Stewart Gardiner talks to the Star Wars Kirigami author about JJ Abrams, Frank Lloyd Wright, and how to make your own ships from paper
Fresh approaches to Star Wars are difficult to come by. How to say something new when everything has already been said from every angle imaginable? Perhaps the key is not to say, but to do. Marc Hagan-Guirey’s Star Wars Kirigami book is not only about the doing, but also encourages that from his readers. His design aesthetics are perfectly in tune with Star Wars, while also allowing otherness to seep in.
I caught up with Marc to ask him about the new book and his body of work.
Just to get started, if you could introduce yourself.
My name is Marc (some people call me Paper Dandy). My third book has just been published: Star Wars Kirigami which contains 15 templates to cut and fold into iconic ships from the saga.
Could you tell me about kirigami? How does it differ from origami?
Kirigami is a bit like origami except that instead of just folding the paper, you cut it too. Kirigami is traditionally used to create architectural replicas but it’s perfectly suitable for space ships too! The cool thing about kirigami is that it’s just one sheet of paper — nothing is glued or added to it.
I believe you were inspired to start making kirigami after a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House. How did that building lead you to paper craft? Were you already aware of kirigami?
Seeing the Ennis House by Frank Lloyd Wright had such a profound effect on me that I wanted to commemorate the experience by making a memento of some sort. I’d been working in digital media for about 7 years at this stage so was very keen to make something physical. I was always craving as a teenager — using paper as a medium felt appropriate due to its fragility. I was probably already aware of kirigami but I only really took notice of it when I started to search for different paper art techniques.
Can you talk about some of the paper craft projects you did prior to Star Wars and what the response was?
I really enjoyed the process of making a kirigami model of the Ennis House so I decided to make one of the Addams Family mansion. I’m a huge Addams fan, you see. Coincidently the first two kirigami models I made were haunted houses, the Vincent Price film House on Haunted Hill was shot on location at the Ennis House and the Addams home fits the bill too. That’s when the lightbulb came on. I’m a huge horror fan so I had an insatiable appetite to recreate all of the infamous locations from my favourite horror films. Buildings from films such as Amityville, The Exorcist, The Shining all followed in kirigami form. These became part of my first collection called HORRORGAMI: 13 ORIGINAL KIRIGAMI WORKS BASED ON HAUNTED LOCATIONS FROM FILM AND TV. I started experimenting with photography and light. I filled a Photoshop canvas with a bold colour, set it to full screen, sat the paper model in front of it and took a picture. It was a bit of a eureka moment really. Suddenly the model became a different kind of beast. They became very theatrical. There are other ways to photograph the models which I’ve written about in the book. I started showing people photos of the models in this format and saw a trend in their reactions developing. I felt like it was more than just paper craft now and could give an observer an opportunity to connect to the visual through their own memories. Horror movies that we’ve seen as youngsters seem to really resonate with us as adults, especially those films from the 70’s and 80’s. By giving a viewer a simple snap shot in a very analogue format, all their memories of watching the film came flooding back. I knew at this point that the models had to be presented this way so I spent quite some time working with a framer on developing a display case for them. The result was that the pieces are presented in back lit acrylic boxes. Again it was like creating little worlds for people to peer into.
I took these light-box prototypes to a gallery and signed a deal to show there. The promotion for it took on a life of its own. At first I was phoning magazines and sites to try and get some coverage but it quickly turned into me receiving calls and emails every day for interviews. The response really blew me away. It was quite emotional in such a short space of time a hobby had gone from something I was quietly doing in my spare time to getting picked up by outlets such as BBC News, Wired magazine and CNN. TimeOut event placed it as the number 1 thing to visit that week.
After the exhibition I started getting asked to create commercial work. I worked with companies such as Samsung, P&G and TFL. This also led to a publishing deal to write a Horrorgami book of new material and this year I also published a Frank Lloyd Wright kirigami book.
In 2015 I launched a Star Wars kirigami exhibition called Cut Scene and the whole crazy process of promotional madness started all over again.
Why Star Wars? What’s your personal history with the galaxy far, far away?
Doing a Star Wars collection was more out of necessity than choice. It’s always been part of my life. My brother is 5 years older than me and would have seen Return of the Jedi in the cinema the first time round. His interest in it naturally had an effect on me. I was most likely playing with the action figures before I’d even watched a film the whole way through.
You met JJ Abrams on the set of TFA (which is cool!). He was interested in the fact that you did paper craft. His love of design is itself inspiring — for example, I remember first hearing about House Industries in a magazine piece he wrote. Can you talk about meeting JJ?
Ah! that whole experience was a bit of an out of body one. So bizarre and wonderful. He was such a gent. I was possibly the least impressive person that was visiting the set that day and he was still interested in talking to me. He told me he loves paper craft and we just got lost in conversation. Imagine my shock when he said he wanted to introduce me to Kathy!
The funny thing is that the editors of my book were nervous about including the account in the introduction without proof — which is fair enough. Within a couple of emails JJ had messaged them saying it all happened that way… I felt pretty damn cool!
Did this meeting lead directly to doing a Star Wars exhibition?
It was the other way around actually. I’d been talking to Lucasfilm for some time. That’s how I ended up on the set. Kathleen remembered she’d seen my work floating around her office. I decided to do the exhibition of my own back as they’d gone a quiet (I think that they were a tad busy with TFA).
How was the exhibition received?
I was nervous about having another show. Horrorgami was so huge that anything less than that might have felt like a flop. I’d had a tough year before that, I lost my mum to cancer and split from a 7 year relationship. I felt a bit lost and the only thing I knew what would make me feel happy again was creating. So I really wasn’t expecting to hit gold twice. The show was packed every day and every piece sold before the exhibition opened. It was dizzying and humbling that people liked what I was doing. Again huge news sites were covering it and it all went crazy when BBC World News did a feature on it — the nice bit at the end of the news that glosses over the other awful stuff that’s going on!
When all the publicity started snowballing Disney called me again and we started to talk more seriously about how to work together on something.
Your designs boil down each vehicle to its essence, yet also seem very detailed. Is that the unique nature of kirigami?
Yes it is really — but also that’s true to how the concept artist design the ships in the first place. I know they have an ethos that you should be able to draw a ship with just a few lines and it still be recognisable. Xes, Ys, triangles for the Empire/First Order — this is why the designs translate so well to paper. You can recognise the simple shapes and your memory can fill in the rest. I essentially work out the basic geometric shape and then layer up by adding more folds and details.
What reference materials did you use and how did you go about creating each design?
I use anything I can get my hands on. Original set plans, cut away ships illustrations — I have a pretty decent Star Wars reference book library now. I even use LEGO as a starting point.
Who can make Star Wars kirigami? What advice would you give to someone who wants to make these Star Wars models and what tools do they need?
Just a few inexpensive things. A sharp Xacto, a cutting mat, a steel ruler and lots of tea/coffee. I did a workshop a few weeks ago and even the complete beginners made a pretty cool X-wing (despite the accompanying glasses of wine). You just need to take your time and enjoy the process… oh and put your phone away. Scanning Instagram can wait for an hour.
What is it about Star Wars than inspires designers so much?
It has such a clearly defined visual language. It’s instantly distinguishable from other franchises — but despite this it isn’t limited and evidently has huge expanse. As a designer it’s fun to play with those rules, challenge them or express them in different mediums. You want to sit back afterwards looking at your creation knowing it fits well within the universe.
Star Wars Kirigami by Marc Hagan-Guirey is out now (Chronicle Books, £21.99)