Skip to content

Angels: Interview with Bruce Foster, paper engineer plus giveaway

November 12, 2009

Bruce Foster with-Peanuts

A little while ago, I read and loved Angels by Chuck Fischer.  Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to ask Bruce Foster, the paper engineer responsible for making the book pop-up, a few questions.  Bruce has engineered many books – you can see the complete list here and also worked on the Disney movie Enchanted.  I was so fascinated with his work on Angels and had so many questions that I had trouble putting my thoughts together in coherent questions.  Bruce was very kind and stuck with me through the whole process.  This is what we came up with:

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure, my wife, Lori, and I are nearing our 20th wedding anniversary. We live here in Houston, Texas with our 16 year old daughter, Lydia. Our first born, Nicole, is now off at college in a BioMedical Sciences program. We also have four cats and a dog. I am originally from Louisiana, growing up in a small B&B plantation town, St. Francisville. Pretty much a Mayberry kind of childhood. But we moved to Nashville when I was in high school, which led me to college at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I started in the PreMed program, but soon found my true calling in the art program. (Looks like my daughter may reverse that process!) I was in the painting/drawing program there, but had strong inclinations toward sculpture, so my paintings began to morph into three dimensional objects. After college I worked as a graphic designer in Nashville for awhile. But eventually I returned to Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, later meeting my future wife, Lori in Ft. Lauderdale. She had a job transfer to Houston which brought us here where we’ve been ever since.

How did you get into paper engineering?

Here in Houston, I was working for a marketing firm and we received an assignment for Hi-C juices. They wanted to create a piece that would incorporate three D techniques. Part of that was a pop up promoting their very first juice box, specifically, Ectocooler. I designed the box to pop up with Ghostbuster’s Slimer swinging up to take a sip. It worked, but looking back on it now, oooh, I’d really do it differently! Anyway Ottenheimer Publishers, a pop up publisher based in Baltimore, saw it and began sending me freelance work. Little by little, I learned the art form (okay, I’m STILL learning the art form!), and eventually made in-roads to the big publishers in New York and beyond.

What books have you worked on besides ANGELS?

WOWTiger-150x150Oh, gosh, I’ve designed, not including my early work at Ottenheimer, nearly 40 pop up books now! Besides Angels, my recent work includes “Wow! The Pop-Up Book of Sports” for Sports Illustrated Kids, “Big Frog Can’t Fit In!” by Mo Willems, and “The Sound of Music” for Simon and Schuster/ Rodgers and Hammerstein. “Angels” is my third collaboration with Chuck Fischer. Previously we produced “Christmas Around the World” and “In the Beginning”, the book of Genesis in popup form, and currently we’re working on “A Christmas Carol”. I’ve done work for many publishers and for all age groups, from children’s books like “Bee Mine”, “Sammy’s Suitcase” with Sachiko Yoshikawa, and “Peanuts: A Pop Up Celebration” with Paige Braddock of the Charles Schulz studio, to adult subjects like “The Pop Up Book of Celebrity Meltdowns” with Mick Coulas and a collection of artist pop ups for the avant garde publisher, Visionaire.  I’ve done work for museums, like The Museum of Modern Art with a book on the shaped paintings of Elizabeth Murray and two books for other museums on the treatises of Ginny Ruffner. I also design pop up cards and books for Up With Paper as well. But my work has even transcended the printed page with popups designed for television and movies, the most notable being Disney’s “Enchanted”. Not only the opening montage popup book, but also making several scenes of the last four minutes of the movie transform into pop ups. Not easy, since we had to work from completed filming and animation, finding the sweet spot that could freeze and be computer manipulated to fold down or spring up!

What is involved in creating a pop-up book like ANGELS?

Angels is a little different from most of my Angels - MIchaelassignments. Usually, I’m given a manuscript or outline of a book and I work out what the scenes are going to be, what is going to pop up, and then work with the illustrator on the project to work out the final product. In the case of Angels, Chuck Fischer is orchestrating the book. While not a paper engineer, he does have a good pop up vision for each spread and provides a sketch of that image. So I work with him to realize that as a finished pop up. Sometimes we push each other back and forth to make them better, exploring new ideas until we are both in agreement as to what the pop will be. Chuck then illustrates the pops. We’ve followed this formula for three books, and now a fourth.  In almost all pop up books, however, the painting doesn’t begin until the pops are worked out, making sure that the pops will open and close over and over. I’ll experiment with paper sculptures and provide those along with tracings of each piece for the illustrator to follow. Then I do the computer work as well, inputting scans of the work, tweaking them in photoshop when necessary, drawing the die lines (the cookie cutter patterns), and working with the printer to make sure the final book matches the work as intended.

How long does it take to complete a book like this from start to finish?

A book usually takes a year from beginning to end. In my case, I usually have three or four projects working simultaneously. So there is a lot of leapfrogging, a spread for that book, then a spread for this one, all while the other members of the team do their parts. All in a very cyclical fashion, keeping the books moving along constantly.

How is a book like ANGELS mass produced?  Is it all done by machine or is there some human involvement?

ALL pop up books are hand assembled after having been printed and diecut! Sometimes there might be a force of hundreds working on a single book. Pop up books are produced in Asia: Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines. The printers actually will build a factory with dormitories. The assemblers might stay there for the work week and return to their homes on the weekends. These people are extremely talented and, might I add, patient! I can’t imagine having the patience to mass produce upwards of 100,000 copies of anything by hand, piece by piece!

Do you have any input in the artwork that is used or are you given a completed book to transform?

Bruce Foster working-2-150x150Rarely am I given a finished work to transform into pop ups. Imagine: a pop up is made of PIECES that are assembled into a finished whole, while most books are made using finished paintings of a scene. For example, if I have a character that needs to move his hand from the front of his body to swing outward, I will need a body without that arm, and also that arm as a separate piece. It makes so much more sense for the illustrator to paint the pieces as needed by the pop up rather than the pop up to follow a single piece of art. That said, I HAVE had to do so! For the Sports Illustrated Kids book, I was given a selection of photos of the sports scene we wanted to feature. So I had to study the photos not only for composition, but action, and keep in mind that someone would have to do heavy Photoshop retouching to remove elements and fill in the missing areas. I’ve done that myself on a few books like my Hindu Altars pop up, but in this case, Sports Illustrated Kids has some really talented artists who were able to do amazing things in the computer.

What do paper engineers do besides pop-up books?

It depends on the paper engineer. Most paper engineers get into this because they were illustrators first and wanted their work to pop. So they can do other kinds of illustration besides pop ups. In my case, I came into this as a designer first, so I know how to work with this as kinetic sculpture and direct the illustrators. In my case, I’ve been fortunate the past four years doing this full time, although before that did popups on weekends and nights while working as an art director by day. Talk about burning the candle at both ends! It’s still a very small field. I’d guess that there are fewer than a couple dozen people in the entire world who are lucky enough to do this day in and day out!

I find the world of paper engineering fascinating and I’d like to thank Bruce for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.

Anna of Hachette Books is generously allowing Angelsme to give away THREE copies of Angels by Chuck Fischer with paper engineering done by Bruce Foster.   To enter to win a copy,  simply leave a comment on this post.  Contest is open to US and Canadian residents only (no PO Boxes, please).  I will use to determine the winner.  Contest ends at midnight EST, Friday November 27, 2009.  Winner will be announced on Saturday, November 28, 2009.

79 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2009 7:17 am

    What a fascinating interview. I had no idea what was involved and that individuals had to hand assemble each pop up book. I would love to win a copy of this book. I’d give it to my grandmother for Christmas!

  2. November 12, 2009 7:23 am

    I’m a fan of pop-up books. Love to give them as gifts but I also have a small collection of Christmas pop-up books that I bring out each holiday season. All ages love to look at them. I’d love to win a copy of Angels.
    Nice interview!

  3. November 12, 2009 7:32 am

    Wow! That’s a lot of work on getting a hand to move 🙂
    And yes this really requires a lot of patience too! That was a great and informative interview. Thank You
    Please dnt enter me.

  4. November 12, 2009 7:32 am

    It was fascinating to know that each book pop up book is hand set and it takes so many people to make one copy. That is why the end result is so good.
    Though I am not eligible for the giveaway , I found this post very informative.

  5. November 12, 2009 7:52 am

    I’d love to be entered! And thanks for this interview. I had no idea about paper engineers and all that goes into making a pop-up book. Fascinating!

  6. November 12, 2009 7:55 am

    What a fabulous job to have. I have never heard of a paper engineer.

  7. November 12, 2009 8:19 am

    Wow — excellent interview. I had no idea how much was involved with a popup book — amazing that they are hand assembled.

  8. November 12, 2009 8:32 am

    Please count me in – the book looks wonderful and I enjoyed reading about how they make them and assemble them!

  9. November 12, 2009 9:22 am

    Amazing – I guess it makes sense that they are put together by hand but I never thought about it! (don’t enter me, I have a copy)

  10. Andrea permalink
    November 12, 2009 9:23 am

    Wow, I would love to be entered!

    andreaneville AT comcast DOT net

  11. Margay permalink
    November 12, 2009 9:40 am

    This sounds like a fantastic book! As a creative person myself (not only do I write, but I also knot, crochet, sew, and other crafting), I am always fascinated by the way people create things. Plus, I have a real appreciation for them, especially since I grew up watching my mother create things, too. I would love to have a copy of this book.



  12. Kyle permalink
    November 12, 2009 9:51 am

    Great interview about an occupation few people fully understand. Keep up the good work!

  13. November 12, 2009 9:57 am

    No pun intended, but I hung on every word here. What a cool career!

    No need to enter me, doll. I’m dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I’ve got this posted at Win a Book for you.

  14. KiraR permalink
    November 12, 2009 10:11 am

    Count me in please.

  15. Jennifer Gordon permalink
    November 12, 2009 10:51 am

    What an interesting interview. I would love to win a copy of Angels for my granddaughter, who is a big fan of pop-up books.

  16. November 12, 2009 11:10 am

    I’m really interested in Angels, I’d love to win a copy!

  17. November 12, 2009 11:13 am

    This is a very enlightening interview. I’ve never heard of the term paper engineer before.

    Please enter me in the giveaway. Thanks!

  18. November 12, 2009 11:15 am

    Great interview & giveaway. I’d love to win this beautiful book.

    niteswimming at gmail dot com

  19. November 12, 2009 11:17 am

    Paper engineers are brilliant; I’d see to see more book artist’s make pop-ups. Thanks for the post.

  20. November 12, 2009 11:46 am

    I’ve always wondered how pop-ups were made and here you are with the info. I think Bruce Foster is also part genius and part magician. Thanks for an excellent interview.

  21. November 12, 2009 11:52 am

    I have been eying this book since I learned of it last month.

    Thank you for the entry.

  22. November 12, 2009 12:22 pm

    Don’t enter me. I just wanted to say that was a fascinating interview.

  23. November 12, 2009 12:40 pm

    Amazing! Thanks for the giveaway! Such beautiful books and incredible talent!

  24. November 12, 2009 1:12 pm

    Great fascinating interview! Thanks! I’d love to win one of the books!

  25. November 12, 2009 1:38 pm

    What a great interview! I had no idea that creating pop-ups required such skill. I guess it’s something I never thought about! I’d love to be entered, please. 🙂

  26. Kristine Arena permalink
    November 12, 2009 1:52 pm

    I love the pop up books, this one looks like so much fun and is so colorful ! Thanks for entering me in your give-away contest 🙂 (I love Robert Sabuda too)

  27. November 12, 2009 1:58 pm

    Kathy DO NOT INCLUDE me in your giveaway. I already have the book but I just wanted to say WOW a great interview.

    I always wondered about pop up books and how they were done.

    Great job Kathy 🙂

  28. karen k permalink
    November 12, 2009 2:21 pm

    what a facinating interview…I would cherish a copy of this wonderful book…thanks for the opportunity to add it to my home library. 🙂

    karen k

  29. November 12, 2009 2:26 pm

    I love pop-up books — always have. What a fabulous and interesting interview, Kathy. I learned so much. Bruce Foster is one heck of a creative spirit. I admire him.

    Though I purchased this book as a Christmas gift, please enter me in your giveaway as I’d love to have one of my own!

    Here’s my email: BethHoffman (at) insightbb (dot) com

  30. November 12, 2009 3:18 pm

    I’d never heard of a “paper engineer” before. What a fascinating specialty and a terrific interview! 🙂

    To win this book would be heavenly. *Sigh*.


  31. November 12, 2009 4:12 pm

    Wow! A whole year to complete one book? I found this to be a really interesting interview, and I would love to a chance to win a copy of the book, so please enter me in the giveaway!


  32. November 12, 2009 4:18 pm

    All of his work is gorgeous!

  33. November 12, 2009 4:37 pm

    Great interview! I would love to win this! bibliophile at bostonbibliophile dot com. thanks kathy!

  34. Julie H. permalink
    November 12, 2009 4:58 pm

    What a great, informative interview from Bruce Foster! I think it’s amazing that parts of these pop-ups are still put together by hand.

  35. November 12, 2009 6:03 pm

    I never really knew what to call this kind of art before. Paper engineering certainly seems to fit the bill since it appears to be such a delicate, complicated process.

  36. November 12, 2009 7:05 pm

    I must confess complete ignorance. I’ve never heard of a paper engineer before but certainly have admired those paper pop ups in books. Thanks for sharing this truly enlightening interview!

  37. November 12, 2009 7:07 pm

    wow, that was awesome. And thanks for the chance to win!

  38. November 12, 2009 7:46 pm

    Comment comment! What a great interview. I would love to get my hands on a copy of this book. ^_^

  39. etirv permalink
    November 12, 2009 8:14 pm

    Love, love, love and collect pop-up books! I would like to be entered, thanks!

  40. stacybuckeye permalink
    November 12, 2009 9:12 pm

    I remeber when you reviewed this and I have it written down as a gift idea. I guess I never really thought about them being hand assembled before. Excellent questions and interview! I’d love to win a copy.

  41. November 12, 2009 10:05 pm

    Fabulously interesting interview. I always love hearing people describe what they do in their jobs and their art.

  42. November 12, 2009 11:01 pm

    That’s amazing! I can’t even begin to imagine how a pop-up would work…he’s so talented!

  43. cheryl c. permalink
    November 12, 2009 11:17 pm

    Wow, this was fascinating! I loved pop-up books with my kids, and now I am enjoying adult pop-ups. I have a Christmas Around the World pop-up book that is beautiful!

    Thanks for the chance to win this book!

  44. Melissa permalink
    November 12, 2009 11:29 pm

    I’d love to share this book with my goddaughter – Please enter me!

  45. November 13, 2009 1:49 am

    What a cool interview! I’d love a copy of this book, please enter me.

  46. Glenn permalink
    November 13, 2009 7:35 am

    I love really creative books like this that are so visually appealing. Thanks for the giveaway.

  47. November 13, 2009 8:47 am

    Wow, fascinating story. No need to enter me in the giveaway. I will put this in my sidebar for you though.

  48. November 13, 2009 12:04 pm

    What an interesting interview! I have used very simple pop-ups making cards and that was difficult enough. LOL
    winterset AT

  49. November 13, 2009 12:56 pm

    I learned a lot while reading this post. I can’t believe that each book is assembled by hand! That is an incredible amount of work.

  50. Wanda permalink
    November 13, 2009 1:59 pm

    This book looks amazing and I would love to be entered in your draw. Thanks.

  51. November 13, 2009 3:39 pm

    You don’t have to enter me.
    Just wanted to say I am amazed! I knew a lot of work went into these types of books, but I never realized it was that much.
    And I enjoyed your work in Enchanted! I though that was so cool!
    Good luck to you and your family, Mr. Foster.

  52. November 13, 2009 4:52 pm

    Kathy I have a wonderful little girl that would LOVE this one……….

  53. November 13, 2009 8:43 pm

    Wow, his work is incredible!

  54. November 13, 2009 11:08 pm

    This looks like such a beautiful book.
    Please enter me.

  55. November 14, 2009 12:07 pm

    Don’t sign me up the contest. I already have a copy coming. Thanks for sharing with us how pop-ups are made. This is such an interesting post.

  56. November 14, 2009 1:47 pm

    I love pop-up books! and this one is so new? it’s not even listed in goodreads yet? I very much enjoyed the info on paper engg.

  57. jacque permalink
    November 14, 2009 3:13 pm

    Wow! I didn’t realize it took that long to make a pop-up book. This would make a great christmas gift for my sister. Thanks!

  58. November 14, 2009 4:37 pm

    I didn’t think I would be that interested in this book but after reading your interview I’m very intrigued! I went to school for art and design and I’m fascinated by the process of of pop up books and paper engineers themselves. Excellent post!

  59. MMW permalink
    November 14, 2009 7:39 pm

    I had never really put much thought into Pop-up book technology. This interview was very interesting.
    Thanks for the giveaway. I would love to win this book for my kids for christmas.

  60. Lisa Garrett permalink
    November 15, 2009 1:01 pm

    Captivating review. Please enter me.

  61. November 15, 2009 6:47 pm

    Wow what an awesome interview and book!Very interesting. I would love to enter.

  62. Carolyn Hughes permalink
    November 15, 2009 6:59 pm

    As self appointed president of the BRUCE FOSTER fan club, the Ohio chapter, I say Bruce is the KING of paper. His pops are so innovative and easy to work, which puts him in the number one spot of paper engineers.
    Great interview & yes I learned a lot also.
    You may enter me in the contest.

  63. November 16, 2009 12:48 am

    Hi Kathy, there’s no need to enter me for the giveaway, but I’m here to say hello and loved that interview!

  64. November 16, 2009 4:40 pm

    Really interesting interview!

  65. November 16, 2009 10:18 pm

    Wow! A year to design … then each book is hand assembled?!?

    Your interview questions are great, Kathy, and Bruce seems very generous with his excitement and willingness to talk about his work.

  66. Nancye Davis permalink
    November 17, 2009 1:14 am

    I would LOVE to win this book for my mom. She absolutely adores angels!

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  67. November 17, 2009 12:52 pm

    I would LOVE to get a copy to share with my kids! Thanks for offering it (and for the insightful interview)!

  68. Murhl Blessing permalink
    November 17, 2009 9:42 pm

    What a wonderful book. I would to love to have this book to share with my grandchildren, but it would be mine.

  69. November 18, 2009 9:32 am

    A most intriguing interview…quite a bit of work assembling pop-up books. This is destined to be a classic. Please enter my name. Thank you!!

  70. November 18, 2009 2:27 pm

    What a fascinating post and interview! I had no idea about all the details involved in pop up books and this one looks stunning. I’d love to win a copy of the book! Thanks!

  71. November 19, 2009 8:53 pm

    Great interview. Very unique. Please enter me into the giveaway: thereadingjourney[at]gmail[dot]com

  72. November 20, 2009 5:19 pm

    Oh, oh my, I was so sure I entered this contest, but now it seems I did not yet. I can’t find my name…so I must not have.
    And I so, so, so would like to win this! So much.

  73. Steve permalink
    November 23, 2009 7:41 pm

    This looks so neat ! I’d love a copy.

  74. November 24, 2009 1:40 am

    This looks like a beautiful book!

    Posted about this at Winning Readings:

    janemaritz at yahoo dot com

  75. Wendy M permalink
    November 24, 2009 11:23 am

    I would love to win a copy. They look lovely.

  76. Jennette permalink
    November 24, 2009 2:07 pm

    Great interview and giveaway!

  77. November 24, 2009 8:24 pm

    So interesting!!! I love that there is a job in this world called “Paper Engineer.”

  78. November 25, 2009 7:15 am

    This is such a beautiful book. I would love to have a copy.

  79. Sabrina Rutter permalink
    October 16, 2010 9:42 pm

    I never really thought much about the way these type of books are made becuase I always thought they were just assembled inside a machine. Thanks so much for a great post!
    I would love to be entered in the contest to win a copy of this book:)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: