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Origami rocks, admit it.

Why am I writing about origami here? Partly because I'm excited. I bought some methyl cellulose for the first time, and it's like some kind of wonder potion. You dissolve it in water and smear it all over some paper and when it dries, the paper has gained magical origami powers. Suddenly it's stronger, it's crisper, and it holds a fold better. What a wonderful chemical. It cost $25 for a tiny bag of the stuff, but that bag will probably last me a decade, so it's all good.

The other reason I want to write about origami at the moment is because I feel it's my duty to spread the joys of origami to fellow geek-kind.

Origami is a geek hobby if ever there was one. There's more science behind it than most people realize. Designing a model has close ties to circle packing. There's math involved (PDF) that I just barely understand.

It's is deeply satisfying in exactly the same way computer programming is satisfying. It's the satisfaction of taking a set of very simple rules and ideas, manipulating them in novel ways and coming up with something cool.

Origami actually has a lot of similarities to programming. There are primitives: mountain fold, valley fold. They are combined into something like procedures: reverse folds, sink folds, pleats and crimps. And those procedures are combined into more complex maneuvers, and when you combine them enough you get a finished model.

There are "bases" that are essentially design patterns: certain combinations of folds that are used over and over in different models. All of these things can be put together in novel ways (recursively!). A book of origami diagrams is essentially a book of algorithms.

At the same time there are constraints: use a square, don't cut the paper, etc. The size of the paper is a constraint. The kind of paper you use is a constraint: some kinds of paper fold better than others. In the same way people get a kick out of making impressive videos in a few kilobytes of RAM, there's a great satisfaction in making a model with a dozen flaps out of something that started with four corners. The constraints define a universe of rules that's small enough to understand and master, yet large enough to leave a lot of possibilities. The same square can be folded into a spider or an elephant or a race car or a man on a horse.

But origami is different from programming because (obviously) it's 3D. There's a lot of thinking involved, but there's also a bit of manual dexterity. It's a good feeling to shape matter with your hands. And when you're done you end up with something tangible in a way that a program isn't. You can stick it on the shelf or give it away as a present.

Most people don't understand how complex origami can get. Check out the websites of Brian Chan, KAMIYA Satoshi, Robert Lang, and Gilad Aharoni. It's all (usually) from a single uncut square. It still amazes me what people can create.

October 20, 2009 @ 1:41 PM PDT
Cateogory: Art
Tags: Origami


Quoth Nicole on October 22, 2009 @ 7:58 AM PDT

How much MC is in that new bag you bought, compared to the first jar?

(I just wanted to test my new Gravatar. All the cool kids are doing it.)

Quoth Brian on October 22, 2009 @ 10:03 AM PDT

The jar had about 2 tablespoons. The bag is one cup.

Quoth Nicole on October 23, 2009 @ 3:59 PM PDT

That's a good deal. How much liquid does that make once it's reconstituted?

Quoth Brian on October 23, 2009 @ 5:37 PM PDT

Proper ratio is about 1 part powder to 6-8 parts water. I made about 1 cup of goo to start and after covering about five 50x50 cm sheets with it, I still have over half a cup of goo left.

Victor Rodriguez
Quoth Victor Rodriguez on November 03, 2009 @ 5:59 AM PST

Nice, but could you recommend one tutorial for beginners to get started?


Quoth Brian on November 03, 2009 @ 6:48 AM PST

Wikipedia has a good page describing the symbols and vocabulary that you need to know to read origami diagrams, so I'd start there. There aren't a lot of terms or folds you need to learn. Maybe a dozen or so moves are used to make pretty much everything.

Then search around for traditional models on the internet: Crane, Frog, Boat, Fish, Waterbomb. That's a good place to start. Youtube even has a lot of videos of people folding these.

Once you can fold those, just start looking for more complex models. The easiest way to learn is to try to fold stuff. There are origami books for sale in most art stores. They tend to be beginner to intermediate difficulty. John Montroll is a good author to start with, his books have a wide range of difficulty. There are also a lot of diagrams on the internet, but they vary in quality and you might not be able to follow them at first.

If you want to dive right into the deep end, then check out Robert Lang's books. If you're comfortable with math and technical writing, then Robert Lang's Origami Design Secrets is pretty much the Bible of origami. It starts from the basics but it gets very complex very fast.

There's a good origami forum with lots of information where you can get detailed help on how to fold something if you get stuck.

Probably the easiest way to learn origami is to join an origami club and have someone show you. There are clubs all over the place.