Matthew Reinhart – Creating Paper Magic

Matthew Reinhart must be a genius.  Author, artist, and paper engineer, looking at his work is an experience all by itself.  Matthew does pop-up books, but if you think these are just kid books, you couldn’t be more wrong.  While children definitely enjoy his work, Matthew has a devoted following of adults as well.  And no wonder.  The intricacy of his work is simply marvelous to look at.

What’s even more amazing is that Matthew does all the work himself.  He not only engineers the pop-ups, he also draws the images and writes the copy as well.  A triple threat artist if ever there was one.  Matthew just released Frozen: A Pop-Up Adventure for Disney Editions and is slated to produce three more books.  His next one, a book focusing on the Pixar films, will come out next Fall.

A self-described Star Wars nerd, Matthew has a passion for Star Wars, Marvel, Disney and Transformers among others.  He graciously allowed me to interview him over the phone and ask him about his work.

The craftsmanship in this book is astounding. Few pop-up books have this level of detail.
The craftsmanship in this book is astounding. Few pop-up books have this level of detail.

You have done a wide range of different pop-up books – everything from My Little Pony to Game of Thrones. How do you choose the topics of your books?

For a lot of the characters we love, a publisher will come to me or actual licenser and say, “Oh my God, we want you to do _______________.” For Star Wars I approached them through my publisher and begged them to do it for the 30th anniversary. Most of the time I’m approached. But I pitched Transformers, Disney Princess, and even a DC Comics one.

The complexity of your work is far above the average pop-up book. To me, it’s like comparing the pastrami sandwich at Katz’ Delicatessen to the one you get at your local supermarket with two slices of white bread and about an ounce of meat. Do you like the term “pop-up” book or do you think of it differently?

I like “pop-up book.” That’s what people view it as. Pop-up books come in varying degrees. Some are real simple, some are more complex. I don’t know what I would call it otherwise so I’m cool with it. It’s an historical term. I’ve done much more simple books. It all depends on the cost, the price point, and the audience. For Frozen it deserved the biggest, most complex mechanics I could think of.

Because the price is higher and the complexity is so much greater, do you find that you have at least as many adults who are fans of your books as well as kids?

Totally! Totally, completely. There’s a very large group of older collectors. And especially when I started doing characters people are familiar with, because it makes a great gift you start reaching different audiences who like that world and those characters. It’s a new expression of something they’re familiar with. It’s fun. It takes them back to being young. When they open it it’s like, “Wow this is happening right here in front of me.” It’s real magic.

It's hard to believe that this gigantic castle pop-ups out of this book!
It’s hard to believe that this gigantic castle pop-ups out of this book!

I have been playing with the Frozen book since I got it, just amazed at how everything unfolds and folds together. I think I’ve opened and closed the page with Elsa’s castle something like 20 times, just watching as it rises and falls from the book. It does seem almost magical. What is the most difficult part of putting together a book like this?

The engineering definitely. I do every stage of the book. I do the research and writing (and art). Sometimes, I’m very edited. Other times, I’m not. It just depends on the project and the publisher. But the engineering is the hardest because it’s always changing. I build a prototype first with sketches on it and I keep making little changes throughout. It doesn’t happen the first time off. That castle I built like 15 times to get it right. The way it comes up, unfurls, and reveals itself is so complex. It can be very frustrating trying to get it right and so I redesign and redesign it.

Because the books are so thick, I imagine you have to limit yourself to how many pages you can create. How are you able to fit the entire story into such a limited amount of pages and how do you choose the scenes you do?

That’s really tough. Especially like the Disney Princess one, you have one small area for the entire story of a character. You want to tell the story, but you’re limited by the price point and size. If I got to do everything I wanted, it would cost over $100. You’d really need lots of pull tabs and things like that. For the Frozen book I was really, really lucky to work directly with the producers of the film and get their guidance for really important parts. They helped keep me focused.

One of the beautiful interior sections of Frozen: A Pop-Up Adventure
One of the beautiful interior sections of Frozen: A Pop-Up Adventure

Were there any pieces that you wanted to do but just couldn’t quite fit it in?

I designed a large part with the rock trolls greeting Anna, Olaf and Kristoff from the scene where they are welcoming him home. But we had to cut it for space. Had to keep focused on the story of the two sisters.

Have you thought of doing a pop-up book based on the Disney theme parks? I’m just imagining that what you could do with them would make for many happy fans and probably sell a ton to Disney Nerds like me. Could we possibly see one in the future?

Are you kidding me?! Let’s just say it’s been talked about. It is on the list of “to dos.” When people go to the theme parks it’s like magic and they want to take home a piece of that magic with them. It would be fun to do. Frozen was the first of four books I’ll be doing for Disney Editions. Next fall, I’m doing a Pixar celebration book coming out in the Fall of 2017. Should be cool. I only get one theme from each movie, and you know it’s a lot of movies. The book will transform into something as well. I really want to keep doing something different, break the boundaries of the book so I’m trying a bunch of new things.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share with me and all of our readers about your work, Matthew!

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