There are maybe 100 people in the world who are paper engineers on a full-time basis. Houstonian Bruce Foster is one.
Foster had trained as an artist and had a solid career as an art director when a chance assignment introduced him to the world of pop-up books. Coca Cola wanted a three dimensional display and Foster was tasked with creating it. "I tried several things -- optical illusion, [working with] the red/blue glasses. At that point I had only seen one pop-up -- ever -- and that had been a [simple] cone."
Pop-up books were something of a revelation to him. "It was the perfect marriage of my three-dimensional work in art school and graphic design. When I figured out that I could take graphic design into three dimensions, it was like the clouds parted and rainbows came out. I couldn't believe it. I'd never seen a pop-up book before and here it was the perfect thing for me to do."
Foster worked with publishers on a freelance basis for seven years, all the time perfecting his skills. "I took it to heart and started studying all the pop-up books that I could find in bookstores and sales bins. I would do book autopsies where I would dissect pop-up books to see how they had been made, how they worked."
He eventually left his job as an art director and became a full-time paper engineer. His work is renowned world-wide and several of his books have won awards. "The National Parks book won several national awards and was selected as an Oprah Book of the Week. That was great." Other popular titles include the 75Th anniversary pop-up of the Wizard of Oz and a Harry Potter pop-up.What He Does:
"If someone asks me what I do, I generally, I say, 'I'm a paper engineer.' Then they say 'what does that mean?' So I say, 'I design pop-up books' and I use my hands to show them how the paper pops up.
"Most of the time they say, 'That's cool. I've never met a paper engineer.' I tell them 'There's a reason for that. There aren't very many of us.' And there aren't. For one thing there's aren't any training programs for [the profession.] It takes a really long time to get good at it. And then there's only so many pop-up books that factories can produce in a year." Most of Foster's books are hand-assembled in China and it's a slow, time-intensive process. He could easily create more books than there are factories to fill the order.
Why He Likes It: "I like imagining the trick that it plays on your mind when you see something flat transform into something three dimensional. I like telling stories in three dimensions. I like coming up with new ways to do it, new ways to make the paper dance into the story you want it to tell. Those are exciting things for me.
"The most fun is the play phase, when I'm working with very rough forms. I actually sculpt the paper, cut it and bend it, tape it. My second favorite part is when I get to show the books to people, when it's all done."
What Inspires Him: "Making paper tell a story, that's magical. For me, there aren't many things that I can't find fun in doing. You can give me any subject and I could probably have fun making it into a pop-up."
If Not This, Then What: "I could be a chef. I love to cook. Watching [cooking] shows is fun and in many of my trips across the country, I've gotten to meet some of those chefs that I see on television."
Among those encounters is a day Foster and his family spent with famed French pastry chef Pierre Herme. Preparing for a possible book on his signature creations, the famous chef picked Foster and his family up at the airport in France and took them to his private kitchens where assistants prepared pastries for three hours while Foster took pictures. "We got to taste these pastries right out of the oven. We're talking French pastries by French pastry masters, it was a once in a lifetime experience."
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If Not Here, Then Where: Foster could be based anywhere since most of his work is done over the Internet and by phone. "I work with some people for a year or more and never meet them, never shake their hands. I can live anywhere. I went to school in Knoxville and I might want to get back to the mountains there."
What's Next: Foster's latest release is Woodland Christmas, a holiday book he created in collaboration with Yevgeniya Yeretskaya, (who provided the text), Neiko Ng (illustrations) and Monika Brandrup (design). Foster is currently working on a book about the White House. Several of his pop-up board games are set to be released after the new year and he's in talks to create sequels to previous projects.
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page). Valentina Kisseleva, painter Michael Wooten, painter Shawn Hamilton, actor Matt Adams, digital artist and independent curator Gilbert Ruiz, artist Dionne Sparkman Noble, choreographer and professor Lee Wright, artist Vic Shuttee, comedy writer and performer Robin Davidson, poet and translator Jessica Wilbanks, essayist and Pushcart Prize winner David DeHoyos, astronaut photographer Sophie Jordan, bestselling book author Jessi Jordan, comic artist, beekeeper and yeti enthusiast Patrick Peters, architect and professor Jamie Kinosian, visual artist Paris F. Jomadiao, mixed-media artist and stop motion animator Shanon Adams, dancer James Glassman, Houstorian historian and artist Lou Vest, photographer Sara Gaston, stage and screen star Rachael Pavlik, a writer mom Ana Villaronga-Roman, Katy Contemporary Arts Museum director Erin Wasmund, actor, singer and dancer Karim Al-Zand, composer Jan Burandt, paper conservator for The Menil Collection Deke Anderson, actor Craig Cohen, hockey fan and host of Houston Matters Mauro Luna, Poe-Inspired photographer Trond Saeverud, Galveston Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Khrystyna Balushka, paper flower child Christina Carfora, visual artist and world traveler Sara Kumar, artistic director for Shunya Theatre Kiki Maroon, burlesque clown Gin Martini, fashion designer Lacey Crawford, painter and sculptor Homer Starkey, novelist Jenn Fox, mixed media Shohei Iwahama, dancer Erica DelGardo, metalsmith Bob Clark, executive director Houston Family Arts Center Kerrelyn Sparks, bestselling romance author Lindsay Halpin, punk rock mad hatter Drake Simpson, actor Shelby Carter, Playboy model turned photographer David Matranga, actor Crystal Belcher, pole dancer Daniel Kramer, photographer Blue 130, pin-up explosion art Nina Godiwalla, author and TED speaker David Wilhem, light painter Tom Abrahams, author and newscaster Browncoat, pin-up pop artist Kris Becker, Nu-Classical composer and pianist Vincent Fink, science fashion Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Senorita Cinema founder Ned Gayle, thrift store painting defacer Sameera Faridi, fashion designer Greg Ruhe, The Human Puppet Sophia L. Torres, founder and co-artistic director of Psophonia Dance Company Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre Outspoken Bean, performance poet Barry Moore, architect Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist Ty Doran, young actor Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet Justin Garcia, artist Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer Danielle Burns, art curator Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana MarÃa Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer