Pop-up Book Designer

Matthew Reinhart makes art that leaps from the pages of books


PAPER ENGINEER: Matthew Reinhart designs paper masterpieces that move

Matthew Reinhart works at a table covered with scraps of paper in his studio in New York City. He cuts, folds, glues, and tapes paper together to create a flat shape. Then he pulls a tab. The flat shape suddenly springs to life, unfolding into a 3-D sculpture of a monster that waves its claws and gnashes its teeth.

Reinhart creates pop-up books. He helps bring stories to life with dinosaurs that roar and fairy-tale princesses that spin. Reinhart combines science, engineering, and art to make his amazing paper creations. He spoke with Science World about how he designs and constructs pop-up books.


This T. rex’s mouth opens and closes.

How did you become a pop-up book artist?

At first, I decided to become an industrial designer—someone who designs products—focusing on toy design. I went to graduate school to study industrial design, and I loved it. Then I started working for a pop-up artist to make extra money after class. That’s where I learned that I was good at making pop-ups. For the next three years, I helped him with his projects. I learned a lot. Eventually, I got good enough to create my own designs.

What is your design process when making a pop-up book?

First, I decide what will go on the page. For example, a dinosaur book might include a T. rex. Then I think about what the T. rex is going to do. What’s the coolest way for readers to encounter the dinosaur? Maybe it pops up and tries to bite them!


Reinhart’s huge LEGO book tower

Then it’s time for the engineering stage. That’s when I’m cutting and folding paper to figure out my design. I have learned all these different pop-up mechanisms over the years. One is a v-fold—a triangle-shaped piece of paper folded in half and placed in the center of a book. When the book is closed, the v-fold stays folded in half and flat. When the book is opened, it unfolds and makes a pop-up piece move across the page as you open it. Changing the angle of the v-fold changes how far and fast it moves.

Because every pop-up is unique, there is still a lot of trial and error involved. I go through a lot of paper! But failing is OK. That’s how I discover ways to make a piece move in a really new and cool way or build a bigger pop-up than I’ve ever made before.

Did you always know you wanted to do something creative for a living?

Yes! As a kid, I loved to draw. I also loved to build things out of cardboard or whatever else I could find. If my parents wouldn’t get me a toy I wanted, I would just make it myself. But I always loved science too. I studied biology in college. I loved learning about animals, insects, and plants. I took anatomy classes. I learned about the structure of living things. Now I use that knowledge every day when creating my sculptures.


A v-fold mechanism

Which of your pop-ups are your favorites?

My two favorites are in a LEGO® book I recently designed. One unfolds into this huge tower so tall it could poke you in the eye! Then there’s another one that’s a triple-changing pop-up. The sculpture starts out as a car. Then you lift a flap and it becomes a plane. Finally, you can pull the bottom down and it becomes a dinosaur. Those types of pop-ups really amaze people.

MAKE IT! Check out our DIY Challenge to help you design and test your own pop-up book.