MIT Student Creates Magical Girl Transformation in the Lab … Sort Of

There is a class at MIT called “Indistinguishable from …” in which students are invited to create technology inspired in some fashion by magic from fantasy stories. Project descriptions from the class are posted online.

Back in 2015, one Kyrie Caldwell, social science graduate student, decided to base her project on magical girls.

Knowing of the magical girl anime genre and its leaks into games, I decided to explore the “transformation” sequences that appear ubiquitously in the genre. How does one leverage technological enhancements into magic, illusionist, mentalist, etc. performances while still retaining the sought sense of wonder, often built through the showmanship and preparatory work of the performer? Alternatively but similarly, how does one incorporate the work of such magic performances into the front-end development, demonstration, and use of technology, such as via user interfaces and user experiences? Also, how might the socio-cultural implications of the “magical girl” genre translate into real-world performances?

Translated from term-paperese into normal English, she’s saying, “How do dis in real life?” Basically, she’s discussing how a stage performer might create an illusion that mimics a magical girl transformation. Like if David Copperfield were a magical girl.

… Which would be the coolest thing ever! He’d be all, like, “Look over there! Where’s your Statue of Liberty now?” And everyone would look at where the statue used to be and go, “Whoa,” and then they’d look back at David, and he’d be all, “And now I’m in a pink dress.”


This guy really freaked me out as a kid.
This guy really freaked me out as a kid.

Also, while I’m at it, what’s this about “socio-cultural implications of the magical girl genre”?

f9eac58da5bb92babcf094e1ebe56f4c70d6f93963be2e56db755a39eeec6210Is “socio-cultural” a fancy way of saying “cultural”? Don’t throw all your big words at me, Caldwell. I just want to see some girls change into pretty clothes. And David Copperfield in a dress. Make that happen.

Actually, while I’m mocking the way Miss Caldwell writes, check out her summary of a cartoony show:

… in Prétear, the main cast has one female character and a group of male characters (a version of the “harem” genre, in which a male/female character is surrounded by characters of the other genre [sic], with sexual/romantic, usually gendered respectively, antics ensuing).

Aren’t you guys glad that when I’m reviewing anime, I don’t interrupt my sentences with phrases like “gendered respectively”? I don’t even know what that means. I think I’d already left the intellectual wasteland of social science graduate studies before that expression had been coined.

Caldwell must be the life of every party.

CALDWELL: So me and this guy Bob, and his girlfriend (gendered respectively) headed out to—

DUDE: Wait, Bob’s girlfriend is named Gendered Respectively?

CALDWELL: No, no. Bob and his girlfriend are gendered respectively—

DUDE: They’re both named Gendered Respectively?


Moving on with a description of the actual project:

The working concept is a physically performed sequence set to sound and visual effects taking place in a reasonably symmetrical room with lights that can be dimmed remotely. The performer and audience is situated across from each other, oriented to maximize symmetry between the audience’s and performer’s halves of the room. The performed [sic] theatrically discusses what she was [sic] about to perform, such as needing to quickly get ready for a special performance, either theatrical or in efforts against a vague evil. The pre-programmed audiovisual sequence would begin, in which the lights would dim, a projector behind the performer would cast an animated field of colored light, and a coordinated sound effects track would play. The performer would mount the mirror levitation as a Microsoft Kinect would track her body, projecting visual noise (e.g. shimmering light) onto her. Meanwhile, the performer is carefully manipulating the quick change clothes as much as possible without showing this to the audience. The light from the projector and Kinect and the sound effects would crescendo, culminating in a flash of overhead light, during which the quick change would be performed and the mirror dismounted. Then the ambient lighting return to its dim state, and the projector and the Kinect effects would fade away as the audience’s eyes readjust to the performer’s silhouette, now in a different costume.


Hm. Well, it sounds doable. The biggest problem, I inexpertly assume, would be diverting the audience’s attention while switching out the garments. Caldwell recommends using a mirror to mimic levitation, but if this is something meant for, say, a theatrical production, it’s not uncommon to use wires.

I was unable to find any mention of whether this proposed transformation was actually performed.