Disney-inspired pop-up book artist Matthew Reinhart brings fictional worlds to life through 3D paper art

Disney-inspired pop-up book artist Matthew Reinhart brings fictional worlds to life through 3D paper art

Pop-up book creator Matthew Reinhart on how 3D books can inspire a love of art, engineering and literature


Reinhart worked on several designs for his recent Disney-themed installation.
Photo: Nicola Chan/SCMP

If you’ve wandered through Telford Plaza in Kowloon Bay recently, you’ll have seen its latest Disney-inspired art exhibit: a display made up of giant installations that resemble pop-up books, featuring characters such as Pinocchio and Bambi.

Among the artists who lent their talents to this whimsical display – which runs until September 2 – is renowned American pop-up book creator Matthew Reinhart. Pop-up books are loved by children and adults alike for their ability to breathe new dimensions into stories. As Young Post learned when we sat down with him, Reinhart knows this better than most.

“Sometimes a pop-up can demonstrate the parts of the story that pictures don’t necessarily show,” he said. “It’s a surprise for a reader to open the pages because it gives them the power to make that magic happen.”

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Since he was a child, Reinhart has always carried a sketchbook around with him. “I’ve always loved making things. I think that I drew before I actually started writing. It was the best way for me to express some of the crazy ideas that I have in my head.”

Making these “crazy ideas” spring from the pages has enticed readers who might not otherwise pick up a book. “Some children really don’t like to read. Having a pop-up in there makes it less scary and it gives parents a chance to take time with a kid and really enjoy reading together.”

Reinhart’s path to becoming a pop-up artist wasn’t always so clear cut. He struggled to find his niche, studying biology in preparation for medical school before switching his focus to design.

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“I worked for an organisation that helps to do transplants and realised I didn’t really like it,” he said. “When you’re working in a hospital, you see a lot of people die every day. It made me realise that I didn’t want to be one of those people who goes through life without doing something they love.”

He re-routed his career soon afterwards, choosing to study industrial design. “I wanted to be a toy designer because I love toys, but pop-up-books came along and I was really good at making them. I became an apprentice and then I started making my own pop-ups.” Now, as a paper engineer, Reinhart has made pop-up-books on everything from phobias to dinosaurs. He has even met some of the figures who inspired his love for storytelling.

“I’ve been able to go behind the scenes at places like Disney’s Imagineering studios to talk to and work with some of these artists who create the characters that we know and love. I would never have thought, when I was a little kid, that I would be able to create and draw professionally.”

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That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t plenty of challenges to the job.

“I never have enough time! Deadlines are the worst for me,” he told Young Post. “I want to always make sure that the pop-up is as good as it can be so I have to rebuild it over and over again, sometimes about 10-20 times.” Nevertheless, Reinhart said that he always learns something new from each challenge that is thrown his way. He never wants to stop growing as an artist.

“I’m already thinking years ahead and have ideas about what I might do,” he said. “I have one book planned which will celebrate Mickey Mouse’s anniversary. I also just finished The Nightmare before Christmas which comes out this autumn. I’m really excited about that because it’s so strange and weird.”

For anyone looking to embark on a career in pop-up design or illustration, Reinhart’s advice rings true: “Work hard, practise and don’t be afraid to fail sometimes. Things never come out right the first time but eventually you’ll get it right.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Letting the magic unfold


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