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For These Engineers, It's Only a Pop-Up Paper World

December 10, 1987|CHRIS CHRISTENSEN

In the Peter Pan world of designing children's books lives a small brotherhood of artists who never grew up. Not in their hearts, anyway.

While the rest of us are at work, they're devising ways to make pictures change, vignettes move and pages of a pop-up book delight like a party gag or a jack-in-the-box.

And they get paid for it.

Outside of never-never land, they're called paper engineers, and in the real world they'll probably never be out of a job. There are few more than a dozen in this male-dominated field, and seven or eight of them work in Southern California.

'Think Like a Child'

"You have to think like a child, that's your marketplace, to think like a child would think," said free-lance paper engineer John Strejan, 54, known by his peers as "the Blade," "Silverblade" or "the Maestro" for his masterful skill with an X-Acto knife, the tool of the paper engineer's trade.

Like an architect, a paper engineer is both artist and skilled designer. But unlike an architect, he can't go to college to learn his trade.

"There are no courses, per se, that teach paper engineering," said Arnold Shapiro, president of Compass Productions in Long Beach, producers of children's novelty books.

Most of them learn through a kind of apprenticeship, and a few who have a natural aptitude for it are self-taught.

David Rosendale is in the latter category. A native of England, he was a fine artist, a student of painting and print at the Wimbledon School of Art, who especially liked working with paper.

"Someone bought me the Hallmark pop-up book called 'Counting Bears' for my 21st birthday because they thought it would appeal to me," Rosendale, 33, said. "From there I began teaching myself." As he learned the art, his designs, mostly ships, became more complicated.

After seeing the late English paper engineer Vic Duppawhyte talk about the art on a British television program, he tracked him down.

"He taught me the finer aspects of it, and I worked with him from 1976 until 1983."

That year, through his ties with Duppawhyte, Rosendale was offered a job as a paper engineer at Intervisual Communications Inc. in Los Angeles, the world's largest producer of children's novelty books.

Need Drafting Skills

David Carter, an art director and paper engineer at Intervisual, said of the craft: "You have to have what I call 'board skills'--in other words, drafting skills. Being able to do accurate work at a drawing table. It's just the opposite of doing freehand work. I fall back on the drafting courses I had in the eighth grade.

"Someone like (paper engineer) Tor (Lokvig) can sit down and do drafting and actually design buildings. He does that every once in a while," Carter said.

Lokvig, 45, who moved here from Denmark in 1959 and attended art school in Los Angeles, beganas a draftsman for two mechanical engineers. He admits his strengths are more on the mechanical 1936286821movement of paper joints.

A free-lance paper engineer, Lokvig is well-known for his work in the Kate Greenway award-winning pop-up book "Haunted House," the largest selling pop-up book to date (nearly 1 million copies), and for the much-publicized Transamerica pop-up ad that appeared in Time magazine in September, 1986.

"It's a fairly well-paid profession," Lokvig said. The artists make anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on their experience and, for the free-lancers, their ability to get the big jobs.

'Father' of the Craft

Most of the paper engineers who learned their skills along the way did so from Ib Penick, former vice president and creative director at Intervisual and considered by them to be "the father of paper engineering in this country."

What Penick taught them was how to put magic in the pages of a book.

"It's the participation that a child has in working these things that's fun," said Dick Dudley, paper engineer and vice president of Compass Productions.

"You want to be able to pull tabs and see a clown juggling balls. It's the novelty of the surprise--when you do something and something changes right there on the page," he said.

Of course, the easiest way to make that happen in a pop-up book is to just turn the page, but that trick can come off like a tired old joke if a paper engineer doesn't find new ways to keep it unpredictable.

Lights, Sounds, Smells

Surprises in today's books, which line the shelves of stores this holiday season, can amaze the child in everyone. In "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," judged by Parents magazine to be one of the 10 best baby books in England, a star actually twinkles with light when a tab, designed to connect with an electronic chip, is pulled.

The pull of a tab or the touch of a hand can also produce the sound of a cricket, or the scent of a child's favorite food.

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