From Torafu Architects’ 2D to 3D pop-up paper vases to Josh Ritter’s 12,000-piece cut and paste music video, paper remains one of the oldest and most diversely applied materials for creative expression.
Today, we explore the wafer-thin constructions of Japanese computer scientist Jun Mitani. From his first intrigues with paper design to his inimitable collaboration with fashion designer Issey Miyake, the 3D origami craftsman explains his trials and triumphs with paper.
The Creators Project: Please introduce yourself and your work with paper.
Jun Mitani: I’m an associate professor at the Department of Computer Science, University of Tsukuba. My specialty is geometric modeling in the field of computer graphics. I have been studying algorithms and user interfaces for generating 3D shapes on a computer.
When did your fascination with origami begin? Did you fold a lot of origami when you were a child?
When I was a kid, I didn’t have much interest in folding origami, but in papercraft. I fabricated a lot of paper models, such as cars, ships, buildings, and animals, etc. by cutting and gluing pieces of paper. I felt that origami, just folding, was too restricted. On the other hand, I was enthusiastic about the computer, which my father bought when I was a first-year student in elementary school. As a fusion of two objects of interest, papercraft and computer, the theme of my Ph.D. thesis became a method for designing paper models with the computer.
After that research, I thought that I should challenge origami, particularly the geometrical constraint, which is harder than in papercraft. Shortly after starting my origami research, I was surprised how fascinating it was.
You’ve designed various software for origami production. For instance, the ORI-REVO-MORPH you released last year. Can you explain what this is used for?
The ORI-REVO is software for designing 3D origami that has rotational symmetry. This software can generate a variety of shapes. It is sometimes difficult to believe that the shape is realizable by simply folding a single sheet of paper. I was asked many times, “Is this really made with a single sheet of paper?” Therefore I developed the ORI-REVO-MORTH which shows the animation of folding and un-folding origami. With this software, the user can see how the 3D origami is made from just a sheet of paper.
After designing a 3D origami structure with your software, do you then fold it by hand? Please describe the physical production process.
I use a cutting plotter, which has a blade, to score folding lines. Then I fold it by hand. Although it is easy to design complicated shapes with the software, it is sometimes too difficult to make with a sheet of real paper. I failed many times just after I started studying origami. Now I’m used to and now I rarely fail.
How large is the biggest piece of paper you’ve folded by hand?
Because paper is not a strong material, making a giant piece of origami is not easy in view of the strength of the structure. The tallest model that I have made before is unfortunately just 70cm height. I would like to try working with tougher materials to make large objects in the future.
From product design to architecture and even fashion, your work with origami allows you to have very dynamic collaborations. How was your experience with the Issey Miyake 132.5 Collection a few years ago? Can you describe any recent collaborations?
The collaboration with Mr. Issey Miyake was a wonderful event for me. I didn’t have any idea about how to apply origami technology for clothing design. Because the folded 3D shape made with paper is fixed, I was surprised when I saw the shape of the cloth transform smoothly. I learned that the difference of the property of materials generates an unexpected effect.
Currently I’m collaborating with some industrial companies. As one accomplishment, the folds from 3D origami are going to be used for the design of baking bowls. I’m happy when technology of origami is recognized as a useful tool for designing industrial products.
And just out of curiosity, how many paper cuts do you think you’ve had so far?
I don’t know the exact number, but I think it is about a few thousand. At the beginning I tried to make a lot of simple pieces as experiments. However, the number of cuts tend to decrease as I’m trying to make more sophisticated pieces recently.
[Photos: Jun Mitani]