Leaping Off the Page


When David Hockney painted his vibrant vision of one of L.A.'s most famous streets in "Mulholland Drive," he depicted, in two dimensions, a colorful, multifaceted view of the three-dimensional world. Now his vision will be getting a third dimension, literally popping off the page in "The California Pop-Up Book." Set for a November release by Universe Publishing, the book is part of a coming-of-age for pop-ups, once considered the domain of the under-10 set but always a secret pleasure for adults.

A joint production with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the idea for "The California Pop-Up Book" spawned from LACMA's recent "Made in California" exhibition. The book features a century's worth of the state's history via photos, essays by California authors such as Amy Tan and Carolyn See and, of course, 3-D renderings of landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, San Diego's Chicano Park and Frank Gehry's new Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A.

Also due in November is "Fashion a la Mode: The Pop-Up History of Costumes and Dresses," which highlights fashion's most famous looks, from Marie Antoinette's hoop skirts to Japanese kimonos and Fortuny's famous pleats. Illustrations are by Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave, known for her intricately detailed, life-sized dresses made from paper. British paper engineer David Hawcock devised the effects for both.

It's that visceral thrill of seeing pages spring to life, or making little figures dance and jiggle with tabs and flaps that hooks fanatics. Books become more than books--they're little dimensional worlds beckoning the reader.

Recent years have seen several adult-oriented works, including "The Pop-Up Book of Phobias" by Gary Greenberg and Balvis Rubess, with paper engineering by Matthew Reinhar (Rob Weisbach Book, 1997), which make real such terrors as a dentist's drill spinning ever closer, a huge spider and a vertiginous look down from the roof of a tall building. Somewhat tamer, "The Architecture Pack" by Ron Van Der Meer (Knopf, 1997) and "The Pop-Up Wine Book" by Hugh Johnson and Ron Van Der Meer (Harper & Row, 1989) use the medium to spice up guidebooks.

Some adults may think of 3-D books as one-trick ponies, the charm gone once they've seen the pages pop once. But Charles Miers, publisher of Universe Publishing (a division of Rizzoli), disagrees: "There's a lot of depth in these books," he says. "People think you look at it once, that's it. But each one has a ton of information."

Universe's "New York Pop-Up Book" proved that by including essays by E.L. Doctorow, Tom Wolfe, Wendy Wasserstein and Nora Ephron, plus little booklets and pull-outs on every page. The pop-ups include 3-D renderings of such landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim Museum and a drawing by Al Hirschfeld. The book has sold 45,000 copies sold worldwide to date.

Gloria Gerace is a freelance museum consultant specializing in books and exhibitions who worked with LACMA on producing the California book. She's also a mother who knows the power of pop-ups. She was sure the "wow" factor would capture the imagination of adults as well.

"Books are on your coffee table, you leaf through them, they're a way to spend your leisure time," she explains "Architecture was never meant to be seen flat. Seeing it in three dimensions lets you think of it as something in space."

But absorbing a state's history or a century of fashion in three dimensions may not be so foreign to adults. Boomers, especially, grew up with pop-up books and often buy them for their kids, starting with inexpensive ones before being lured to more elaborate volumes that cost up to $25, the difference being the complexity and size of the paper structures. Children's authors, such as Jan Pienkowski, Robert Sabuda and David Carter, have found fans among older readers who appreciate the sophisticated graphics, illustrations and complex paper engineering.

Adults are also starting to be wooed again with 3-D advertising: The July issue of InStyle magazine features a pop-up ad for new Bounty in a Box paper towels, a trial that will be repeated in People magazine in the fall. Expensive to produce, such constructs have been rarely seen since their heyday in the 1960s.

Some collectors have found each other through the Movable Book Society, started in 1993 by Ann Montanaro, head of the systems department for Rutgers University libraries in New Jersey. She's been a collector for 15 years and owns some 3,000 pop-up and movable volumes (books with parts that move via tabs and flaps). A bibliography of the field she published in 1992 got such a tremendous response from fellow collectors she decided to start the society.

"People told me how much they needed the book, and it became obvious to me that there was a group of people really interested in this topic." Members number 450, with many from abroad. Activities include conferences and exhibitions.

Adults, says Montanaro, "really appreciate the subtlety of the artwork and the paper engineering. There's a lot in some of these children's books that are lost on children.

Although she mentions the "wow" factor as drawing her to these books in the first place, the mystery of how the paper structures work also draws her: "I still can't figure out how they work," she says, "and I've even taken classes. I really can't quite get it, how it all comes together, and that makes it intriguing for me."

Story Begins With Paper Engineers

Pop-ups, which became popular in the 19th century but date back further, continue to be constructed by paper engineers, usually self-taught. They determine how the graphics will spring up and move using an array of standard techniques in which paper is folded, cut and glued. Engineers are constantly challenging themselves to devise more spectacular designs, but the process can be extremely difficult, and even a children's primer-type book can take a year to finesse. As artist and paper engineer Sabuda put it, pages must obey the laws of physics, rising smoothly but also collapsing back into place without a hitch.

The idea that a book doesn't have to be flat pages between covers got a big boost a decade ago from author, illustrator and paper engineer Nick Bantock, whose popular "Griffin & Sabine" series told a love story via removable letters and postcards. In recent years an increased interest in one-of-a-kind artist's books has caused collectors to appreciate these handmade structures embellished with dimensional artwork.

"I've always thought of children's picture books, especially ones created in the last 10 years, as being almost art books," Carter says. "That's where the appeal is. Same with pop-up books--they're sort of interactive paper sculptures."

Sabuda is a self-taught paper engineer who's authored several books, including "The Movable Mother Goose" (Little Simon, 1999), "The 12 Days of Christmas" (Little Simon, 1996) and most recently, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (Little Simon, 2001), which is already being heralded by collectors as a tour de force. The "Oz" book features a swirling tornado, swinging hot air balloon, pop-up pages within pages; it took two years to engineer. Sabuda believes people like the fact that these books have nothing to do with the bells and whistles of the technological world.

Despite pop-ups' growing popularity, the genre remains costly to make, and not every publisher wants to take on the task. The books are intricate and often take years to conceive and produce, and they can cost twice as much as other two-dimensional publications. They must be assembled by hand--even the low-budget kids' books are made abroad, in countries such as China and Thailand. Problems, such as movable parts that stick or won't fold up correctly, can delay publications for months.

Waldo "Wally" Hunt has been making 3-D books since the 1960s. His Santa Monica-based Intervisual Books company has been training ground for the likes of Carter, Pienkowski and Van Der Meer. Hunt believes in the genre just as strongly as he did some 40 years ago, and he breaks into a wide grin as he peels back the shrink wrap on a prototype for a new Harry Potter pop-up due out this fall. He flips open the pages that reveal a half-dozen designs for simple pop-ups and movable figures illustrating Harry's magical adventures with his friends in 3-D.

The office also houses an impressive array of antique, vintage and modern books in the genre, just part of Hunt's extensive collection, slated to be exhibited at the L.A. Central Library in 2002.

Ask Hunt why pop-ups have survived for hundreds of years, and the simple answer comes immediately: "It's the surprise."

FOR THE RECORD Los Angeles Times Sunday July 15, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 Zones Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction Pop-Up Book--A photo caption in Thursday's Southern California Living section did not make clear that a pop-up of the Golden Gate bridge from the upcoming book "The California Pop-Up Book" is a prototype; the design may change before publication.
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