A Balloon Zoo How-To

Meet the Expert

Magic Mike

Michael Stillwell, better known in Gainesville as Magic Mike, launched his career in Leonardo's 706 on University Ave. He was working as a waiter to fund his electrical engineering degree at the University of Florida. He enjoyed performing magic tricks for his customers waiting on their food.

One day, his manager called him into his office. "How about you do the magic," he said. "We'll let the other waiters do the food."

Thirty years later, Mike is still doing magic in restaurants around Gainesville. He juggles, poses brain teasers and performs magic tricks for diners at Beef o'Brady's and Sonny's. He also works gigs with the UF Athletic Association and the Alachua County libraries.

He got into balloon animals in the 1990s when looking for something to entertain younger children who didn't understand the slight of hand in a magic trick. The animals aren't just for the kids, though. He finds adults just as excited about a silly hat as a 7-year-old. With years of experience under his belt, he has made up a few species of his own: a gator that can be worn as a bracelet, a ninja turtle riding a Harley and Road Runner.

"Once you get the idea of how it works, you say 'how can I make this different?" he said. "You might accidentally just invent something. It's like clouds in the sky."