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.”

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.

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 at 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.

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

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See more videos from Mark’s interview with pop up book  engineer Bruce Foster  at the Illustration Course blog.