Building a Big Daddy Out of Paper: The Book Williams Jr. Interview

You may have noticed this amazing GIF we posted on social recently for BioShock’s 10th Anniversary.

How did that even come about? Ask Book Williams Jr – he made it. After a long career in graphic design, Book rented a small dark basement from a gallery, locked himself in, and experimented for more than a year. What came out of that experimentation was this unique, paper-crafty illustration style…and a lot of scraps of cardstock in his teeth. Or, as Book likes to put it, he’s “Building Drawings of Stuff out of Paper.”

I’m sure you get this question often, but: How the hell did you do that?

I don't know. I never know until I start putting things together and gluing pieces down how something is going to turn out. The beginning part of my process is a lot of planning, and measuring, and hoping things will work. If something doesn't look right, I have to backtrack and rebuild pieces. But, I came to terms with this long ago, and I know I'll have to do the extra work. 

For example, I originally made the head of the Big Daddy for this piece too small. I had to rebuild it bigger. And, I didn't know how the movement looked until I imported the photos into Photoshop and made an animation test. I've only done five or six animated GIFs, ever. I get better at it every time, but I'm as surprised about this piece as you.

Can you walk us through how your BioShock Big Daddy piece came to life?

Everything starts with a couple rounds of sketching. I do all my thinking on paper. I knew I wanted to make a Big Daddy, though. He's the character I remember most from playing the game. Probably because of the pants-peeing. I realized that this was a birthday of sorts for the game, so I settled on a birthday gift concept. After some more sketching, I came up with this "gift that keeps on giving" idea and found a way to incorporate that into the animation. I did a few quick storyboards, and then scanned the sketches into a GIF to check the idea. 

 

The next step was building the 3D model in Blender. I built the pieces separately so they would be easier to unfold in the program. I printed the templates for the forms on my home printer, used my light table to trace out the pieces, cut them, drew on them, folded and then pasted them together. I like doing as much as I can without the computer. It's easy to fix the way things look in Photoshop afterwards, but I like doing things the hard way.

Glue is a slow tool to work with, so it gives you a lot of time to think about things. I always come up with extra stuff to add — or take away — from the art when I'm holding pieces of paper together and waiting for glue to dry. 

I built the original piece all in white because it speeds up the building process. It's easier to see through on the light table, and if I want to change a color later it's an easy Photoshop fix. 

Once all the pieces are glued and ready, I tear apart my workspace. I move my drawing table into the middle of the room, break out the studio lights for photography, set up the backdrop, and pray that no one feels like paying me a visit. It is a big mess. Tons of paper scraps on the floor and cords wrapped around light stands. It's an obstacle course.

Shooting the stop motion portion is tricky. I've gotten better at checking the movement in the camera before moving to the next shot. If anything gets bumped, or moved, I'll have to start from scratch, so I practice holding my breath. A lot. 

When I have all the shots I need, I import them into Photoshop and start putting them in order. Making an animated gif in Photoshop is pretty easy, but, as I learned with this project, too many frames slow the program down. I'm already learning Adobe After Effects and Premiere so that I can do longer, more robust, movement for these projects. 

Then I paint the color digitally. For this piece I had to animate the color as separate layers (adding extra layers, and extra lag time to this file. I've learned my lesson) and then I test and tweak until the movement is what I want. 

That's pretty much it.

Fair enough. Was it always like this for you? Why – and how – did you even settle on papercraft as your medium in the first place?

I never really thought about being a graphic designer until I was one. It made sense at the time. I think any career you go into gets old if it's not the thing you were supposed to do. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot of useful skills along the way, and I love the process of design, and I love typography and everything related to design. It just felt like something was missing. 

I discovered my new path after working an all-nighter. I was designing a bottle label for an aromatherapy product for dogs (no joke). The scanner was working too slow for my liking, so I started hand-drawing parts of the layout and photographing them with my camera. I was also cutting the drawings out and making compositions by hand. It was a grueling task.

When I went back to the office in the morning to clean before my boss arrived, I saw this pile of drawing scraps on my desk and that's when the idea hit me.  

I quit my job, moved out of my apartment, and rented an office space. I slept on the office floor and showered at the gym. I didn't know a damn thing about paper, other than is was flat and white, but I was determined to learn. I experimented for two years before I was able to make anything good with it.

How long does it take you to envision and create the average piece? And what is the longest amount of time required to work on one?

Most of my work is dimensional, but flat. It's all papercraft and paper art, but it's designed for print. Those pieces I can crank out in a day or two because I mostly use the light table. I'm pretty fast at coming up with concepts and ideas.

My newer, full 3D stuff takes a little longer, but I save time by only drawing on the side facing the camera. The backs of some of these pieces are held together with tape or bubble gum or paperclips. I'm not selling sculpture in a gallery, so no one cares. These can vary in the amount of time they take, depending on the size and difficulty.  

What are your go-to tools for creating these pieces?

Paper. Ink. A light table. Olfa craft knife. An iMac. 3D software (Blender). Glue. Bandaids.

Like you said earlier, you were already a big fan of BioShock. What did you like about the series? Have any favorite moments?

I had a friend who turned me on to BioShock when BioShock 2 came out. We used to have a movie night at his house every week that quickly turned into a gaming night. We took turns playing to get through the story. The idea of an underwater city, built on the shaky philosophy of Ayn Rand's Foutainhead and Atlas Shrugged, hooked me. The dilapidated art deco decor, weird gadgety weapons, and gameplay were amazing. The anxiety of hearing the heavy footsteps of a Big Daddy in a nearby room almost made me pee my pants. A few times. BioShock Remastered is one of the few games I have on my Mac. 

OK, last question: How many papercuts do you get on average?

I don't know, but I always have a cut healing on one of my fingers. I'm working through my irrational fear of lemons.

 

If you want to see more of Book’s amazing papercraft work, check it out here:

http://www.bookwilliamsjr.com/

https://twitter.com/bookwilliamsjr

http://instagram.com/bookwilliamsjr

https://www.facebook.com/BookWilliamsJr.Illustrator/