Angels: Interview with Bruce Foster, paper engineer plus giveaway
A little while ago, I read and loved Angels by Chuck Fischer. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to ask Bruce Foster, the paper engineer responsible for making the book pop-up, a few questions. Bruce has engineered many books – you can see the complete list here and also worked on the Disney movie Enchanted. I was so fascinated with his work on Angels and had so many questions that I had trouble putting my thoughts together in coherent questions. Bruce was very kind and stuck with me through the whole process. This is what we came up with:
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure, my wife, Lori, and I are nearing our 20th wedding anniversary. We live here in Houston, Texas with our 16 year old daughter, Lydia. Our first born, Nicole, is now off at college in a BioMedical Sciences program. We also have four cats and a dog. I am originally from Louisiana, growing up in a small B&B plantation town, St. Francisville. Pretty much a Mayberry kind of childhood. But we moved to Nashville when I was in high school, which led me to college at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I started in the PreMed program, but soon found my true calling in the art program. (Looks like my daughter may reverse that process!) I was in the painting/drawing program there, but had strong inclinations toward sculpture, so my paintings began to morph into three dimensional objects. After college I worked as a graphic designer in Nashville for awhile. But eventually I returned to Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, later meeting my future wife, Lori in Ft. Lauderdale. She had a job transfer to Houston which brought us here where we’ve been ever since.
How did you get into paper engineering?
Here in Houston, I was working for a marketing firm and we received an assignment for Hi-C juices. They wanted to create a piece that would incorporate three D techniques. Part of that was a pop up promoting their very first juice box, specifically, Ectocooler. I designed the box to pop up with Ghostbuster’s Slimer swinging up to take a sip. It worked, but looking back on it now, oooh, I’d really do it differently! Anyway Ottenheimer Publishers, a pop up publisher based in Baltimore, saw it and began sending me freelance work. Little by little, I learned the art form (okay, I’m STILL learning the art form!), and eventually made in-roads to the big publishers in New York and beyond.
What books have you worked on besides ANGELS?
Oh, gosh, I’ve designed, not including my early work at Ottenheimer, nearly 40 pop up books now! Besides Angels, my recent work includes “Wow! The Pop-Up Book of Sports” for Sports Illustrated Kids, “Big Frog Can’t Fit In!” by Mo Willems, and “The Sound of Music” for Simon and Schuster/ Rodgers and Hammerstein. “Angels” is my third collaboration with Chuck Fischer. Previously we produced “Christmas Around the World” and “In the Beginning”, the book of Genesis in popup form, and currently we’re working on “A Christmas Carol”. I’ve done work for many publishers and for all age groups, from children’s books like “Bee Mine”, “Sammy’s Suitcase” with Sachiko Yoshikawa, and “Peanuts: A Pop Up Celebration” with Paige Braddock of the Charles Schulz studio, to adult subjects like “The Pop Up Book of Celebrity Meltdowns” with Mick Coulas and a collection of artist pop ups for the avant garde publisher, Visionaire. I’ve done work for museums, like The Museum of Modern Art with a book on the shaped paintings of Elizabeth Murray and two books for other museums on the treatises of Ginny Ruffner. I also design pop up cards and books for Up With Paper as well. But my work has even transcended the printed page with popups designed for television and movies, the most notable being Disney’s “Enchanted”. Not only the opening montage popup book, but also making several scenes of the last four minutes of the movie transform into pop ups. Not easy, since we had to work from completed filming and animation, finding the sweet spot that could freeze and be computer manipulated to fold down or spring up!
What is involved in creating a pop-up book like ANGELS?
Angels is a little different from most of my assignments. Usually, I’m given a manuscript or outline of a book and I work out what the scenes are going to be, what is going to pop up, and then work with the illustrator on the project to work out the final product. In the case of Angels, Chuck Fischer is orchestrating the book. While not a paper engineer, he does have a good pop up vision for each spread and provides a sketch of that image. So I work with him to realize that as a finished pop up. Sometimes we push each other back and forth to make them better, exploring new ideas until we are both in agreement as to what the pop will be. Chuck then illustrates the pops. We’ve followed this formula for three books, and now a fourth. In almost all pop up books, however, the painting doesn’t begin until the pops are worked out, making sure that the pops will open and close over and over. I’ll experiment with paper sculptures and provide those along with tracings of each piece for the illustrator to follow. Then I do the computer work as well, inputting scans of the work, tweaking them in photoshop when necessary, drawing the die lines (the cookie cutter patterns), and working with the printer to make sure the final book matches the work as intended.
How long does it take to complete a book like this from start to finish?
A book usually takes a year from beginning to end. In my case, I usually have three or four projects working simultaneously. So there is a lot of leapfrogging, a spread for that book, then a spread for this one, all while the other members of the team do their parts. All in a very cyclical fashion, keeping the books moving along constantly.
How is a book like ANGELS mass produced? Is it all done by machine or is there some human involvement?
ALL pop up books are hand assembled after having been printed and diecut! Sometimes there might be a force of hundreds working on a single book. Pop up books are produced in Asia: Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines. The printers actually will build a factory with dormitories. The assemblers might stay there for the work week and return to their homes on the weekends. These people are extremely talented and, might I add, patient! I can’t imagine having the patience to mass produce upwards of 100,000 copies of anything by hand, piece by piece!
Do you have any input in the artwork that is used or are you given a completed book to transform?
Rarely am I given a finished work to transform into pop ups. Imagine: a pop up is made of PIECES that are assembled into a finished whole, while most books are made using finished paintings of a scene. For example, if I have a character that needs to move his hand from the front of his body to swing outward, I will need a body without that arm, and also that arm as a separate piece. It makes so much more sense for the illustrator to paint the pieces as needed by the pop up rather than the pop up to follow a single piece of art. That said, I HAVE had to do so! For the Sports Illustrated Kids book, I was given a selection of photos of the sports scene we wanted to feature. So I had to study the photos not only for composition, but action, and keep in mind that someone would have to do heavy Photoshop retouching to remove elements and fill in the missing areas. I’ve done that myself on a few books like my Hindu Altars pop up, but in this case, Sports Illustrated Kids has some really talented artists who were able to do amazing things in the computer.
What do paper engineers do besides pop-up books?
It depends on the paper engineer. Most paper engineers get into this because they were illustrators first and wanted their work to pop. So they can do other kinds of illustration besides pop ups. In my case, I came into this as a designer first, so I know how to work with this as kinetic sculpture and direct the illustrators. In my case, I’ve been fortunate the past four years doing this full time, although before that did popups on weekends and nights while working as an art director by day. Talk about burning the candle at both ends! It’s still a very small field. I’d guess that there are fewer than a couple dozen people in the entire world who are lucky enough to do this day in and day out!
I find the world of paper engineering fascinating and I’d like to thank Bruce for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.
Anna of Hachette Books is generously allowing me to give away THREE copies of Angels by Chuck Fischer with paper engineering done by Bruce Foster. To enter to win a copy, simply leave a comment on this post. Contest is open to US and Canadian residents only (no PO Boxes, please). I will use random.org to determine the winner. Contest ends at midnight EST, Friday November 27, 2009. Winner will be announced on Saturday, November 28, 2009.