Monday, June 11, 2007

Origami - my interest is in creasing reports: [edited]

Among the multilegged creatures in Robert Lang's airy studio in Alamo, California, are a shimmering-blue long-horned beetle, a slinky, dun-colored centipede, a praying mantis with front legs held aloft, a plump cicada, a scorpion and a black horsefly.

So realistic that some people threaten to stomp on them, these paper models, virtually unfoldable 20 years ago, represent a new frontier in origami. No longer limited to traditional birds and boats, origami—the art of paper folding—is evolving artistically and technologically, thanks to a small but growing number of mathematicians and scientists around the world, including Lang.

What's more, this group believes the ancient art holds elegant solutions to problems in fields as diverse as automobile safety, space science, architecture, robotics, manufacturing and medicine.

A laser physicist and former researcher with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lang, 46, is a pioneer in technical and computational origami, which focuses on the mathematics behind the art. "He's the Renaissance man of origami," says Jan Polish of Origami USA, which has 1,700 members worldwide.

"A lot of people who come from the science end are mostly interested in origami as a problem to be solved. His work is very intriguing because he has combined art and math. His signature is a high degree of reality with a breath of life."

Lang has created or breathed life into more than 495 intricate new origami models, some requiring hundreds of folds: turtles with patterned shells, raptors with textured feathers, a rattlesnake with 1,000 scales and a tick the size of a popcorn kernel.

Lang first embarked on his paper route at the age of 6, when his father, Jim, a sales and service manager for an equipment company in Atlanta, and his mother, Carolyn, a homemaker, gave their precocious son a book on origami. "I remember the moment I started," Lang recalls. "This seemed like such a wonderful thing, that you could take some paper, something free, and make really neat toys out of it. There's essentially an endless supply of raw material."

During the 1990s Lang developed a computer program that uses circle-river packing to produce sophisticated designs. Called TreeMaker, the program allows artists to draw a stick figure of a desired model on-screen. The software then calculates and prints out the most efficient crease pattern.

A second program, called ReferenceFinder, determines the sequence of folds needed to create the model. Lang says he uses the programs only rarely when designing his own pieces, usually when brainstorming the design for the basic structure of a particular model. The computer does the grunt work, kicking out a variety of crease options. Then it's back to pencil and paper and hands-on folding to add the many design subtleties that don't yet exist in algorithmic form.

"I'm not trying to make a photograph, I'm trying to capture the essence, the impression of something," Lang says. "Some subjects I come back to over and over—cicadas, simple birds. I can do them in a different way and get ever closer to my mind's-eye image of what they ought to look like. You wouldn't think that origami could be reduced to equations, but some parts of it can. But the artistic aspect will never be captured in equations."


Skep said...

I had to be taken to hospital for major lacerations after reading that blog title... ;)

brett jordan said...

Gotta hate those paper cuts.

Major Look said...

Do it again