Review: Origami: The Secret Life of Paper
Manufacturer: Casady & Greene
What do structural engineering, fractals, map folding, and deploying a satellite's solar panel have in common? They can all be studied by folding squares of paper into kites, fish, birds, and frogs.
Origami, the Japanese art of folding paper squares, is an ancient tradition. It is an art form that arose from deep within Japanese agricultural and social history. I first encountered Origami as a child. My grandparents lived in Japan immediately after World War II. My father spent his early teen years in Japan. I grew up surrounded by the Japanese art they collected during those post-war years and through keeping up with friends.
Christmas was my grandmother's favorite holiday, so she was fascinated by the Japanese tradition of elaborate gift wrapping. In Japan, a gift's wrapping is an essential part of the gift itself. My grandmother adapted the elaborate, multi-layered coverings made from handmade paper she saw in Japan to more Western traditions. She taught me the joy of giving through sharing her skill at gift wrapping. Just before my ninth Chrismas, I found among her wrapping tools a fascinaing book whose inner back cover contained a pocket stuffed with brightly-colored paper - perfect squares. The text was in Japanese, but had many pictures. It was an Origami textbook.
It took me months of failed attempts to fold a crane before I succeeded. I can still recall the triumph of that moment. Unconsciously, I learned the power of folds, creases and angles — the special properties of a square. Origami exercised and honed my abstract thinking skills.
It was not until college that I became aware of these skills. I know I earned an "A" in X-ray crystallography in large part because of Origami. My comprehension of space groups and deciphering X-ray diffraction patterns came only after I allowed myself to recall memories of folding paper into balls, boats, irises and cranes. You see, I am one of those people that needs to deconstruct things after I've constructed them. I often unfolded my Origami to see the elaborate patterns of creases. Unfolding projects that didn't work was as illuminating as unfolding successful pieces. Errors became glaringly evident as an assymetry in the crease pattern of the unfolded paper.
I have not folded paper other than to wrap gifts in decades. I welcomed the opportunity to re-aquaint myself with Origami and teach my daughter, who recently turned seven. She is an artistic and tactile child who creates wonderful designs with pen and paper and on the computer screen using Kid Pix. In my mind's eye, I see her folding an original design into an Origami creature. Or maybe these are visions of wishes for myself. Either way, I opened the Cassady and Greene CD-ROM, "Origami: The Secret Life of Paper," with anticipation.
Origami uses a two-dimensional medium — paper. However, it is incredibly difficult to learn using only two-dimensional instructions — diagrams and words. Origami's appeal to me was the promise of Quicktime movie demonstrations of how to fold each project from beginning to end. I was not disappointed. Double-clicking the program icon after loading the CD led me through the splash screen into the foyer.
From here you can choose among 12 projects to fold. The foyer view doesn't provide difficulty ratings for projects. If you want to see the relative difficulty for each figure, choose the "New" submenu from the "File" menu. This displays a list of the figures along with difficulty ratings: 1 dot, easiest; 4 dots, hardest.
The setting for the CD is a traditional Japanese house. Several options are available for navigating through the CD. You can use menus, choose areas from a "House Map" icon (available from the "Explore" menu), or wander through full-screen windows with soundtracks of Japanese music. On each page are a pair of Japanese sandals. Clicking on these will take you back to the previous window. The only exception is in the "foyer," when clicking on the sandals will exit the program.
In addition to the Origami figure projects, the CD-ROM includes instructions for making your own Origami paper from junk mail, history of Origami, profiles of modern and past Origami artists from all over the world, and more. There is an extensive bibliography to more advanced subjects and a glossary of definitions to which words in the text are hot-linked.
Because of the heavy use of Quicktime movies in this CD-ROM, my journeys were very slow on my 68040 processor. Lack of speed took nothing away from viewing the instructional folding videos, but major transitions were quite lengthy. I kept the color options at 256 instead of thousands of colors because of speed considerations. Power Mac users will not have this limitation, I'm sure.
Given Origami's Eastern cultural orientation, I think speed is not the issue. Origami can be a relaxing, rejuvenating pasttime. One should not feel rushed while folding paper or learning about Origami. I think a more important issue is the enrichment value of the CD's content (OK, I admit that my "educational editor" stripes are showing).
Origami: The Secret Life of Paper provides a good introductory selection of figures to fold. They range from easy to difficult and utilize all four of the traditional "bases" of Origami. This is important because if you choose to go on and learn more advanced figures, you'll probably be working from diagrams (at least until "Origami: The Sequel" is released). Origami takes this reality into account. The instructional videos occupy half of a 14" monitor screen. On the other half, the action is depicted in a series of diagrams, the traditional method by which we Westerners learn Origami.
I found the "History of Origami" and the "Origami and Math" segments to be very interesting. Again, the screen is divided into text and illustration. For younger artists, the CD takes advantage of Macintosh's MacinTalk technology (and provides a convenient copy of the software in case you haven't already downloaded it from Apple's web site or received it in a System Software update) and the text can be spoken as an option. Other CD-ROMs, such as "The Animals" by Mindscape International, Inc., have their own soundtracks which are of much higher sound quality, but the high graphics and video content of "Origami" probably leaves insufficient space for this feature.
A source of inspiration to create your own Origami designs comes from numerous art exhibits found in the Gallery. The Flying Beetle by Toshiyuki Meguro is shown in this figure. Red dots on a World Map illustrate just how widespread Origami has become and clicking on each dot will bring up a story about an artist from that country.
In summary, I think Casady & Greene's "Origami: The Secret Life of Paper" is a great educational and recreational addition to your software library. It is accessible for a fairly large age range, starting at about 7-9 years (depending on the reading skill and attention span of your child). I recommend clearing off a 2' x 2' folding space at your computer workstation before starting the program and using only the mouse for navigation.
Those readers with graphics programs and color printers will have the added fun of putting a design to paper, cutting out the square, and folding a figure. Start with simple patterns - stripes are very dramatic for seeing how Origami sculpts the two-dimensional surface into three. Another way to play with the mathmatical spatial concepts of Origami is to put distinct shapes on center, diagonal or vertical axes, or even at some random place within the square. Make a game out of predicting where the shapes will appear on the completed figure. Try the same design with several figures that use different "bases" and see how the shape "moves around."