Aspects of paper models

Thu, 15 Sep 2011


I'm doing an A-Level project on paper automata, and was wondering what you would consider the key aspects of a paper model.  The visual output is not particularly important, I need to know the key aspects you would expect from any model.

Thanks very much!
TLear. "

This question was posted on the forum. I've moved it onto the blog where there is more traffic and am opening it up to everyone for their opinions.

I have a couple of initial thoughts; slightly disjointed but its been a long day: A question that has come up a couple of times in the past is just how pure you should be with your paper modeling. For example, I often use coins to give weight to my models but turn my nose up at cocktail sticks or bits of string. Thoughts?

Secondly: I always thought that an automata should tell as story, no matter how short. but does it really need too? Perhaps Kuchi-san here isn't an automata but just an animated model.

One other point. Automata should be in two parts. Box, with mechanism, preferably visible to the curious user, and scene on top of the box separated from the mechanism.

Over to you. I'm off for a glass of red 🙂 

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Comments (3)

  • drinkumbrella September 16, 2011 at 4:22 am

    Walter Ruffler digs into this

    Walter Ruffler digs into this question a lot in the early part of his "Paper Models That Move" book, carefully considering design aspects of quite a number of models — why they work so well. I think one of his conclusions is that, generally, the really effective automata have an element of humor in them. In Keisuke Kata's "Karakuri: How to make Mechanical Paper Models" book, the introduction with the history of automata (karakuri) in Japan talks about how they were traditionally toys, and how being fun and playful was and important aspect.

    Consider the automata as a very constrained form of storytelling. It has to follow the same rules. All the elements must: set the scene, develop character, or advance the plot. The mechanism is all about advancing the plot, for sure. Another goal of an automata could be to surprise and delight.

    TLear comments that "the visual output is not particularly important" but I disagree – that's where the story happens! A pendulum is just a mechanism. Make a wee sheep and you've got a great model, but no story. Connect this pendulum to the a wee sheep, and a story develops. I think Kuchi-san is a great example of a model that tells a story (and also that the story is in the mind of the viewer — his story in my head is likely different from the story in yours).

    As for hiding the mechanism or not, I think it really depends on how that affects the rest of the story. The "pie factory" would lose all the surprise if you could see the mechanism (and the punchline). Their "the artist" model probably wouldn't lose the surprise if you could see the mechanism, but you'd be busy watching that, instead of marveling at the joke involved in the output of the mechanism. If the mechanism doesn't interfere with the unfolding of the story, by all means keep it exposed. Machines are fun to watch.

    So, the key aspects to me are: tell a story, surprise and delight. I would really recommend reading the chapter in Walter Ruffler's book, since it's clear he's spent a lot of time trying to figure this out too.

  • frankenpaper September 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    What a deep


    What a deep question. 
    When I designed a paper model, I just want it to be interesting enough and clever enough that other people will want to build too. I never thought about what lesson it was teaching or what story it told. I thought that my Yoda model was cool, because Yoda is cool, and I thought the added illusion of his eyes following you was fitting for the character. I thought my Frankenpaper was cool because Frankenstein is cool. The illusion of his severed head turning to follow you fits the spooky theme. But I never thought that I was trying to tell a story. I thought the the illusions were cool enough to justify the models, but I did not try to teach anything. My paper cat is just a stationary model but when a cat or dog sees it, they attack the model because it seems real to them. 
    Now that I think about it, I suppose that one of the things that make Rob Ives' models so compelling is that the models show their mechanisms and how they work, instead of hiding the very thing that make them clever. With automata, my imagination is sparked whenever I crank the handle or when the pendulum swings.
    Upon further reflection I suppose that Frankenstein's monster is interesting because Mary Shelley wrote an interesting story about him. Yoda is popular because of a little movie called Star Wars.
    For me the key aspect has to be more about the experience than about the model. Whether it is automata or not. This year I have been working on a model of a house that was in a movie, and so I suppose that movie is the story that makes the house interesting. I think that people who build it will relive their favorite parts of the movie. I have also been working on some old buildings from the town I live in. I suppose that their history, and the lives of the town founders who built, lived, and worked in them, are the storys that make them interesting. 
    It occurs to me to ask, is a new model really cool because of a story that already exists or does it become cool in your mind when you build it. What do you bring to the model, in terms of the model building experience. What do you take away from building the model. Did you build it alone or with friends or family. Where do you keep it? Is it in you room, or your locker at school, or your desk at work? Or does it live your heart and your imagination. What means more to you? The model or the model building experience? If you built the model with a grand parent or grand child, or a friend far away, what do you feel when you look at the model. And if the model has long since gone away, do those memories come rushing back if you build it again? 
    • drinkumbrella September 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      Also consider “evoke an

      Also consider "evoke an emotional response" as a result of a great model. I think your frankpaper does that. One story for yours could be "frankenpaper is watching you, look out!" There's more opportunity for models to tell a story with more complex mechanisms, but even non-moving ones can still tell a story. If you had done just a head-of-frankenstein, it wouldn't get the same emotional response as the illusion-based one. (The mechanism happens to be the viewer!)

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