Papercraft is a term used to describe a wide range of arts and crafts which use paper as the primary medium. The finished work often takes advantage of paper's physical properties to create dramatic 3D sculptural objects, or delicate and detailed 2D works. As the term Papercraft covers such a wide range of crafts, the skills used are equally broad, encompassing cutting, folding, moulding, stitching, dyeing and colouring. The area that we are discussing today is Paper Modelling, a technique which uses cut and folded paper to create 3D forms. In our case, this is the technique that we use to make decorative masks.
The term Low Poly was originally used to describe a 3D object that’s surface is made up of relatively few faces and in which each face is a flat, polygonal shape. Low Poly (or Mesh Modelling) has its roots firmly grounded in the limitations of early video games and the necessity to create onscreen representations of complex objects, while consuming as little of the available computer processing power and memory as possible. Polygonal meshes became one of the main techniques used in 3D modelling. In a Low Poly mesh, each surface is flat plane and its position in 3D space is defined by the vertices at its corners. This makes the models lightweight for processing purposes as the whole form can be described by the coordinates of its vertices and their relationship to one another. These flat surfaces and straight edges give Low Poly mesh models their distinctive faceted appearance.
The more surfaces an object possesses the more detail it will appear to have but at the cost of being more computationally intensive to represent on screen. Remember this, it’s important because the same rules apply when you are building models from paper. The balance of this trade-off is sometimes referred to as the Polygon Budget or Poly Cost with each new polygon increasing the resources that the model uses. As computers become more powerful the surface counts used for in-game models has increased but processing and render costs still play an important role in deciding when and where to use detail.
Paper Modelling enables us to bring Low Poly digital models into the real world. We use computers to design objects that only exist as positional data and then use paper modelling to turn them into physical objects that we can hold and interact with.
The flat surfaces and absence of curves in poly models suit the characteristics of paper, while the folds and form give the pliable paper strength and rigidity. The materials needed to build a paper model are readily available and most people already poses the basic skills needed. For all of its convenience, Paper Modelling still shares many of the limitations faced by early video game designers. Instead of each polygon adding to the load on the processor, it adds to the work and time needed to build the model. Each new face in the model creates a minimum of three additional edges, each of which needs to be cut, scored, folded and joined. When you build your first 3D model from paper it quickly becomes clear how important this idea of polygon budget is.
It’s important to understand that good Low Poly Papercraft design displays an understanding and balance of both visual design and a consideration of how the object will be built.
It’s possible to create very accurate reproductions of complicated structures in card, but these tend to have a very high poly count. Each face adds time and labour as it needs to be cut, scored and folded. This is why a lot of the work that we do is focused on how the mask will be built, reducing the number of faces and improving the build process. This process can knock hours off the construction time and remove all of the awkward fiddly bits without compromising the appearance of the mask. If a builder is going to invest 3 hours making a mask, the designer has a responsibility to make sure that it’s an enjoyable experience and that the outcome is something that they feel proud of. This is why we put a lot of work into creating an enjoyable craft experience for the maker, rather than leaving them with a DIY nightmare that they are likely to abandon before completing.
So far, we have mostly talked about the practical considerations of Low Poly design, but it gets really interesting when we look at both the practical and visual aspects together. The goal of a Low Poly papercraft artist should be to create a model that accurately represents the subject using only the surfaces necessary. Once you understand this idea, it becomes clear that every edge, face and vertices is considered and placed with intention. Not by necessity or chance, but by design. It is these decisions that make each designer’s work unique. The placement of the vertices and edges become a visual design figure print, it is what gives our work its original and often imitated look.
My own interest in Low Poly modelling derives from the challenge of representing the complexity of organic natural forms as a series of simple plains.
It is this process of breaking down, stripping away unnecessary detail and reducing whilst retaining the key features and nature of the subject that encourages you look for the essence of an object. What you are left with are the key indicators, the features and visual landmarks that our brain uses to recognise a form.
Since 2013, we’ve been designing masks and processes that focus on not only creating visual impact, but the meaningful experience of building something yourself. I’m proud to say that we have enable hundreds of thousands of children, families and individuals to make things that they didn’t think possible.
Our iconic early designs, including the Fox, Skull and Woodland Animal Set, contrasted starkly with anything that was available at the time and set a new standard defining the style of low poly mask design as it appears today. Many of the original innovations we deployed for the first time in these designs have become standards throughout low poly mask design. This mix of innovation, original iconic design and reliable function have made our masks the go to choice for film, theatre, fashion designers and musicians.
We learn from every mask and every customer experience as we’ve continued to expand our range to over 100 designs, all the time leading and pushing what is possible for anyone to make from a PDF and some discarded card.
I have a strong belief that making things is a very valuable part of being human, it enriches our lives and gives us control over the objects that we surround ourselves with. Some people are not naturally gifted makers, but with the right tools and guidance, anyone can make something of beauty and value. Our goal then is to provide you with a starting point and the knowledge needed to create amazing things from simple materials.
In addition to empowering people with creativity, it was my desire to create a business that makes a positive difference to the people and environment that we interact with. Supplying our products digitally and encouraging our customers to use reclaimed or recycled materials helps us minimise our impact on the environment. Our global community of makers enables us to support welfare and environmental campaigns through which we can help create positive change.
Our masks have become a vehicle for positive change around the world. This photo was from the #ProtectAntarctic campaign, when we collaborated with Greenpeace and deployed 3,000 Penguins across the globe.
I’ve spent a lot of time throughout my career helping different types of people make different things from pottery to surfboards, furniture to papercraft, and the change that it creates in people is obvious. It’s more fundamental than the positive emotions that it generates. Changing raw materials into something that wouldn’t have existed without their work and choices builds confidence in the person’s ability to create change. On the most basic level, change is simply “I can change these materials into this object” but the key is that their belief in their ability to create change is transferable.
This confidence and understanding that if you want things to be different you can change them is a powerful thing.
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