the girl was locked, hold the top of the bag up while he tied it, examine the knot and then help him run the chain around the trunk and he locked it in the front. He gave me the key to hold and I watched it from the side. After the exchange, the girl took the key, had me check the lock and then I went back to my seat. Now this all moved very quickly. Doug was pulling me from one thing to the other, so it didn't slow the pace down.

The interesting thing about the three presentations you've described is how different each trunk is. Henning's was just a beat-up packing case. Doug had a couple of them and years later had a chance to really examine one after he sold everything and was surprised how small it actually was.

I've owned three trunks over the years and have worked with others with the various illusionists I've worked for and I think the best direction is to have one custom made. Mock it up with cardboard first and see how easy it is to move around. Someone above stated that bigger is better, personally I think smaller is better, but not so small as to hinder what needs to make everything work smoothly.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 07/26/10 08:35 PM

Steve, I have no doubt about that, but the last time I saw him do it, there was no inspection. I do recall that he did have it inspected whenever he did it on TV (the host doing the work).

Was the performance you saw one of his college lecture/shows that he did? And I would also be curious about those who saw the Magic Show--live--and how it was presented during that.


PS: Mark Kalin has one of Doug's trunks, and you're right; it's tiny! I couldn't squeeze my big-o butt in there if I tried!
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Postby SteveP » 07/26/10 08:54 PM


I saw him at the Las Vegas Hilton, opening for Bill Cosby. The only time I saw him perform it on TV was The Muppet Show and I think even then it was examined.

You and I saw the same trunk! Kalin had it at his house in Vegas. This must have been around 1988 or 89.
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Postby Jonathan Pendragon » 07/27/10 07:55 AM

What this discussion proves is that several different presentations are valid. The history of the effect shows an evolution of thought and method. From the original "Box Trick" (a simple escape), the illusion developed into an elaborate stage illusion, David's Passion's Prisoner. The basic effect is powerful and elegant, so much so that it needs no introduction to set-up the action.

My work was never about speed for speed's sake. The illusion can be seen as an escape, penetration, transposition and transformation. The later being the effect I spent decades trying to realize. To accomplish this we minimalized the importance of the trunk and focused on the individual who stood above it. The split cloth was designed to this end. Ripped in two, it really disappears from sight once the change is made. The magician is framed (centered) by this action. The super-human presentation would have been slowed by the exposition of inspection, although, in our full evening show we did have the trunk inspected, but never the bag.

The canvas-covered-box is just a different presentation, no less valid. Here the build-up is everything and the more the restraints are shown to be authentic, the greater the mystery.

We all too often talk in terms of the ultimate presentation when no such thing exists. "Lists" are for historians, as performers we must always think in terms of effect. Fred Kaps left behind very little in print, but his lecture notes begin, "Effect is everything, method is nothing."

I like the packing case look. Sub-trunks have been made to approximate the appearance of the modern case. But, the wooden packing case look is not outdated. The carbon fiber material, I believe, doesn't read to the audience as well. The wooden packing case looks solid and imposing, that helps the effect. The CF trunks were sold as a "practical" case that could carry your equipment and then be used in the illusion. Anyone who spends time on the road will realize the fallacy in this. The life expectancy of a packing case is limited and "sudden death" is a frequent event.

FYI, Dan Summers (702) 271-7277, is going to manufacture a signature Metamorphosis trunk for me.

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Postby Spellbinder » 07/27/10 08:40 AM

The Sub Cube, as detailed in The Wizards' Journal #18 on my site, was designed for use by teen-agers. Because it is so small, the performers have to kneel inside it and hunch over, but the small size is quite deceptive. The cube box can be put on display without revealing a thing, and you can even allow someone to crawl inside it and look for a way out.
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Postby David Alexander » 07/28/10 04:40 PM

One of the fastest "slow" presentations was on International Show Time by someone working in a European circus. They used a large tent that was brought around the trunk which was fairly large itself. The drape on the cabinet was split in half so one half could be closed at a time.

The usual with the girl put into the bag and then the box, the box roped and the cabinet brought around. The performer closed one side of the drape and then walked across the front of the box and stepped inside standing next to the box on its right side. He pulled his side of the drape to his left and instantly the girl pulled her's open.

It was startling, but on reflection it was actually quite slow with a clever touch giving the illusion of speed. I've thought about this a few times over the years but could never remember who the performer was. If anyone knows, I'd appreciate a note.
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