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“Robert J. Lang: From Science Labs to Art Galleries” Webinar and Answers to Fans’ Questions

Update: a kind audience provided us with a recording of the event. Thank you, Diego!

Dr. Robert Lang is a world-renowned origami artist whose books on the art are considered “bibles”, and a physicist/mathematician who avidly does research about origami in these two fields and many more, producing truly remarkable results like the folding mechanism of the Eyeglass space telescope and his computer program that helps you design origami models, Treemaker. I cannot stress how grateful I was to be able to host a webinar with him.

(Note: This section is 100% Dr. Lang’s answers, < > denotes my notes for clarity)

– What he thinks about the Catastrophe Theory of Rene Thom

I’m not familiar with it.

– Which of your models are you proud of most?

I don’t rank them in order of proudness.

– What is your favorite subject matter in origami?

It varies over time, but Nature has been a long-term interest, and will probably continue to be.

– What do you think about the relationship between Math and Religion?

I don’t see much of a connection. Math is a logical system for describing patterns and relationships. It turns out to be extremely useful in describing the real world (when we make the correct underlying assumptions), and when it does, we call that “physics” (or another science). The various religions are not so useful (nor terribly consistent with one another) for describing the rules of how the real world works, and they don’t make much use of mathematics.

– What is the best thing that happened to you since you started origami?

Discovering origami, at the very beginning!

– What did make you interested in origami?

Multiple factors: the joy of creation played a role, but also, its amenability to experimentation and lack of penalty if one did something wrong (just throw away the paper and try again with another sheet).

– Of all your origami creations which one is your favorite?

Usually it’s the most recent one. Right now, it’s a bird (a blue-footed booby).

– How can I learn to read (your) diagrams? I’m a visual learner, but I get stuck in the diagrams

When you’re folding from diagrams, try to understand why the artist is creating that step: what the function of the step is. As you develop experience, you will start to be able to anticipate what’s coming, and that will help with the understanding of what the step is telling you to do.

– I have difficulty with inflation steps, like for the koi fish or the bulb of flowers, do you have tips for those types of steps? I always end up ripping the paper or dampening it too much.

I can’t say much other than move slowly and carefully for those steps, and don’t dampen the paper too much (or even at all).

– How many origami “snowballs” do you make when trying to 1.)make a new design, 2.)fold a new design by someone else?

I haven’t made any “snowballs” yet. I’m guessing you’re asking how many tries it takes me to fold something I’m satisfied with. It varies a lot; sometimes I’m happy on the first try, sometimes I’ll fold something 5 or 10 times (especially if I’m working out a new design).

– Are you inventing new figures and making research about math and Origami?


– With such a variety of complex origami models, books, and authors. How not to lose the enthusiasm to fold and create new figures?

With such a variety, it’s easier than ever (I think) to keep one’s enthusiasm! There’s so much to explore and do.

– How to read CP. <crease patterns>

Design and fold your own models by designing CPs (using the ideas in ODS, for example <Origami Design Secrets, one of Dr. Lang’s most famous books, if not the most famous>), That will help you to recognize patterns in CPs that you can subsequently recognize in others’ CPs.

– How to grow with Origami in India.

I don’t know. I imagine it depends a lot on the local culture.

– How to develop planning before creating a model.

That’s described in Origami Design Secrets, so I’ll refer you to that book.

– How modern origami is developing?

It’s going in many different directions at once.

– It would be relatively simple to design a working clock with modular Origami elements but do you think it is possible to fold a working timepiece (even if it only counted a few seconds) from one sheet of paper?

I doubt it, but the limitations are due to the physical properties of paper (thickness, springiness), rather than limitations on what designs could be shaped. However, I think one could make a functional origami sandglass, if we’re allowed to add sand.

– Do you think AI would be able to do this?

Not currently, and not for a while.

– Can you make a video of folding one of your elephants?

Yes, I can make videos of me folding, and that would include folding an elephant. I rarely make videos, though.

– What’s your favorite model to fold (yours or someone else’s): the one you come back to fold over and over?

I get bored with folding the same model over and over, so I rarely do that.

– How could we solve a diagram that’s only marked with lines or designs?

I’m not sure what you mean here. Most diagrams consist of lines.

– When and why did you start creating your own origami models?

I started creating my own origami models pretty early (somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10), and the reason was that I wanted to fold subjects that weren’t in any of the books I had.

– What 1 work would you put in a time capsule?
My Black Forest Cuckoo Clock would be a good candidate.

– Is Hypercomplex Origami still Origami or should it have its own category? 

I don’t think that the level of complexity of an origami design plays any role in whether it is origami. My preferred definition of origami is “an art form in which folding is the primary means of realizing the result,” and by the definition, hypercomplex origami (as well as complex, intermediate, and simple origami) would all qualify. 

– In your book, you mentioned about Pythagorean Stretch. Do you know who started this method?

There’s not a clear beginning. I came up with what I described in ODS, but it is derived from the gusset molecule, and the structure I call a gusset existed in many old (possibly some traditional) origami designs. I think Harbin referred to that pattern of folds as a “gusset” in one of his books (early 1960s), and I’m pretty sure I recall seeing it in Yoshikawa’s work (1950s). So the fold pattern of a Pythagorean stretch is quite old and would be difficult to identify its originator. But its use in circle-packing design, and the computational algorithm for creating it, is mine. 

– People said that it is also called Kamiya’s Pattern. Is Kamiya Satoshi the first person who apply this technique in origami? 

I think “Kamiya’s pattern” is something different: it’s a particular version of the Pythagorean stretch that is tilted and rotated in some way so as to get all the vertices on grid points in a square-grid-based design. And Kamiya was the first person I am aware of to use that. Kamiya used one (or possibly a couple) varieties of it. Mu-Tsun Tsai and I figured out how to generalize it and describe it mathematically, as the “Generalized Offset Pythagorean Stretch (GOPS)”, and Mu-Tsun has built it into his marvelous program, BP Studio.

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