For hundreds of years in China and Japan, the art of origami passed from generation to generation with little need to record the technique for each model using diagrams. Sometimes, however, for models that were particularly worthy or complicated, a drawing or book would be produced. One ancient book that survived, Hiden Senbazuru Orikata (The Secret of One Thousand Cranes Origami), dates from 1797 and is notable for its intricate and beautiful drawings. The drawings of the various crane models were marked with simple dotted lines indicating the parts of the paper that should be folded. The order and direction of the folds were explained separately.
Turning a Corner in Origami
This type of diagram seems to have remained the standard until the 1930s, when Akira Yoshizawa developed a system of arrows and dotted lines that described, without words, where and how the paper should fold from one stage to the next. This new diagramming convention was a breakthrough in that it transcended the written language, opening the doors for origami diagrams to be shared internationally as never before. Yoshizawa's notation became so popular that it has been incorporated into the vast majority of origami diagrams and related publications ever since.
Origami diagrams generally only need to record the key folds in the development of a model. Even if you have only a little experience, they can usually be followed without much difficulty. However, as only key folds are recorded, beginners sometimes struggle to visualise how the paper should be folded 'in between' diagrams. If a beginner becomes stuck, there is little else to do but persevere or try and find someone else to help.
However, with the advent of the Internet, help is at hand in many places, including an increasing number of sites that provide animated instructions to fill in the missing steps.
In traditional animation techniques, cartoons are drawn on layers of acetate sheets with each bit of movement captured 'frame by frame' on film. This 'frame by frame' process is still used when animating origami diagrams; however, the artist produces sequences of digital drawings (frame by frame) in computer software rather than using ink on acetate sheets and a camera. The software allows the animator to easily change the size, look and playback of the animation in a way that would have been impractical using traditional methods.
Since the early days of the World Wide Web, animation software has progressed in leaps and bounds. The earliest animations on the web used a format called the animated GIF, which works just like the 'flick book' style of animation, quickly flipping through a short series of pictures. These were popular and indeed many (including origami animations) are still used today. Origami animations using the animated GIF format usually run in stages: eg, on completion of the first step, a link can be followed to the animation for the second step, and so on. This was the best way to work when small file sizes were of paramount importance, because the file size of each animated step could be contained for easy download.
A Splash with Flash
During the 1990s, a computer program (Splash) was developed that could animate and output graphics at incredibly small file sizes. The program was later developed into the better-known Flash and today, the Flash viewer and its associated animations have become virtually ubiquitous across the Web. Flash's widespread presence and ability to produce smooth animations, small file sizes and interactivity (eg, to stop, play and rewind the animation) provided a natural platform for the animation and production of origami diagrams. The small file sizes removed the need to have to download (say) eight separate animations for eight key stages of a model. Instead, the entire animation can be downloaded and viewed in one go. Furthermore, the interactive nature of Flash lends itself to easy navigation through the animation and even to the development of origami games! An example of this type of animation can be seen at www.origami.org.uk.
Numerous origami models have also been have filmed on video camera and uploaded to YouTube; however, these tend to be videos of people making models rather than animated diagrams as mentioned above. Origami is also coming to Korean television screens with the launch of a new cartoon series, Origami Warriors. The series is all about origami models that come to life.
The Internet continues to change the way people learn, communicate and share ideas. Web-based animated origami diagrams help fuse the ancient art of origami with 21st-Century technology and hopefully will help more people to discover the joy of this wonderful art.