An Interview With Star Wars Origami Artist Chris Alexander
We’re thrilled to have with us Chris Alexander, who runs the website www.starwarsorigami.com. Origami is the art of making sculpted figures by folding paper. In its purest form, the paper may not be glued, cut, ripped or taped to accomplish the sculpture. Chris specializes in mixing his passion for the Star Wars universe with his considerable talents in this time honored art.
GB: Chris, please tell everyone how you became so passionate about the art of origami.
CA: It all started a long time ago… well, 40 years ago anyway. My mother introduced me to the art with a simple cup and the famous crane. I was fascinated with the idea that paper could be used for more than just finger painting. You can imagine my surprise when I learned about crayons.
GB: So when was that moment when you first decided to attempt a Star Wars character, and what character was it? Did the idea just hit you out of the blue one day, or did someone or something encourage you to translate your skills to the Star Wars universe?
CA: This starts with the disclaimer “kids, don’t try this at home”. I was driving home after teaching first graders how to make an origami penguin. If you picture a penguin and superimpose that over a B-Wing, you’ll see they’re remarkably similar. Both have a pointy head, long skinny body with stubby wings, and little feet. So there I was on the freeway and I knew I could make my first Star Wars model. I couldn’t wait. I pulled out a piece of paper and folded it. After that, I wanted to make the whole universe.
GB: Are you an origami “purest” (no taping, gluing, ripping or multiple sheets of paper), or have you established a more flexible approach to getting figures done?
CA: 97% purest. Although I prefer using square paper over any other shape, my lightsaber design starts with a rectangle, the droid tri-fighter uses an equilateral triangle, and the Y-Wing starts with a square cut into 2 rectangles. I never use glue or cut the paper once the folding starts.
GB: How many different Star Wars characters have you designed, and what was your most challenging or rewarding one?
CA: I’ve designed about 50 so far. Most of them are pictured on my web site. I have a few I’m not totally satisfied with which need reworking such as The Executer, Han in carbonite, and the tauntaun.
The most challenging one was the X-wing. It took me a month to invent. It was the first time I’d ever tried to create a totally original origami design. That would also make it the most rewarding. Once I’d accomplished that, I knew I could invent others.
GB: You give detailed folding instructions on your site for many of your figures. How many (and which ones) can a novice try? Basically, where should we start!
CA: The easiest to make is definitely Boba Fett’s helmet. I’ve taught that one to kids as young as 4. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. You can use a RAT fold (Right About There) and skip the first 5 steps. The first 4 steps are to give you an idea where the 5th one goes. ***Shameless plug alert *** If you make any of my designs, send me your picture with it and I’ll add you to the guest page at http://starwarsorigami.com/Guests/page1/Others.htm
GB: This is kind of a stock question, but we have to know: What is the toughest figure to fold and how long does it take you? Do any involve hundreds of folds?
CA: I think the X-Wing has the most number of steps to make, somewhere around 90, but it’s really not that complex. The hardest one is toss up between the Naboo starfighter, and the Jedi starfighter from Ep3. Both take me about 30 minutes to make.
GB: Is there a certain Star Wars character, vehicle or beast that is on the top of your list to figure out… you know, your “white whale”?
CA: Slave I. There is a mound of paper next to my desk you could hide an AT-ST under. It’s composed entirely of crumpled up, failed Slave I models. I’m also working on a three piece Vader’s Helmet. I want it to look as detailed as possible and connect together using origami locks.
GB: We’d love to see you do an AT-AT! Any chance of seeing that design one of these days?
CA: Definitely. I love the AT-AT so it’s on my to do list. At the moment I’m trying to invent the last 5 models I need to finish my second Star Wars origami book. The first book covers the original trilogy. The second will cover episodes 1 through 3. Once that’s done, I’m planning on covering the expanded universe and any models I missed the first two times around.
GB: You’ve appeared at all four domestic Star Wars Celebrations and have led origami classes and demonstrations. How awesome is it to interact with the fans at these events and open their eyes to a whole new way to enjoy the galaxy far, far away?
CA: You nailed it. It is totally awesome. I’m very lucky to be able to share something I love with the rest of the world. When I was heading in to CIII to get set up a man left the line and came over to meet me. He recognized me from my web site and said he was from France and loved my work. That was the first time I truly realized I was sharing my art with the entire world. That’s a strange and very rewarding feeling.
GB: We see that you made large size origami figures at Star Wars Celebration III. That huge Jabba the Hutt is totally amazing. Would you give us some insight as to the special challenges that went into that creation? Just getting large enough paper prepared must have been a huge undertaking!
CA: Challenging would be an understatement. First, when you make a normal origami model you can hold it in your hands and rotate or flip it any way you need to. I had to figure out a way to make a sink fold (the hardest fold in origami) without being able to lift or suspend the paper. During the sink fold each corner would need to be somewhere around 10 feet in the air. I made a few models using 4 foot paper to work out how it could be done. Second, I had to make the paper. I discovered the largest paper mill in the world makes paper only 12 feet wide. I needed the square to be 20 feet on a side. I used photography backdrop paper, taped two 12 foot sections together then squared them off. The paper has to be square. On that scale the model won’t work if the paper is just a half an inch too wide, or have 90 degree corners. It took about 3 hours to get the geometry right. Even at this point I wasn’t sure if it could be done. I gained the help of the local high school art students and their auditorium. They were troopers while I was experimenting with different techniques to manipulate the paper. A ton of brainstorming went into the project and I couldn’t have done it without an awful lot of help.
GB: How cool was it when Toby Philpott and David Barclay jumped in to help fold up the Hutt they helped bring to life on the big screen?
CA: Very! Toby and David heard I was making a life sized version of Jabba and wanted to see for themselves. They were under contract to sign autographs during Celebration III and were given a limited time for lunch. That day they chose to spend their break watching the paper Jabba come to life. When the volunteer folders and the audience realized who they were, they were given a great round of applause. Folding stopped while they told some anecdotes from the filming of Return of the Jedi, and added their autographs to Jabba. When I asked if they would like to help, they both enthusiastically said “Yes!” It was a moment I’ll never forget.
GB: You’ve also done similar workshops via the “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” traveling exhibit. Do you plan on attending any other events in the near future? What about San Diego Comic-Con one of these years!?
CA: I’d like to do more classes in the future. I really enjoy sharing my passion for both Star Wars and Origami with people. At the moment though, I don’t have any appearances planned. If there is a Celebration V, I’m hoping they’ll let me make more of the large size models and teach classes. I live a few hours north of San Diego so I’m considering an event for the 2009 Comic-Con.
GB: We see from your site that you’re attempting to publish a Star Wars origami book. Where does that project stand right now?
CA: *sigh* I’ve been working on acquiring the rights to publish my book for almost 10 years. I’ve talked with Lucasfilm’s licensing department several times. Their current thinking is a book of Star Wars origami wouldn’t sell and has so far denied the rights to any publishers who have expressed an interest. One of the reasons I do the origami events and classes is to show Lucasfilm there is enough interest in the Star Wars and origami communities to make publishing my books worthwhile.
GB: One of the coolest things on your site is the origami holocrons you’ve created as gifts for VIPs and various folks in the Star Wars universe. You’ve even gotten to present them to the likes of John Williams and George Lucas himself! Can you tell us how you came up with the idea to do these and about your experiences presenting them to their owners?
CA: I can’t claim full credit for the holocron concept. I blatantly stole the box idea from the origami master, Kunihiko Kasahara. His boxes contain 5 or 6 origami models with a central theme. Inspired by this concept, I started recreating moments from the Star Wars movies in my boxes. When I had a chance to meet George Lucas I went all out. I made a 12 sided box filled with origami starships from all 6 movies. When I presented it to him his comment was “This is amazing!” He was genuinely impressed. I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I was 13. Thirty years later the creator of this universe tells me my work is amazing. It was the ultimate compliment.
GB: When we started GalacticBinder, we were surprised to see there’s an entire community out there on the web making Star Wars origami. Is this a close knit group who share secrets and designs, or are all you guys off doing your own thing and competing with each other?
CA: In general, origami artists are like any other artists. We love to show off and get recognition for our work. I’ve had some contact with the other origami artists who have created Star Wars models, and we’ve shared some designs, but we’re not a tight community. We’re not highly competitive either. I have a design for an X-wing, and I know of 3 other designs. Each has its own level of complexity, design features and faults. You can’t really say any one is better than the others. Each is best in its own way.
GB: What is the pinnacle of the origami world (if one exists)? Is there an organization that serves as a recognized leader in the art or maybe an award that is given to people who reach the highest achievement in the art form?
CA: There are several world wide origami organizations, for instance the British Origami Society and OrigamiUSA. But there isn’t an Oscar or Nobel Prize for origami. I guess the highest recognition you can get is being well known in the origami community. There are several artists I look up to and hope one day to gain their respect.
GB: Where does Star Wars origami fit in with the larger origami community? Is it merely seen as a sideshow or a novelty?
CA: It’s more of a niche than anything. 1700 years ago origami models were mostly animals and birds. In the past 50 years it has branched into all sorts of areas. There are books on origami dinosaurs, fish, flowers, airplanes, insects, the zodiac, Harry Potter, Pokemon, you name it. My Star Wars designs are just one aspect of a very diverse art form.
GB: Finally, here's a question we're asking to everyone we interview at GalacticBinder: If you were transported into the Star Wars universe... what era, location and/or setting/situation would you want to end up in, and what's the first thing you'd do and with whom? (Keep it somewhat clean, Chris!)
CA. I’d love to be a member of the original Red Squadron flying X-Wings with Luke and Wedge. However, considering they were the only two members to survive the battle of Yavin, I think I’d like to join them just in time for the victory celebration.
GB : Yeah, the victory celebration would be perfect timing! Thanks so much for being with us, Chris. We look forward to seeing all of your new creations, and we hope to see you at future Star Wars Celebrations, events and conventions. Keep on folding!
For any of our readers who get motivated to try their hand at folding a Star Wars figure, make sure to take a photo of you with your creation and send it to Chris via his website so he can post them on his guest page.
If you enjoyed this interview with Star Wars Origami Artist Chris Alexander please see Galacticbinder's additional Star Wars interviews.
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