Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #85
(Summer Blog Blast Tour Edition): Matthew Reinhart

h1 May 20th, 2010 by jules

My Inner Nerd is expending a great deal of effort this morning to avoid welcoming renowned illustrator and paper engineer Matthew Reinhart to
7-Imp with a bunch of really cheesy puns on the word “pop,” such as “I’m eye-poppingly happy Matthew has stopped by for a visit.” Oops. I said that outloud, didn’t I?

But I am eye-poppingly happy, as I have very much enjoyed Matthew’s books over the years. Matthew started out studying industrial design/toy design, and now—whether he’s working alone or in tandem with fellow paper engineer extraordinaire Robert Sabuda—he’s always working a kind of magic in his pop-up picture books, releasing a holy-wow-how-does-he-do-that kind of spell over readers. Taking us into a new dimension with his breathtaking pop-ups, he brings us stories—ones we thought we knew—in unforgettable ways.

This page of Matthew’s site lists the titles he’s created over the years, as well as the ones with which he’s collaborated with Sabuda (and others). If you haven’t experienced them, you’re in for a treat. If you haven’t seen the royal palace of Alfheim leap from the page (in 2008’s Encyclopedia Mythologica: Fairies and Magical Creatures, created with Sabuda) or Frankenstein unfold from the center of a spread (in 2007’s Mommy?, created with Maurice Sendak and Arthur Yorinks) or seen Cinderella’s royal carriage leap up as you turn the page (in 2005’s Cinderella: A Pop-Up Fairy Tale) or had the ever-livin’ bejeesus scared out of you when Darth Vader springs forth (in 2007’s Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy)…well, I could go on and on. If you haven’t experienced Matthew’s work, many delights await you.

Let’s just say: If there were ever an argument against e-books (and good heavens, I’m only making a point; Kindle-lovers, please don’t attack me), Matthew Reinhart’s art is a solid one. These aren’t just illustrations. They are kinesthetic experiences.

Matthew’s newest title (pictured right)—Gods & Heroes, the second in Candlewick’s Encyclopedia Mythologica series, created with Sabuda—brings us age-old myths and legends — from demigods to heroes to primal spirits and just about everything in between. Pictured below are the Argo, the ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed to retrieve the Golden Fleece; the violent Polynesian volcano goddess, Pele; and the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of wisdom. (You can click on each of these images to enlarge and see up close.)

I thank Matthew for stopping by this morning for a cyber-visit. I’m gonna pop on over (you’re welcome for that second awful pun) to the breakfast table and sit down and chat with him.

{Two quick notes: Just about every one of these images is hyperlinked to a larger version of itself. For those who want to see the pop-up wonders in more detail, simply click on the image. Also: The rest of today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour schedule is at the close of this post.}

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7-Imp: I saw that Dinah Hall in The Telegraph called you and Sabuda “gods of paper engineering.” What does it feel like to have such divine status?

Matthew: Robert {pictured here with Matthew} may’ve achieved that “divine status” – but, me? I’m just a regular human with a pair of scissors and a lot of pop-up ideas in his head.

7-Imp: What are the elements of a story that you look for as you’re searching for that just-right story to adapt to the pop-up/paper engineering form?

Matthew: Visually interesting characters, epic scenes, fantastic environments, magical moments in the story.

7-Imp: I always ask illustrators about process here at 7-Imp. Can you talk a bit about your process on those books you did alone, as well as the ones on which you collaborate with Robert? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrator/paper-engineer (I think I just made that a verb) or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Matthew: Although the most important parts of making a pop-up book is the paper engineering, it ALWAYS comes after an initial manuscript and outline is written. Story always comes first!

Robert and I will make many different models, using simple tools (scissors, card stock, and some tape), and begin folding and taping, trying to shape the pop-up into the forms we imagine in our heads. The designs start out very simple at the beginning: we spend a lot of time just getting the initial movements to work right for the pop-up. It’s really messy at this point –- the pop-up has tape holding it together and doesn’t fit all the way inside the page. We’re more concerned about the vision of what we want to create — like, for example, the pop from Gods & Heroes of Mount Olympus. After the environment was worked out, then we filled in the characters like Zeus and the other gods. Once the pop-up is basically designed, we listen for problems, opening and closing the pop-up to make sure it’s working properly. It can take weeks to develop different prototypes and details. At this stage, we work exclusively in white, because we want to see just how the forms move and interact with each pop.

Progression of the god Anubis from Reinhart and Sabuda’s
Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods & Heroes (Candlewick, January 2010):

Progression of Olympus from Gods & Heroes:

Progression of the sky god, Thor, from Gods & Heroes:

Once the paper engineering is complete, I begin work on the color, after sketching out the details on all the scattered pieces of each pop-up. It’s tough to draw a three-dimensional character or scene in pieces, let me tell you! My typical style of artwork is cut-paper collage artwork. I will cut the painted paper with an X-acto knife and glue it very carefully together using the die lines, which are the lines we use to cut out the pieces for the pop-up book. We make hundreds of colored papers for each book. Once the artwork is completed, it gets scanned into the computer and merged with the die lines so that we (or the manufacturer) can make copies of the book. All of that artwork and information goes to the manufacturer, who is usually based in the Far East, so that the book can be printed, the pieces cut out and glued together into the thousands of pop-up books that go to bookstores around the world.

Reinhart and his team at work:

7-Imp: When you collaborate with Robert, who does the initial research and writing?

Matthew: I do the all of the research and writing for our Prehistorica & Mythologica series with Candlewick Press.

Medusa sketches and final illustrations from the forthcoming
Encyclopedia Mythologica: Monsters & Dragons:

7-Imp: How do your former studies in industrial design/toy design inform your work today?

Matthew: Industrial Design definitely gave me a practicality about the work that I do. All of my books must actually work, over and over. If there is a problem, I must find a solution to fix it. Industrial design teaches how to take design parameters or requirements (i.e. the dimensions of a book, the materials used to make the pops, the subject matter) and still make something beautiful, appealing, and desirable.

7-Imp: Am I right that you use cut paper collage in your pop-up work? Do you make your own papers?

Matthew: Yes, the style of art work I’m known for is cut-paper collage, and ALL of the papers are made here in the studio, but my assistant helps me make them all when I’m too busy paper-engineering.

7-Imp: Can you tell us at least one fun fact about your experience working with Sendak on Mommy?

Matthew: Maurice is very collaborative with young artists -– and always listened to my suggestions.

Maurice, despite thinking he was always messing up his art, never made one mistake.

Maurice’s dog makes a cameo on the page with the Mummy.

7-Imp: Do you have a favorite book? I mean, Star Wars: A Pop-up Guide to the Galaxy had to have been a blast.

Matthew: Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy was both a dream and a nightmare, because it was SOOO much work and rushed. I loved every second of it, but the people around me including Robert, did not love every second of me while I was making it!

Various prototypes for the Star Wars title

Matthew with C-3PO

7-Imp: What was your road to publication?

Matthew: I was lucky enough to be working with Robert Sabuda as an apprentice. I owe everything to him, as helped me get my foot in the door with different publishers.

7-Imp: Do you do school visits? If so, what are they like?

Matthew: Most of the time, I’m chained to my desk working –- but occasionally, I do school visits and they’re always wonderful experiences. Children have such an amazing enthusiasm for artistic exploration -– they’ve got none of the hang-ups we adults do.

7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell 7-Imp readers about?

Matthew: DC Comics Super Heroes: The Ultimate Pop-up Book for Fall 2010; Encyclopedia Mythologica: Monsters & Dragons for Spring 2011; A classic pop-up fairy tale (a bit of a secret for now) for Fall 2011; Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy, Volume 2 for Fall 2012. Busy, eh?

7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Matthew: It’s a bit of a mess -– two large art desks sit crammed together alongside bookshelves filled with reference books and racks of rainbow-colored handmade papers. A lone Apple laptop sits on the desk’s corner edge for emails and writing. The walls are plastered with various posters of Star Wars characters, Transformers, and various super heroes, along with pictures of family and strange hanging toys. I like it.

7-Imp: What do you, as an artist, find most challenging and satisfying in the creative processes you employ?

Matthew: Actually, the entire process of what I do is challenging and satisfying. I can’t believe it when it’s all over and the book is sitting in my hands. I’m sort of blown away that it even came from my head. I have lots of help, though . . .

Collage in process:

7-Imp: Are there specific experiences that formed the essential basis, the fundamental building blocks, of your artistic vision? Books, movies, artists, events, images, anything else, etc.?

Matthew: I moved A LOT when I was a kid and often had to entertain myself when I was alone, which was often. I suppose that’s partially why I became creative. I made stuff with my hands to occupy myself, whether it was animal flipbooks, construction paper masks, action figure environments, fake movie posters, or modeling clay monsters.

As far as books or movies, several children’s book illustrators inspired me to draw, because I liked their pictures so much. I wanted to be as good as Richard Scarry, Mercer Mayer, and Peter Spier –- and I’m still trying to this day. Maybe one day I’ll be a quarter as good as any of them! Star Wars was a big influence on me creatively; I poured over the “Making Of…” books to see how the creative minds behind the saga worked.

Color sketch and dummy for Reinhart’s Cinderella: A Pop-Up Fairy Tale
(Little Simon, 2005)

7-Imp: You just addressed this, but I’ll still ask: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Matthew: Richard Scarry, Mercer Mayer, Eric Carle, Arnold Lobel, and James Marshall.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or author/illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Matthew: Tim Burton. I know: He’s a film-maker, but he’s an unbelievably talented illustrator and a creative visionary. His exhibition at the MoMA was ASTOUNDING!

Moebius – famed French sci-fi illustrator best known for his work in the magazine Heavy Metal.

Peter Spier – author/illustrator of one of my favorite children’s books, Gobble Growl Grunt.

7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Matthew: I most definitely listen to music when I work! Having grown up in the late seventies and eighties, I really enjoy listening to pop and electronic music from back then. Music very much can set my mood while I work. ’80s’s pop brings back very fond childhood memories and feelings. I also love dance music, from disco to current –- the thunderous beat helps keep my nose to the grindstone! As far as albums go, I’ve been listening to the latest from Goldfrapp, Marina and the Diamonds, Simian Mobile Disco, and, of course, Lady Gaga.

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Matthew: I really enjoyed Jersey Shore.

7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Matthew: What’s your shoe size? To which I would answer: 11.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Matthew: “Cheesecake.”

7-Imp: What is your leastfavorite word?

Matthew: “Can’t.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Matthew: Music, exercise, reading, drawing, and laughing with family.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Matthew: Negative attitudes, rules, and washing the dishes.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Matthew: “#!*%” I’m a children’s book author. I’m not usually allowed to use curse words!

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Matthew: The doorbell.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Matthew: The alarm clock in the morning.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Matthew: Toy designer or animator.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Matthew: Lawyer or accountant. I’ve absolutely nothing against either profession (we’d all be up the creek without them!), but I just don’t have the mind for either job.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Matthew: “Sigh. Come on in. Your Mom said I HAD to let you in.”

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All images used with permission of Matthew Reinhart. All rights reserved.

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The rest of today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour schedule:

16 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #85
(Summer Blog Blast Tour Edition): Matthew Reinhart”

  1. I am simply gobsmacked by this one – utterly and completely. Seeing the work that goes into his books just makes me more impressed. I still don’t know how he does this – unreal.

    Oh – and the DC book is totally going to be under the Xmas tree for my son this year. He will freak out for sure!

  2. Holy cow, every part of this interview is AMAZING. I loved seeing the progression of the pop-ups (so fascinating!), and…just, wow. I’m still in awe of all those fabulous images.

  3. This is very cool, wonderful and dangerous stuff! Just looking at the prototypes makes me want to sketch, cut and fold stuff into pop-ups (and I’m a writer.)

  4. […] stops on the Summer Blog Blast Tour May 20, 2010 by Trisha Matthew Reinhart at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Jenny Boylan at A Fuse #8 Production Lisa Mantchev at Writing & Ruminating Donna Freitas at […]

  5. This is what you call a fully realized interview. Wow! I am blown away by Matthew’s work, and seeing it develop from idea to finished product is so satisfying. Thank you so much for sharing the work of this impressive artist and paper engineer.

    I, too, am glad you’re not an accountant, Matthew!

  6. I’ve always been a little scared of pop-up books — I was hard on my books when I was a kid, and so I wasn’t allowed to touch pop-ups– but oh, these look like something worth having and touching and poking to figure out how the paper folds. MAN, Mr. Reinhart is a genius. A serious, full-on, Mensa candidate genius. I totally want to try and fold something now.

    And he looks so happy!!! I love that.

  7. That was so beyond completely fascinating that I do not have the words to tell you how awesome it was.

  8. Colleen, you’ve used my perfect word to describe this ‘gobsmacked’.

    Love the images of the progression of the work, they show the attention to the smallest detail.

    You’ve inspired me to do a display, thanks!

  9. OMG! That BATMAN spread is worth the price of the book all on its own! I love Matthew’s (& Robert’s) work. I met both of them in NY at SCBWI about 5 years ago or so, and they are both so nice! And for Matthew to share so much of his work and his process with you is INCREDIBLE!


    Incredible, amazing and fascinating. Love the process photos. Matthew and Robert have taken this art form to whole new levels and beyond.

    Pass the cheesecake, please.

  11. So fascinating…I had no idea how pop-ups were developed! Thanks for the glimpse behind the scenes.

  12. […] matthew reinhart, pop-ups I’ll admit it — I did a little happy dance when I found this interview with Matthew Reinhart  posted on the blog Seven Impossible Things Before […]

  13. This was SO cool! I absolutely loved seeing the in-process stages of the pop-up design/construction. All I can say is, I wish I could make my living as a pop-up artist. 🙂 That medusa–WOW!

  14. Thank SO much for this inside peek into his process! WOW!!!

  15. I just have to let you know that I’ve visited this site (and this entry in particular) again and again and again – and I can’t seem to have enough of it. Absolutely breathtaking images. Just the thought of all these books going into mass-production after the painstakingly-detailed and minute process of creating it is simply… Amazing.

  16. […] Ups and Matthew Reinhart @ Seven Impossible Things Before BreakfastFabulous Falcon Quinn and Jenny Boylan @ Fuse Number 8, SLJStarry eyes and Lisa Mantchev @ Writing […]

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