©2011 Popyrus Studio, Inc 5 Red Sky Trail  Santa Fe, NM 87505 andy@popyrus.com Phone: 505-982-2204 Fax: 505-982-2210

Simply put, the paper engineer is the one who puts the “pop” in pop-up.

At any given time there are perhaps two to three dozen paper engineers designing pop-up books worldwide.  Paper engineering is a specialized segment of publishing, although it isn’t limited to young children -- Many pop-up books are geared toward older children and even adults.  Increasingly, pop-up books are finding their way into commercial applications.

Unlike flat books, pop-up books have the intriguing quality of being visually interactive, using flaps, dimensional structures, pull-tabs and wheels to capture the reader’s imagination and extend the play and learning time. They can also contain hidden places that reveal additional images or information, and can offer a variety of clever ways to present a story line.

Many people don’t realize that someone actually has to work out every little fold and tuck and all of the elaborate “mechanics” that go into every pop-up book.  It is the job of the paper engineer to look at the illustrator’s first-draft concept sketches, and devise paper mechanisms that will give the most interesting movable actions and the most appropriate three-dimensional forms. Sometimes the illustrator has specific ideas about what kind of action each feature should have.  At other times the paper engineer makes these decisions, although usually it is a combination of both the illustrator’s and the paper engineer’s ideas that come together in the finished book. 

By far, the most gratifying part of the job for me is during the early stages of a project: using my imagination and skills to bring first breath of life --dimension and movement-- to the illustrator’s drawings.  This is where the paper engineer gets to be an inventor.  After the rough working mechanics are created, each new construction goes through many stages of refinements to improve its range of motion, smoothness and reliability.

No matter how complicated an action or structure appears to be, every pop-up book is entirely created from just a basic assortment of paper folds and devices, creatively combined in various imaginative ways to capture the spirit of a particular piece of art or composition.

Most pop-up books require from several months to more than a year to develop from the artist’s first drawings into a fully functional, working color sample.  Hand-in-hand the paper mechanics and the artwork evolve together, from the first rough drafts through to the production-ready stages. At that point a detailed set of digital files, containing artwork, die lines and instructions are created and sent to the printer for study and careful preparation, and it continues on towards printing, die cutting and hand-assembly.

The printer not only prints the large “running sheets” that the book is made from, but also prepares the intricate steel dies that stamp out the book’s pages and all of the little paper parts.  Just as there are a small number of paper engineers around the world, there are also very few printers who manufacture pop-up books.  Each and every pop-up book must be assembled by hand.  Even though machines are employed to print the running sheets and stamp out the parts, there are no machines that can assemble complicated books.  Therefore, the printer must also train an entire assembly team in the individual construction—the folding, placing, inserting, and gluing—of each and every piece of every new book..  It’s an amazing process, and the result is one of the last hand-made, mass-produced, complex products that you can buy today.

- Andrew Baron