Inspiring Projects – Matthew Reinhart’s Paper Engineering Masterpieces

spiderman-i-thinkPaper engineering and creating movable books is a craft with over 700 years of history. Paper engineering is defined as the dimensional movement of paper via kinetic energy in a book, card or other application. Kinetic energy is the force that makes pop-ups “pop”, whereby readers can interact with elements on the page by revealing a spread, pulling a tab, or opening a flap. 

Moveable books have a fascinating history that date back to 1306 when an astrological manuscript with round, movable parchment figures was created (pre-dating the printing press!). Interestingly, these first books were not designed for children (who thought it would be a good idea to give kids delicate books anyway?!). The art of moveable books was revitalized in the 1960’s when American entrepreneur, Waldo Hunt, elected to design pop-up books domestically, but manufacture them outside of the USA. This brought down the cost of the books, thereby making them accessible to a larger subset of the population. Paper engineers, like featured artist Matthew Reinhart, continue to make strides in the moveable book field and take pop-ups far beyond what was previously thought possible.

Matthew Reinhart, Artist & Paper Engineer

Matthew Reinhart is a New York Times bestselling author and paper engineer who has a background in industrial design, specializing in designing toys, but he always knew toy design wasn’t a perfect fit with his skills and interests. After finding his calling and apprenticing as a paper engineer, he now creates masterful, complex pop-up books that go far beyond traditional ideas of what pop-up books can be. In the last decade and a half, he has masterfully created 26 pop-up books. Each book takes 6-8 months for Reinhart to design, with each one containing up to 300 individual pieces.

His most recent project is Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure. The book features a variety of large and intricate pop-ups, combined with smaller “side pops” on the same page (Reinhart’s signature feature), that all culminate to the final spread with a working, colour-changing light sabre.

In November 2012, during a special lecture in Toronto entitled Fold, Cut, Repeat, Reinhart explained what it is like to work on a paper engineering project: “It’s almost like making art on puzzle pieces that aren’t attached.”

His process from concept to final product is extremely labour intensive: “Everyone’s so digitally enhanced now that people don’t realize that you have to start everything by hand”.

You might be thinking, what fancy tools does Reinhart use to create his masterful works of art? He uses a pencil, exacto knife, scissors, knitting needle (for folding), tape, glue and cardstock. That’s it. All of his designs start from the ground up with nothing more than a few simple tools and an idea. “I’m cutting and folding paper and doing it over and over again to make the pop-ups.”

Here is his pop-up book creation process:

  1. Manuscript
  2. Fold, cut, repeat to refine the pop-ups
  3. Preliminary drawings
  4. Begin the artwork
  5. Take the pop-ups apart
  6. Scan the artwork on the pop-ups
  7. Trace in Adobe Illustrator to create dielines
  8. Print pieces
  9. Cut
  10. Refine

It’s interesting to note that Reinhart’s primary artwork style is called “cut paper collage”, inspired by The Very Hungry Caterpillar author Eric Carle. This style of art is characterized by cutting and gluing bits of paper on top of one another in a collage style. He starts with an initial pencil drawing and uses an exacto knife to cut tiny pieces of different coloured paper. He then glues them together to create the art for his books.

The small details that Reinhart includes in his pop-up books (such as ensuring there is art behind and under pop-ups where readers won’t usually look) are extremely important to him. He also takes great measures to establish correct anatomical movement of his pop-ups. “One of things I find very important in my work is to represent movement in a proper way. Darth Vader really does crouch to get back inside the book.”

Manufacturing Pop-Ups

In terms of printing and finishing, each element of the book is printed on a sheeted lithographic press on nesting sheets. Enormous and elaborate dies are then made and each nesting sheet is die cut accordingly. All of the pieces are then sorted and assembled by hand. Each person in the production team is responsible for building one part of the pop-up in an assembly line-style. An entire team of workers brings their pop-ups together to build one spread of the book, and then all of those teams come together to assemble the entire book. Workers even wear special gloves to ensure that the oils on their hands don’t damage the books.

Reinhart usually travels overseas to countries like Thailand, Laos and China to approve parts of the manufacturing process. Due to the complexity of the books and the distance they travel to store shelves, it takes approximately one year from the time a book is finished by Reinhart to the time the books appear on store shelves. In terms of cost to the consumer, Reinhart’s most recent book pictured above (Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure) sells for an incredible $25.07 on Amazon.ca.

At the end of Reinhart’s presentation in Toronto, he gave his audience a teaser about his big, upcoming project. His next book will be released in fall 2013 and it’s all about… Transformers! The book is rumored to have pop-ups that morph into other pop-ups. “Let’s just say that everything in the book transforms. There will be a 3D tank on the page and you will pull a tab and it will transform into a 3D robot.” I can’t wait!

Reinhart’s talent, innovation and enthusiasm are infectious! Find out more about Reinhart and his work on his website: www.matthewreinhart.com

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Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.