“It’s like a magic trick…” Perusing Bruce Foster’s pop-up pages

The demands are the same as for writing or illustrating a book:  Something must come to life every time a reader turns a page.  Except with a pop-up book,  it really has to come to life.  By definition. Things move, swing and unfold — hopefully with some grace and more than a few surprises.  Like life.

It’s done with scissors and scotch tape — and the benign wizardry that comes from years of conjuring castles and creatures and dances from paper.

Bruce Foster received clues to his career’s direction back as a painting and  graphic design major at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville —  though he didn’t know it then. What he did know is that he liked gluing objects on to his canvases — to bring textures and dimension to his art pieces. He cut holes in them for the same reason.

“I was going 3-D in a flat paint school,” he says. “My work was more akin to sculpture and as a matter of fact, my best art school friends were actually sculptors. I’m not sure what the painting professors totally thought of it.”

Years later as an art director for a Houston ad agency, he received his first pop-up assignment — a Hi-C fruit juice carton that would blossom out from a grocery store mailer as one opened it. This was the campaign that introduced the first kids’ juice cartons to the consuming world. “This is three dimensional-thinking,” Bruce remembers saying to himself as he worked up the ad.  “I love this.”

It led to more pop up gigs– for books, public relations and ad agencies, cards, more books, museums, a graphic novel, more books and eventually Hollywood! In addition to Disney and Dreamworks, clients and creative partners have included some of the world’s major CGI and digital animation studios,  New York City fashion designers, a Top Chef pastry chef and the national park service.  His 40 books to date are associated with such name authors and illustrators as Mo Willems, Wil Eisner,  Charles Schultz, Charles Dickens  and Chuck Fischer.

One example of Bruce’s Hollywood assignments was creating the pop up castle that appears in the opening credits of the Disney movie “Enchanted.”  To watch Bruce discuss his work with the movies and CGI animators, visit the Illustration Course blog.

Sculpting Hogwarts

Pop-up illustrations for "Harry Potter - a Popup Book"

The castle that Bruce built

And now J.K. Rowling.  On November 16,  three days before the release of the”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!” movie,  the official pop-up book celebrating all of the movies from Warner Bros “Harry Potter” series will hit the stores wherever books are sold.

So be on the lookout next month for Harry Potter- A Popup Book with illustrations by Andrew Williamson, lead concept artist for all of the movies, text by Lucy Kee and paper engineering by Bruce Foster.

“It may be a cliché, but this really was a labor of love,” Bruce writes on his website. “My own daughters grew up with Harry as we spent countless nights enjoying the developing epic while I read aloud to them.”

A ‘White Dummy’

Paper engineers work with card stock and scissors to make a white dummy.

Here’s a really good video from a Smithsonian Institution exhibit on the art and science of pop-up books, Fold, Pull, Pop and Turn that runs through October of next year.

The video features Foster and another well known pop-up book artist Chuck Fischer working together on Fischer’s book Angels — and gives a great insight into the labor and thought-intensive process of creating a pop-up work — from earliest thumbnails to the assemblies of the printed books.

“Whenever I make presentations or do school visits, kids and their teachers too are amazed to learn that pop-up books are a hand made craft and not manufactured by machines,”  Bruce says.

“Every time there’s a spot of glue joining two pieces of paper,  that’s been done by hand. These are very delicate and special things.”

But getting to that point requires a “combination of pencil scribbling and sculpting with scissors,” Foster says.  “When I get to the point where I like what’s happening,  I make all the marks on the paper.  I retrace the shapes and put in dotted lines where [the assemblers] cut and blue lines where they fold.”

Before those puzzle pieces are printed and put together, an illustrator must paint them all.

“When Chuck Fischer and I collaborated on his book Christmas Around the World, he would send me a sketch and I would look at it and start sculpting it.  I’d work with scissors and tape right on the light table. That means I cut out my shapes from the sketches as I go, really fast —  right over the light table.”

“It’s sort of like the paper and I work together and it emerges,” Foster  says.

“Like the house that Jack built. It’s how you tell a story in three dimensions.”

“The process for me often starts with a sketch — sometimes in the form of a thumbnail,” Bruce says.  The next step in the paper engineering is assembling the  “white paper dummy.”    It’s  similar to a picture book illustrator’s black and white line dummy — except that it’s in 3-D and  choreography occurs when pages are opened.

Pop-Ups on the iPad?

When can we expect to see pop-up features on an i-Pad book?

Foster is actually working with a client on one now. “There are a lot of iPad book and reader applications happening right now. Mostly they’re things moving around on the screen. Flat.”

The challenge for digital animators and CGI folks,  he says,  is simulating the push of real paper against paper and the ‘ feel’ and proper timing of paper springing from flatness.

It’s hard for programmers to imitate the real thing — pictures invading our space with that “theater in the round” experience that good pop-up books convey.

He looks forward to the day when pop-up books transcend the digital  screen to interact with us in holographic form.

Bruce Foster -- Paper Engineer. Paper engineer Bruce Foster of Houston has worked with some of the top children's book publishers,  museums and movie companies to make paper imagery pop-out, unfold, unfurl, twirl and dance.

Paper engineer Bruce Foster of Houston has worked with some of the top children's book publishers, museums and movie companies to make paper imagery pop-out, unfold, unfurl and twirl.

Bruce's first paper engineering assignment, :Gutenberg's Gift" By Nancy Williard, Illustrated by Brian Leister

"Gutenberg's Gift" uses Bruce's paper sculpture to show how the first printing press worked.

"Gutenberg's Gift" by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Bryan Leister uses Bruce's paper sculpture to show how the first printing press worked and tell the story of Gutenberg's contribution to the world.

Bruce Foster and Houston Museum of Fine Arts curator Jon Evans visit

Bruce chats with Jon Evans, Director of the Hirsch Library, Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, during a special gallery talk, "The Interactive Book"

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Links to visit:  Bruce Foster website

Take a sneak peak a
t Harry Potter – A Pop-Up Book, here on Bruce’s site.

See the pop up castle  Bruce built for the opening credits sequence of the Disney movie Enchanted

See more videos from Mark’s interview with Bruce on the Illustration Course blog
and Illustration Course YouTube channel

Check out the Smithsonian Institution Exhibit   Fold, Pull Pop and Turn and the exhibit blog

Jon Evans of the Houston Museum of Fine Art shows a pop-up book made by Andy Warhol at a recent gallery talk, "The Interactive Book."

Jon Evans of the Houston Museum of Fine Art shows a pop-up book made by Andy Warhol (replete with a simulated Heinz Tomato Paste can popping from the gutter of a double page spread.)

and a cool PDF history of pop-up books that you can download.

Discover the Movable Book Society

Read about some other other pop-up book master:
Chuck Fischer
Robert Sabuda

Matthew Reinhart

Bruce Foster opens a spread from "Harry Potter - a Pop-Up Book" for a museum goer

"Harry Potter - a Pop-Up Book"

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An Austin SCBWI “Picture Perfect” Boot Camp Workshop

Author Lisa Wheeler at Austin conference

Picture book author Lisa Wheeler speaks at "Picture Perfect" -- a workshop presented by the Austin Texas chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Saturday, October 9

Sarah Sullivan Austin SCBWI conference

Author Sarah Sullivan addresses picture book writers at the "Picture Perfect" workshop hosted by Austin SCBWI.

Gonxales, Wheeler, Greene, Sullivan and Tate

Austin SCBWI regional advisor Debbie Gonzales (left) moderates a "Picture Perfect" panel consisting of picture book and chapter book authors Lisa Wheeler, Stephanie Greene, Sarah Sullivan and author-illustrator Don Tate.

Lisa Wheeler, Stephanie Greene, Sarah Sullivan and Don Tate

Author Sarah Sullivan makes a point on the "Picture Perfect" Panel of children's book creators, while authors Lisa Wheeler, Stephanie Greene and Don Tate tune in.

Sarah Sullivan chats with Dr. Ramsey Fowler, Dean of the Masters of Liberal Arts Program at St. Edward's University, which hosted theconference.

Sarah Sullivan speaks in the morning session.

Sarah Sullivan speaks in the morning session.

"Picture Perfect"  Austin SCBWI October workshop

"Picture Perfect" Austin SCBWI October workshop

Bethany donates doorprize

Austin SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor Carmen Oliver prepares to give away as a workshop door prize a copy of Bethany Hegedus's novel "Trouble With a Capital T" personalized by the author who stands beside her.

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For a great “secret” on drawing better click here.

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Article on Bruce Foster by Mark Mitchell.  Children’s book author and illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts the How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator blog.
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See more videos from Mark’s interview with pop up book  engineer Bruce Foster  at the Illustration Course blog.

Wild Things

Before the movie fades from awareness, let’s look at some not so exalted celebrations of Maurice Sendak’s strangely theatrical Caldecott Medal winning-story, Where the Wild Things Are, opera for toddlers.

From Wikipedia:  “The original concept for the book featured horses instead of monsters. According to Sendak, his publisher suggested the switch when she discovered that Sendak could not draw horses, but thought that he ‘could at the very least draw ‘a thing.’  He replaced the horses with caricatures of his aunts and uncles, whom he had studied critically in his youth as an escape from their weekly visits to his family’s Brooklyn home.”

Children’s author-illustrators  influence our world.  Like a good ghostbuster I have video proof that I’ll share with you now. Monica Kelley posted this clip on her blog,  My Place For Art recently.

It got me looking at more of them.  So next it’s Jammin’s Crazy Chalk Drawings — the Wild Things’ island rendered on a blackboard.

And Max in his boat:

Here’s the Disney version, which luckily the public never saw.  It has Max in his wolf suit, chasing his dog.  Except he scurries around his home and room like one of the baby squirrels from Snow White.

This next one one has feet of clay.  I don’t know what the journalism school students were doing working on this project, but I hope they all got A’s.  I think they captured the true spirit of Max.

Of course the ballet companies pounced on Sendak’s tale that always seemed more suited to set backdrops and dance than words.

These are but a few of the many versions of Max’s odyssey on YouTube. They range in kookiness and fun. They demonstrate how an  artist’s idea can inspire creative interpretations and loving imitations  — in this case, 47 years after the book first rolled off presses at Harper & Row Publishers.

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We had fun at our group call last night in the children’s book illustration class, even if it was a call without sound. We saw some great work by students.  You can learn more about the self-paced online course, Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks and see some “secret of drawing” videos at this link.

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Author-illustrator and Maurice Sendak admirer Mark Mitchell teaches children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School — and online.

click me

“Let’s Board It Up!” The Magic of the Storyboard

 This Google Video clip from the promo documentary Finding Lady: The Art of Storyboarding  has been circulating around the art and cartoon blogs recently.

Disney animator Eric Goldberg explains how the Disney artists have always used storyboards as a developmental first step in their animation productions.

The clip goes on to show how movie makers from Alfred Hitchcock to Kevin Costner have used them as perhaps the crucial planning tool in a film.

Finding Lady came out to herald the 1991 release of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the “renaissance of the animated film” that some say began with The Little Mermaid  in 1989. 

It’s not exactly the way storyboarding is covered in our course  on how to illustrate children’s books. 

The storyboard thumbnails we talk about are quite different animals from the sketches and drawings you see tacked up on Disney’s storyboard wall.

But the same big ideas apply:  Using the storyboard to work out the the  “bits” of stagecraft,  the action and gags. Pacing, story flow and the economy of the viewer’s or reader’s attention.

For the movie director, storyboarding saves costly waffling around on the set, the video points out.  Because the details and the sequences have all been worked out in advance, the director can “edit in the camera.”

For the children’s book artist, storyboardings helps to gestalt the entire book on just one page. The simple very exercise  of it can spring  ideas free and save weeks of unecessary drawing and painting. 

To enlarge the video for better visibility, click on the Google Video box, then hit the enlarge screen button under the video on the Google Video page.

For information on the online Children’s Book Illustration 101 course”  look here.

Or to check out the free color lessons from the course (while they’re still available)  click here.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Aboard the ‘Black Sark’

'Sir Peggedy' visits the pirate ship in "A Pirate's Night Before Christmas"

‘Sir Peggedy’ visits the pirate ship in “A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas”

Two of my two all-time favorite Holiday Season picture books are by members of my own children’s writing group. One is Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton). The other is the new  A Pirates Night Before Christmas, by Philip Yates, illustrated by Sebastia Serra (Sterling .)

"A Pirate's Night Before Christmas" by Phillip Yates and illustrator Sebastia Serra

“A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas” by Phillip Yates and illustrator Sebastia Serra

Another is the classic A Child’s Christmas in Wales by the poet Dylan Thomas,  because of the fascinating wash illustrations by the great Edward Ardizzone. (David R. Godine, Publisher.) But that is for another post someday.

But how amazing is that when the first two quintessential Christmas picture books you can think of happen to be by writers from your own tribe,  in your own town?

Yates is a poet and humorist as well as an author, and in “Pirate’s Night Before Christmas, he applied all three gifts to a sea-yarn retelling of Clemment Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas.”

“I wrote the whole story by asking questions and putting myself into this workd that is uniquely the pirates,”  he told Cynthia Leitich Smith in her children’s and YA literature blog Cynsations. “That’s what writing successful picture books is all about — asking the right questions and letting the answers come in the most heartfelt way. ”

How would pirates celebrate Christmas? Yates wondered.

They would be too bad and mean to deserve a visit from Santa,  so they would need their own ornery ‘sea dog’ version of Santa — and he would drive a marine sleigh pulled by seahorses!  The rhyme structure of Moore’s classic Night Before Christmas poem is anapestic tetrameter (also found in Dr. Seuss’s beloved Yertle the Turtle and Cat in the Hat, Yates told Smith. “It’s a breezy, whimsical, magical form that just flows beautifully and is highly contagious when read out loud.”


To prepare to put new language and new word pictures into old poetic forms, Yates steeped  himself  in pirate lore — “the grammar, the slang, the history, the parts of the ship… ” Yates said in the interview.

Actually composing the poem took him only two days. He sent the ms out to five publishers and received offers from three!

He went with Sterling, who offered first. Sterling pulled in talented Spanish illustrator Sebastia Serra.

Serralives in a village on the  Mediterranean coast near Barcelona.

Children’s book illustrators and pirates have a special relationship with each other  that pre-dates Disney and Johnny Depp. Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth leap to mind, as does Gustaf Tenggren.

Serra’s pirates evoke wooden toys, marionettes and bright-colored sea creatures.  So they’re sweet and child-like, as toys often are but there’s also something oddly menacing about them, as there should be — particularly that  ‘outlaw santa’ who goes by the name, Sir Peggedy.

Pirates — even cliche pirates —  are never cute — not in the best  depictions of them that resonate with children and the child in all of us. Robert Louis Stevenson knew this.  Long John Silver had us wondering up until  the very end of Treasure Island  if he was a bad guy or a good guy. We were never sure, not even after turning the novel’s last page, although he usually treated young Jim Hawkins decently.

As in the word portraits of pirates, pictures of pirates must include some minor key notes — disturbing elements  in the colors, details of the caricatures, or the ‘spirit’ behind a scene (even when the Christmas socks are hung from the bowsprit with care.)

Pirates in children’s picture books can be poignant and a tiny bit  endearing.  But if they come off too cuddly, they’re just wrong!  Children get this.  And so do Yates and Serra.

Serra's pirate ship from "The Pirate's Night Before Christmas"

Serra’s pirate ship from “The Pirate’s Night Before Christmas”

Yates talked with us about the illustrations that appear in his book.

 When you were writing, were you imagining the pictures in the book-to-be? Did you kind of visually  “thumbnail” the whole work in your head?

Or did you mainly focus on the language of the poem — already sort of knowing  that the stanzas would  work as a rollicking, page turning, picture book experience.

A lot of the creation of the narrative involved inserting pictures in my head as I wrote.  I knew the structure of the poem’s anapestic meter so well that I trusted the language to guide me on the voyage. The poem already works and has stood the test of time for nearly 190 years. Since the language was already there, I just had to pop in the images that worked best.

I immersed myself so thoroughly in the pirate world that the images came first and guided the language. For example, in the opening stanzas, I couldn’t hang stockings from chimneys so I had to research how pirate ships looked and where a stocking would hang and it wasn’t until I came across a picture of a bowsprit that  I realized it was a perfect place to hang a stocking.

But with what? Well, I found illustrations of ships that used tar to make repairs and since tar rhymes with thar,the two came together in perfect synchronicity.

I’m not an illustrator, but the book truly was guided by the  “picture” first, the “narrative” second.

From "The Pirate's Night Before Christmas"

From “The Pirate’s Night Before Christmas”

Were you permitted any kind of  communication with Sebastia Serra during the illustration process? 

The whole discovery of Serra was simply amazing and all credit is due my editor at Sterling Publishing. Serra had submitted a portfolio to Sterling and one look at his artwork and they knew he was perfect.

All the communication regarding the artwork was done between Serra and Sterling, or Sterling and me. I never spoke to him by phone,  communicated by email, or anything. It would have been heavenly to talk to him, but sometimes you have to trust your art director and this was a case where I totally put my trust in them from the start.

Were you given an opportunity to share ideas about the art? (Or did you even want such an opportunity?)

I had very little to give since the art was so splendid. I almost think it was eerie how perfectly he captured the world I envisioned. But there were tiny things like “I want to see more seaweed on Sir Peggedy,” or “His tooth needs to be golder,” since this was boldly expressed in the verses themselves.

I also wanted more  people of all colors and races because pirate worlds were pretty diverse, when you think about it.

Any insight into why your editor at Sterling selected  Sebastia to illustrate?

His artwork was modern, moody, had an edgy quality to it that was appealing. Similar to Lane Smith, I think. Lots of clutter, but I mean that in a postive way. Detail upon detail. He could also handle crowds of pirates in one picture, which, when you look at the illustrations, you can see this was necessary. They were also struck by the world he had created on his own with my language as the starting board—the monkey running around, the fish hanging on the Christmas tree, the treasure map with it’s unique geography. It was all in the details.

'Sir Peg' with the men. Illustration by Sebastia Serra

‘Sir Peg’ with the men. Illustration by Sebastia Serra

What was (is) your reaction to his art for the book when you saw it?

I was overwhelmed, to be honest.  As I said earlier, it felt like some telepathic thing had been going on between us. After seeing all the illustrations together for the first time, it almost felt like he had looked over my shoulder the whole time I was writing it, it was that spooky. But mostly, to be honest, was the feeling that I had accomplished what I set out to do—I had given him enough of this world so that he could go off on his own and expand it and give it his own twist.

At one reading recently, a parent came up to me and she thought I had done the illustrations and was surprised when she saw Serra’s name on it.

She said that the language and the visuals so perfectly meshed and how did it manage to come out without me even being in the same room with him. I was also proud because now he has several illustrator offers on his table, thanks to the Pirate’s success.

Have you done any kind of teamed promotional activity with Serra? Or are there plans to team the two of you somehow on the promotional circuit?

Phil Yates

Author Phil Yates

Well, Sebastia’s in Barcelona, Spain and here I am in Austin. He has promoted it as best he can, but I imagine that  it’s difficult to translate Clement Moore’s poem from English into Spanish without messing with the rhyme or meter in some way. I imagine the story can be told successfully in Spanish because the pictures are so great. I do hope to meet him some day and he is eager to team up again on another project, but now it’s difficult for both of us to get together.

[Serra created the  illustrations for the book with pencil and ink on parchment,  then he digitally colored the scene’s. See the interview with artist Serra in the next post.]

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Mark Mitchell, who wrote this post, teaches an online course in children’s book illustration, Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks!   See Mark’s free video series about the best secret to better drawing.