Film / Reels

Harry Potter popped up

In conversation with Bruce Foster, paper engineer and Lucy Kee, text writer.

Tom Ue: I was prepared to be impressed after seeing Bruce Foster’s work in the pop-up title sequence of the film Enchanted.  However, Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book: Based on the Film Phenomenon was an astounding experience.  When did your careers as writers and pop-up artists begin?

Lucy Kee: I was just a kid who loved reading and writing. I studied creative writing in college and ran the literary journal, and things just kind-of progressed from there. My day job is as an editor at Insight Editions, which is how I got involved in this project.

B.F.: Thank you! I first discovered pop-ups through a design project I was assigned for Hi-C Juice back in 1989. Although as an art student at The University of Tennessee Knoxville, I had already been experimenting with shaped and three-dimensional art.

T.U.: What goes on behind the scenes of writing and building a pop-up book?

L.K.: I was working on this from the beginning, so for me the first step was various proposals and outlines to get the book greenlighted. At the same time, I was editing a traditional behind-the-scenes book about the Potter films (Harry Potter: Film Wizardry, published by Harper Collins). When it comes to Harry Potter there are a lot of levels of approval that licensed publications must go through. I primarily dealt with the publishing and consumer products divisions of Warner Bros., but the filmmakers and J.K. Rowling’s literary agency were also involved. Rowling has approval rights over any text that is based on her novels (in our case based on the movies based on her novels) and the agency serves as her representative. Bruce had more direct input from the film’s art department, which I will let him explain. We were in touch with Andrew Williamson through other people at the Potter studio’s art department, and Bruce was high on our list of pop-up engineers because he had done another book with us (The Spirit: A Pop-Up Graphic Novel). After they were both hired there was a lot of brainstorming about the pops and the structure of the book. On the writing side, once we were settled on what pops were going to be included, it was pretty straightforward. The only difficulty was that the release date of the book had been in limbo for a while, and when that was finally set (earlier than anticipated) it was a mad dash to get everything done in time for the approval by Rowling’s agency and for the long production time that pop-up books need.

B.F.: The first stage is a bit of a collaboration of ideas between the paper engineer, artist, art director, and writer. Once the scenes are agreed upon, someone sketches out an idea for the pop-up. Sometimes it’s the paper engineer, as in Harry Potter; sometimes the art director, as in Enchanted. Then the p.e. creates a white dummy that shows all the elements of volume, movement and scale. After feedback, templates are prepared for the artist to follow, and the art is returned to the p.e. for refinement, file set up and construction of a working color dummy.

T.U.: How did you decide on what aspects of the Harry Potter films to focus?

L.K.: In terms of the pops, we really wanted to wow people. That led to us thinking about moments from the whole series that we thought would be particularly dramatic in pop-up form. Hogwarts castle and the Triwizard Tournament were the first to come to mind. Another consideration was to try and show something from all of the films to date, and not have the book weigh too heavily on one episode. We had many more ideas than could ever have fit into one book! Luckily Bruce could tell us what was physically possible in terms of paper engineering, so some ideas were weeded out that way.

B.F.: Again, there was a lot of collaboration and discussion. For instance at first, there was an additional spread devoted to the muggle home of Harry. But after the Hogwarts castle began developing, it was decided that it would be more interesting to just jump into the magical world of Harry. But certain things were immediately set as a goal: Hogwarts, magical creatures, games and the Dark Arts.

A pop-up page of Hogwarts seems like a given, but what about graveyard scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry confronts Voldemort?

L.K.: It’s interesting that you mention that pop since it was actually one of the last to be decided upon. The original plan was to have Nagini as the main pop, but Warner Bros. felt that she had not been featured enough prior to the Deathly Hallows films, and Bruce could not use her appearance in Deathly Hallows Part 1 as a reference since the movie was still in production at the time. Luckily she stayed in as a side pop—probably my favorite of the whole book due to the fantastic motion that Bruce was able to achieve. We eventually settled on the graveyard scene as the main pop because it is such a turning point in the series; Voldemort goes from being an incorporeal threat to a physical one.

B.F.: As I had stated, we all wanted to devote a page to the villains of the story.

T.U.: While there is not as much writing in the book, a narrative clearly emerges.  Do you see parallels between Harry’s immersion into his world, and ours into your book?

L.K.: In this type of book the visuals (both pops and artwork) are the focus, but I did endeavor to keep the text interesting and fresh. It’s an all ages book so I was picturing younger children reading it and also adults reading it to their children. Harry’s story is such a good example of a hero’s journey, and with each book and film he is discovering new things about the wizarding world. So yes, I think even amid the moviemaking details and behind-the-scenes facts there is a story to find in the book that follows Harry’s seven-year tale.

B.F.: I think Harry’s was more intense.

T.U.: You write that Diagon Alley was inspired by London in the early nineteenth-century and, indeed, many parts of England have retained a Victorian appearance.  What do you think is the continuing appeal of Victorian aesthetics?

L.K.: Having recently searched for a home from that era (I ended up in one built in 1912), I know that I was drawn to Victorian and Edwardian architecture because of the craftsmanship that went into things like decorative moldings, inlayed hardwood floors, and other beautiful details that you just don’t find in modern homes. There is an ornate quality to Victorian decorative arts that I think people today find wonderfully indulgent and whimsical.

I know that Stuart Craig (the HP production designer) was particularly inspired by the London that Charles Dickens knew and wrote about—which is not surprising given that Harry has many Dickensian qualities. Beyond that, it does seem like some of Dickens’s best known works have come to personify “old London” for many people.

The modern perception of the Victorian lifestyle is, I’m sure, a bit more idyllic than the reality was. In fact, those same Dickens novels present plenty of social problems and pitfalls. In an age of cookie cutter subdivisions, though, a lot of us long for more quirks and character in our surroundings—hence the appeal.

T.U.: How long did this pop-up book take to make?

L.K.: Bruce can answer this in terms of creating the pops. As for the rest of the process, the first time I heard “Harry Potter” in terms of my job was back in 2008, when Insight Editions was vying for the license to do moviemaking books based on the franchise. I was not working on the pop-up during that whole time, but that does give you an idea of how long book development can take! As I said before, the actual writing went very quickly, but a lot of interviewing and information gathering had been done before I started.

B.F.: We began this project in June of 2009 and wrapped it up in March 2010. There was some tweaking after that, but basically this one took a long time: 9 months of development, three longer than I usually take. After that it took another 6 months to print and assemble.

T.U.: Is that long for a pop-up book?

B.F.: Yes, it usually takes around 6 months.

T.U.: How are these books produced in mass?

B.F.: Pop-ups are hand-assembled in the Far East, usually China, but sometimes Thailand or Malaysia. Upwards of three thousand people can be involved in assembling a book!

T.U.: What are some of the challenges of building this book?

B.F.: First and foremost, this book had to be true to the visual reality set forth in the movies. Hogwarts was particularly difficult as buildings had to be precise and as precisely arranged as possible. I probably built seven versions before it was correct and also worked correctly as a pop-up.

T.U.: In your view, what was the most challenging page, and why?

B.F.: Hogwarts and The Magical Creatures spreads were most difficult for me. So many things had to tuck into other pieces, often times moving in opposing directions. The work on the strength of placements measured in millimeters.

T.U.: What was the most difficult pop-up you have ever made?

B.F.: Hogwarts. Also a pop-up of the Tower of Babel from In the Beginning.

T.U.: The book speaks from the perspective of the film production.  Have other viewpoints been considered during its making?

L.K.: Not really. By contract, we only had permission to explore the films from a behind-the-scenes perspective. The rights to tell the story of Harry Potter in print are exclusively J.K. Rowling’s so there was never any idea of making the book more of a narrative or from Harry’s perspective. Since the pops themselves are “in world,” however, there is still that opportunity to really escape into the story—at least visually.

T.U.: You do not include many hints of what is new, visually or thematically, about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Why?

L.K.: The two Deathly Hallows movies are the least represented simply because we were working on the book at the same time that they were being filmed and we could not confirm which scenes from the book would make the final cut. We do have the Nagini pop (which I think of as being from Deathly Hallows since she is not featured much in the films prior) and the “Undesirable No. 1” poster which is seen Deathly Hallows Part 1. I sincerely hope we will be able to do a second volume that incorporates some of the big moments from Deathly Hallows Part 2.

B.F.: It was my understanding that Warner Bros specifically requested no spoilers.

T.U.: Do you find pop-up books being particularly important at this time when we invest so much in ereaders?

L.K.: Absolutely. No matter how advanced ereaders become, they can never match the feel of holding a pop-up book and watching paper scenes unfold right before your eyes. Pop-ups can be animated, but such animation is not nearly as impressive as actual paper engineering because it is done without physical limitations. There are many wonderful things about ereaders—first in my mind is the fact that they give one the ability to easily carry a whole library—but they lack the tactile quality that regular books have. When reading a novel, you might not miss that quality, but you certainly would in a pop-up book. Actually, this question of physical versus virtual is one that applies to the Potter films as well. Visual effects technologies have advanced dramatically over the ten years that the films have been in production, and their development has certainly had an effect on the films. The filmmakers have used both practical special effects (water, fire, mechanical devices, etc) and visual effects done with computers for the whole series, but as visual effects became easier and cheaper they began to be used more and more in place of “regular” special effects. I appreciate both, just as I appreciate both ebooks and traditional books, but I will say that I think it’s very important for filmmakers to evaluate which option will actually look best in their finished scene and not just which option is the easiest. I am sure we can all rattle off a list of movies ruined by bad computer effects (my personal pet peeve is bad CGI animals).

In my opinion, the Potter films have had a good balance. In fact, one thing that people may be surprised to learn about them is just how many things that looked like good computer animation were actually animatronics, models, or complicated machinery (such as the door to the Chamber of Secrets). Working on this book has really given me appreciation for such techniques.

B.F.: The ereading revolution is only beginning. Perhaps more than ever its important to place these objects of hand-made creativity into people’s hands. Our minds are also engaged by the spatial anomalies of pop-ups in a different way than just reading words on a screen.

T.U.: Thank-you so much for your time, and best of luck with your endeavours!

L.K.: Thank you!


About the Interviewer


Tom Ue is a doctoral student at the Department of English Language and Literature at University College, London, where he researches on Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of Henry James, George Gissing, and Oscar Wilde.


Salim Gold

    Nostalgia is vicious; at least, it’s vice.
Its hours come contaminated with Loss,
And liquor—a killer (like Rilke)—kicks
The mind into coma—perverse preserve.

Read More

A Song For Tomorrow

Christina Wong


MAY, wife, speaks Cantonese (big city – Sang Wai) and English with a Chinese accent, originally from Hong Kong

Read More


Dawn Promislow

I was soon to start work on my thesis. I had a job meanwhile, in a small hotel. It was summer. We had five empty rooms, it was a slow season. I suppose that's why the owner gave her the room for forty euros a night. The German couple was paying sixty, they'd also just walked in off the street.

Read More

What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things... it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface.

– Constantin Brancusi
Featured Artist

The Sirens

–John Greer

Volunteers for Issue 8

For copy-editing this issue of MTLS thanks:

- Amanda Tripp
- Carmel Purkis
- Rosel Kim
- Julia Cooper
- Lequanne Collins-Bacchus


MTLS is grateful to Jean-Pierre Houde for his hard work on web management.