This Paper Magician Constructs Unbelievable Origami

Japanese computer scientist and origami extraordinaire shares a few words on his custom developed software and paper collaborations in fashion and more.
December 26, 2016, 5:25am
Photos: Jun Mitani

This article was originally published on April 3, 2012 but we think it still rocks!

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. 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? 

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 the 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. 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? 

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 it and now I rarely fail.

From product design to architecture and fashion, your work with origami allows you to have dynamic collaborations. How was your experience with the Issey Miyake 132.5 Collection

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.


 I'm happy when technology of origami is recognized as a useful tool for designing industrial products.


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