Author: Tuohy

Designing With Paper

How hard could designing a Paper Craft model be? “You reveal your vulnerability within a social context, discuss its social dimensions: themes, issues (death, grief), and construct an account that is both creative and non-fiction” (Ellis 2013). I feel very vulnerable. Designing a Paper Craft model is hard. From utilising the programs, to effectively representing something of Asian content, to being satisfied with the final process, something I’ve avoided attempting all this time doesn’t seem worth it.

The entire process depends on the leading program Pepakaru Designer 2. It’s shareware and Japanese. It creates paper nets from 3D models. But to create the 3D model you have to use a piece of modeling software, like Metasequoia LE. Once again, these programs are originally made in Japan, so they’re hard to use when help sections are in Japanese. However, it’s possible to use Google Sketch Up or CAD. At this point, I’m already confused and overwhelmed. I think I’ve used one of these programs before, but I assume I wasn’t too good at it because I don’t remember using it again.

Tang Mu, off Instructable, encourages that designers sketch up a design first. Not as the geometric final product, but as a squiggly, dynamic sketch. This is the idea stage, or for me, translating Asian content into a representational 3D model. This is something I’m confident at doing. Apparantly keeping the design geometric is important, i.e. boxes are better than spheres. That’s a simple rule, but harder in practice. I also have to keep in mind how a models edges will join. Christopher Bonnette, on his website, shares his process form original illustration to the final model, on almost every one of his creations. It’s reassuring to see how different the 3D model is compared to the sketch. Next I have to save the 3D model and upload it into Pepakura to “unfold”. A button in the program unfolds the model into a net to print on paper. It’s quite remarkable. Except when an error occurs.

To avoid these issues, there are other methods. The other process is to use an existing design for my digital artefact. An easy alternative is the Paper Critters website, a flash based program that allows you to create a design on a small predefined model. While recently its popularity has led to development for a paid iPad app, on the free desktop version there have been over 100,000 designs created. It’s tools are simple, the model is simple, and it could be a unique way of representing my ideas.

Or I can look up blank Paper Craft models/templates, I’m leaning towards this process, but I’m not sure. I feel ethically wrong to use someones work, but the authors are asking for people to use their custom designs. I think I would be cheating myself, skipping a crucial step in the paper craft designing process, if I based my designs on someone elses. But I’m not sure if i have the diligence or the time to create something from scratch. I want to design something similar to the works I admire. Surely, they don’t use these programs too. It’s so much easier to be a consumer.




A Digital (Paper) Artefact

My digital artefact is going to be an experience for me, an exploration of a community I’ve admired, but have never partook in. I’m going to embark to the other side of the Paper Craft community: designing. It’s what fuels the archive pages, fills the stream with new models, collaborations, and series, by artists from across the world. Designers, like SmileRobinson, are selecting content that they enjoy so much they want to share it with a larger audience. They do this by constructing Paper Craft models of their favourite characters, for fans to experience, build, and discover new content, in a hand-crafted collection. I’m utilising my knowledge of the Paper Craft community to design a facet of a cultural experience, to make a culture familiar for insiders, and represent a culture to outsiders (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2011).

I want to design Paper Craft models of Asian content and showcase it online as templates and constructed models. Along side, I will develop a reflection of the process, the story behind the model, and encourage learning about a different culture through design. And these designs will be representations of the research fields the students of DIGC330 have chosen. You, are my subjects that have presented me with connections to unfamiliar content. I will share that knowledge back as foldable paper.

 Digital (Paper) Asia:


*I share no affiliation with ‘Asian Paper: The Global Pulp, Paper and Board Industry.’ Although that’s a pretty cool industry group.

A (Digital) Paper Trophy

I was listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour, a weekly podcast commenting on everything popular culture has to offer, and it discussed the method of self analysing why you’re a fan of something and why you might be avoiding other content. I related this to my interest in Papercraft and I started listing reasons why I chose to create some models and not others. I found that most of the models I have created were of Japanese anime characters, but the revealing find was half of these designs I didn’t know what they were from; I had chosen them purely for artistic reasons. However, now that I had chosen them I was interested to know more about them, and from this process of research I revealed that my Papercraft models were a digital catalog of new interests in content I was not familiar with.

I’ve discovered through my methodology that Papercraft is a digital and physical communal practice. Papercraft models represent a physical symbol of a cultural icon you cherish, and you create the model as a paper trophy. You assemble a design of a character or symbol of the content you’re a fan of. But before the final paper trophy, Papercraft models are digital designs that connect and distribute fan culture. Most of the Papercraft models I’ve made or collected are based on anime characters from Japan. My collection builds a catalog of “digital trophies” that connect me to different Asian content forming a familiar cultural bubble. While some of the designs are unknown to me, I want to challenge my familiarity. I want to challenge my cultural “rut” and find designs of other Asian cultural elements, from India, South Korea, Thailand to China.

gdragondrummerpapertoyFrom my first search I discovered official Papercraft merchandise of Kpop band 2PM that you can buy. It comes with pre-cut designs of each of the 6 Korean band members. So if there’s official Papercraft, there has to be unofficial designs of Kpop stars. And there is; Pandabobo designs models from the KPop band ‘Big Bang‘ as they’re depicted in their music videos and live events. At first, I didn’t understand the appeal of models designed off real people and not characters, but after watching Big Bang’s music videos I found them do be very creative and an appropriate choice for Pandabobo to design from, like his “Pinochio” costume from G-Dragon’s song ‘Crayon’. The idea of creating your own papercraft designs on something you love interests me and has sparked an idea about my digital artefact project: why don’t I create Papercraft models of digital Asian content?

I’ve been collecting, downloading, printing and folding Papercraft models for years, but I’ve never analysed my interaction with the community, and asked my self: why don’t I design models? Sure, I find it a little intimidating, but designing and remixing Papercraft work is half of the process of the Papercraft community and there are programs that are engineered to help with making models. Creating a model based on a piece of digital content is a simple way to communicate and distribute culture among my peers. I could use the research DIC330 is providing and design cultural models of each of the students research sites. If that’s too hard a task, I could chose KPop videos and design models from them. I could utiilise Papercraft as a means to communicate and display an unfamiliar aspect of Asian digital content to an audience.

Constructing A Paper Design

Papercraft culture consists of a collaboration between international artists: who often work on the same series and share their designs between countries; and participants: I am a participant who can find, on large cataloging sites, a design of my liking and choose to construct it, or remix it by sticking a cat’s head on the final product and call it mine. Now I’m the artist. But this makes it difficult to credit ownership, if you find a design with a cat’s head already on it, who made the design without the cat’s head? This blurring between artists and participants, and digital repossession across the globe, makes it hard to identify where a Papercraft design was originally designed. Which has made it really difficult to distinguish between Asian and non-Asian designs.

When I discover a design that I believe to be Asian, like the Gears Heart by Kamikara, the first response I have is: did Kamikara really create this? This makes it difficult to distinguish between designs that originate in Asia and ones from the rest of the world. I understand I need to be specific with my research and develop a digital artefact but I have identified that this association of artist and location to the product is hard to find. My ideas have revolved around the construction of papercraft, documenting its process, and highlighting the artist behind the design. This for me was emulating the respect for the creator the community provides, and an opportunity for viewers to participate and learn. But constructing a papercraft isn’t identifying whether it is “Asian” or not, it’s the entire process, from searching through designs, finding an artist, finding the links to his work, and defining the print parameters for a perfect piece of paper with a freshly printed design on it. Our choice of what we chose to construct and print is made due to our connection to the design and what it represents for us. There are videos of people proudly displaying there work, like Jonocade who’s constructed almost every video game console in a tiny intricate paper construction – I’m not that obsessed nor do I feel the need to display such a collection. But the idea that there are people who are collecting and displaying a particular set of pieces because it means something to them, it represents their interests in certain cultures, is what intrigues me. I’m curious to know what my choices in designs would reveal about me.

I construct Papercraft models of things I love about Japanese anime, and my personal connection and love for that show is represented in the construction and display of my Papercraft model. And even if I haven’t constructed the model yet, I have a folder on my hard drive titled ‘Papercraft’, and it too contains designs of media that I love. One such model is a Gundam custom-made model for papercraft makers. Gundam is a popular toy robot that you can make out of plastic by purchasing it from a toy shop. A papercraft model of a Gundam circumvents the official distribution and design of the models. However it is providing international fans of the TV show it is based off access to a model that can be hard to obtain outside of Japan. When I find designs unique like this I feel like I have found something I didn’t know existed. Perhaps my role in this process is facilitating a digital product for international audiences outside of Asia to obtain and create their own models.

The Paper Trade Market

Papercraft communities on DeviantART consist of groups of users who are actively trading, circulating, and contributing to series by constructing their favourite characters from anime, video games and other Asian media. These groups, like Anime-Papercraft, are divided into series, either by the content or the model design, and each product is available for download as a template (most of the time). Except I don’t like many of these designs. Most of them are just characters stuck onto a Cubeecraft model. They’re often detailed but uninspired. As much as I admire the spirit of the collaborations involved in these groups, the products they’re designing I have no interest in putting them on my shelf. My only interest is discovering who that character is.

I love to find intricate, detailed and thoughtfully constructed models. It has to convey and represent the spirit of whatever media I enjoy. I don’t want Naruto’s head stuck on a square. I want him to be in a striking pose. These are toys I want to display. But for some, people like to have entire sets.

Smilerobinson's room with her 5cm models displayed in glass cases.

Smilerobinson’s room with her 5cm models displayed in glass cases.

Papercraft images on DeviantART are visual portals to Asian media. Models are representations of an Artist’s passion and interest in an anime or a video game. Smilerobinson is an artist on DeviantART that creates 5cm models and circulates them on popular groups. As I click through each of her collections, more suggestions from Smilerobinson pop up on the side, and I continue clicking. Some characters I recognise, some I don’t. But on each image there is a description of the show the characters are from, and below there are users thanking and making her designs. Smilerobinson is going beyond just viewing Asian media, she’s appropriating her favourite characters into her papercraft designs and making it available to download. She’s also sometimes borrowing from other artists and linking their work too. Her work is inspired by Nibi‘s Hetalia Kakukaku papercraft, found on Pivix, a Japanese art board. Pivix was fascinating to explore in, a mixture between instagram and Deviant art, and mostly dominated by Japanese artists.

There’s so much content on DeviantART and Pivix. These platforms are providing a voice for small Papercraft communities. Groups are centralised fandoms; designers sharing and presenting models on their favourite shows. These models are small mementos of the anime they enjoy, and it’s a way to display it in your room, or to the world in a creative way. Plus, you’re making it yourself. For me, the idea of being able to recreate designs on DeviantART is what engages me in the community. I can build a model of an anime I love, tweak it, share it, and then place it on my desk.



Hatsune Miku

James FranklinEd Abbott, and Paul Tuohy

Image credit: SingularityHub

We’ve recently developed a fascination with Hatsune Miku. She’s a pop star, but she’s not really attributed to a country; she’s not even human. She’s a digital vocaloid developed by Japanese company Crypton. A 16 year old girl with long turquoise pigtails that can perform anything you want, anything (it’s intriguingly shameful, but yes, anything), or sing live as a 3D hologram at a concert of thousands.

There’s no producer involvement, no invisible forces controlling the distribution, song production or choreography. There are no pressures to maintain an image or to retain a certain look like Dami Im  or Justin Bieber. Miku can sing anything because she’s a fan created pop star. Well almost, she’s a brand for Crypton’s software. You could compare her to other digital representations of music like the Gorillaz or Daft Punk. Yet, even though she may be manipulated by anyone around the world, performing in varying genres and languages, she will forever be a 16 year old girl with pig tails.

We’re excited to learn more and discover what Miku means to others and us. We could even create some songs. But first, we’ve provided an excellent video produced by Chris Plante for Polygon, discussing the many values of Hatsune Miku versus other pop stars, her creation, and the role of her fans.


Shin Tanaka’s Paper Art

Tougui, of France, and Cubeecraft, of USA, are well-regarded international Papercraft artists. They’ve collaborated with corporations, celebrities and artists from around the world, and these collaborations reflect the nature of the Papercraft industry. Beyond its historic connections with Japan and Origami, Papercraft is an international communal collaboration. I’ve participated in this culture with other fans by building, redesigning, and circulating paper models across digital networks. But Shin Tanaka does not participate in this network. Shin Tanaka, of Japan, is a notorious Papercraft artist because he elevates his work above his fans and peers, and disassociates himself with my understanding of the community.

I’m not suggesting Shin’s designs are terrible, on the contrary I love them. His models closely resemble modern art: simple and angular like the basic shapes that form a drawing. They’re also quite intricate and detailed and printed with designs that reflect Shin’s affinity with America, urban design and street art. Shin also has a close relationship with fashion with models often featuring an article of clothing, like a jumper (seen in his numerous T-BOY series); a hat; or one of the 96 smiling shoes from his Ws series. He’s also worked with over 200 brands and designers, including Nike and Scion, in collaborations and promotional projects. Most recently he collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld, a European man with white hair who is a prominent celebrity in the fashion industry. The KARLxSHIN project was created in 2013 for the Parcours Saint Germain, an annual event where art installations are exhibited in luxury boutique cafes and hotels in Paris. Karl and Shin’s partnership may be surprising but not unlikely. Shin’s work transcends Asian culture because its simplicity is inclusive, and his work with Karl only strengthens that observation. International fans, like myself, can find relevance in Shin’s work because street and urban art has influenced art disciplines across many cultures.

One of Shin Tanaka's T-BOYs with a hood

One of Shin Tanaka’s T-BOYs with a hood

The consistency of Shin’s works reminds me of people building paper cranes over and over, design after design. However, while a paper crane is thrown away after its constructed, Shin’s is showcased. His site is run by publicist and photographer Mily Kadz who runs other high-end artist pages. This association of Papercraft with other high forms of art and photography is unique elevating his work to a high degree. Perhaps this is why his designs are displayed like an art gallery. To be seen not touched. It’s not distributed freely by the artist. You can only download his work for the first two months, anything older is deleted (and some are only released for 24 hours!). But the worst aspect is you can view his entire collection – all 200+ designs. I feel awe and discomfort towards Shin. He’s constructed a high profile image by elevating his work beyond its usual form. I want to make his works but there’s no access. Let me make them, I say. You can’t have it, someone translates. But I want it!

You can’t even buy his designs. I’ve attempted to find links to his work through caching sites like Way Way Back Machine (a cataloging site that I use to find ‘download links’ that have been removed)  but it doesn’t work if they’re removed from the server. Here, this is why I love Shin. I’ve developed a compulsion towards Shin’s works. I resemble a younger me who wanted to collect all the Squirtle cards from Pokemon Trading Cards, or all the Crash Bandicoot toys from Tazos. I don’t know quite why I want these things, maybe because it was unlikely I could collect em’ all. But I wanted to collect and build these models. But I can’t because I’m too late. This is remarkable for a Papercraft artist to do. This is Shin Tanaka’s notoriety. I now regularly return to his site to get his new models because I refuse to miss out.

Besides his collaborations, Shin is not connected internationally with his fans. He has no social media presence, at least not on American and European platforms (maybe he’s active on Asian social platforms), but as an Australian audience member It’s hard to search beyond my English limitations. It doesn’t help when nothing is linked to Shin’s website. He has no personal connection with his audiences except for our connection with his work. You can find a small amount of his work everywhere. But most of it is hard to find. Yet, even though his designs are temporary, there are sites and Shin ‘devotees’ that have archived potentially all of his work. I have them all now. It is perplexing that an artist, influenced by urbanism, only communicates through his collaborations. In an industry that is driven by connections, Shin Tanaka is the least connected participatory.

Gear’s Heart (歯車のハート): A Paper Automaton

Gear's Heart

The design above is called The Gear’s Heart, created by paper engineer Haruki Nakamura. Nakamura lives in Japan and designs paper automatons and toys for his company KAMIKARA. Earlier last year I found a video of his creation on YouTube called ‘歯車のハート Gear’s heart’. It’s a paper automaton made up of 12 gears that rotate three times before returning to the same position.

At first, I was dubious of what the video entailed. I had found it on a papercraft (/po/) subboard on 4chan; a site that commonly produces strange subcultures and dubious (and potentially scarring) links. But the video gave me an insight in to the the artist’s passions and motivation for creating such a complicated model. Despite the language barrier, the design alone and its movement are reasons why this videos has been viewed over a million times.

The video seems old, perhaps filmed in his bedroom under low lighting, a static hum. The red heart is poorly lit in front of saturated curtains. His disembodied arm is pointing out different aspects. He makes an effort to not enter the frame. You can sense Haruki idolises his creation even if you don’t speak Japanese. The heart is the centre piece. This video is for his creation. He rotates the handle and his creation moves. Each gear turns and the structure pulses. I’m transfixed.

‘I have to make this’ I remember thinking. I can make this. I’m going to make this.


I still haven’t made it.

The completion of such a project is itself an achievement. As is the process of transforming a 2D object into a tangible 3D object. It’s the type of construction you would expect to cost a lot of money. But the model is free and distributed everywhere online. However, the creator does offer a Paypal account to pay for an “official” copy. Although I can’t imagine paying for something when there’s a download link offered on many sources. I don’t even know if the design can be attributed to the author of the video.  Especially when Sabi996 offers it for free on DeviantArt. The model is almost a fable. It felt like I had just breached an underground subculture. Somewhere I didn’t understand aurally, but visually I was learning.



I created a blog with a 12 year old girl from Hong Kong when I was 14. I designed the graphics and wrote editorials until I was 18. It was a help blog for a game called Poptropica. Along with it, an enormous community developed from around the world, and every reader that said “Thank you”, I still cherish today.

I know firsthand how quickly a culture can become central to your life, and the people that share it. I had a passion for blogging and gaming when I was young. I struggle to find the time now. But I still have a passion for watching anime, learning about its influences on western animation; borrowing manga and feeling overjoyed or worried when they’re devised for the silver screen; and drawing, copying the styling’s of Akira Toriyama (Dragonball), chibi, online devised comic webstrips, and everything else that made me draw so harshly. These interests are a part of my identity, so much so that I sometimes wish I was Asian.

Currently, my obsession is on Pepakura or Papercraft (model). I’m fascinated with the intricate designs, the detail and precision needed to create models, and the artist’s vision to create a paper toy that conveys movement or expression through its structure. These toys are designed by artists around the world, like Shin Tanaka from Japan. I thought I could focus my research on this subculture of creativity, but I’m concerned that it is primarily an offline medium. However, it is a special art, one that is distributed online, edited, collaborated, and then printed and made by you. There are many communities and organisations designing and sharing paper models based on popular culture or original creations. I hope to discover these communities through the lens of autoethnography and share my explorations with you. I will be updating my research on Twitter which you can follow by searching #2EDIGC.