How do you engineer the perfect pop?

Pop-up book creator Matthew Reinhart explains the engineering behind those amazing pops.

Vocabulary: engineering, pop-up book, hinge, v-fold, layer, chain reaction, energy

NGSS: SEP1- Asking Questions and Defining Problems, SEP5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking


One of Matthew Reinhart’s pop-up creations. Photo by Luke Groskin

Using scissors, tape, and reams of creativity, Matthew Reinhart engineers paper to bend, fold, and transform into fantastic creatures, structures and locales. By adjusting the angles of folds and the depth of layers, Reinhart animates his subjects to tell dramatic stories that literally pop off the page.

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Questions for Students

  • Explain how Matthew Reinhart is engaging with various elements of the engineering practices.
  • What are the basic pop-up mechanisms? How is Reinhart able to achieve such complex pop-ups with such simple mechanisms?
  • Explain how Reinhart is able to achieve a chain reaction effect. How does that affect his placement of the different components of the pop?
  • What effect does the type or weight of paper have on the creation of pop-ups?
  • Take on the role of a paper engineer and pop-up book artist. Develop a design problem by creating a basic idea for a pop. Create a rough sketch of the pop and label it with ideas for how to make that pop-up come to life. Build your prototype.

Activity Suggestions

  • Matthew Reinhart briefly discusses two main pop-up mechanisms, the v-fold and the layer. Have students create mock-ups of each one. Check out this video on how to create v-folds of varying degrees, have students work with angles by creating a variety of v-folds. You can also have them measure other variables by collecting information about the maximum distance from the base page achieved by each of those v-folds.
  • Have students create a pop-up that models a natural process. Check out this video about a pop-up book on earth processes, which attempts to model some of the processes. For guidance, take a look at this article on pop-up techniques.