Preparing for the Recording - Materials and Insights

So you have decided to shoot a video of a model. You have contacted the designer and been given permission to demonstrate the model in a video. Great! But what now?

In this article I will try to give some useful tips on how to prepare for the recording, or at least what I have found to be useful when doing so. I believe everybody must learn for themselves what works best for them, but the guidelines I present here will hopefully give you a good starting point.

Preparing yourself

Practice the Fold

If there is one rule that everyone needs to follow to produce high-quality videos, it is the following. Only demonstrate a model when you feel confident about the folding sequence.

This means that as long as you find at least one step a bit tricky or messy, you should practice further. That does not mean you have to fold the whole model over and over (although that does not hurt), but you should practice those steps that are not as obvious until you get a nice result.

Practice the model until you understand all steps fully.

Next, fold the model, thinking about how you would explain it to someone else. What are the important movements you need to perform in order to complete each step nicely? And to make it a bit harder: How can you best show these moves on camera? What is the best way of holding the model, so that the movement is natural and at the same time not hidden by your hands or shadows? Or indeed, should you change the order of some steps to make the process easier for your viewers?

Finally, it is a good exercise to fold the model while talking through it, explaining each step. At least that is the case if you want your video to be accompanied by your verbal instructions. I highly encourage this, because the information you can give in spoken words will nicely complement the visual aspect of the video. By the way, I do not write a script, although that is certainly an option. While I do sometimes make grammatical mistakes in my videos or do not express myself concisely, I think the value of having an authentic narration is preferable to reading from stilted, prepared text.

This does mean that you will have to practice a model a couple of times before you shoot the video. This is definitely what I did when I started. Nowadays, I have to admit, I do not practice as much anymore.

The funny thing is, whenever I fold a model for pleasure now, I think about all of these considerations right away. It does not matter whether I am even vaguely thinking about whether I could make a video of the model. It is just a habit I have gotten into.

Now don't get me wrong, I fold each model at least once before I record a video of it. On rare occasions once was enough, usually for quite simple models. More commonly I fold a model about two or three times before I record it. Once to fall in love with it. Once to practice it for the video. And one more time, if it did not go as smoothly as I wanted it to. I might change the sequence a bit, or choose a different paper. Some steps I will fold several more times, folding and unfolding them until I have found a nice way of breaking them down. I will usually identify these steps early on when I am look at the diagrams, but sometimes I misjudge. Some steps can seem deceptively simple in a diagram, and others may be hard to diagram, but easy to demonstrate. In general, though, with practice you get a feel for which steps are harder and which will be easy. I believe that most experienced folders possess that same skill, although teaching models probably leads to getting a gut feeling for such things more quickly.

As a side note, for some videos I fold the model many more times. For example, when I made the video of The Last Waltz by Neal Elias, I had to think a lot more about how to present the model. In general, the more detailed and finished the diagrams of a model, the less I need to do to prepare a video. The more I change the sequence or clarify it, the more preparation time it will need.

Paper Choice

There are different criteria for selecting the paper you want to use in a video. Here are the aspects I consider when choosing the paper:

The 15cm squares of Kami I use for simpler models

It is better to use duo paper, meaning that the front has a different color than the back. Just like in diagrams, it will make it easier for people to see how the paper exactly moves and how layers are distributed. I also avoid very dark colors, as creases will not be as visible on such paper.

Second, avoid all patterns. Fullstop. They will distract from the folding, make creases less visible, and in general will not do your video any good.

Finally, avoid all shiny paper. This includes foil, but does not end there. I have found some Kami can be quite shiny, too. Coincidentally, I have found that shiny Kami does not fold as nicely and seems to be of a lower quality in general. A simple test for whether the paper is too shiny is to hold it under your light source for the recording and bend it in both directions. You will instantly be able to tell whether the light reflects too strongly.

When you are recording the video, you will want to be able to show what needs to be done even for the small folds on that tiny corner over there. So when deciding what size the paper should be, always consider the smallest folds. Then choose a paper size that will allow you to demonstrate those steps comfortably. At the same time, you want to start with a paper size that will allow you to show the starting sheet completely in your frame. Large paper can also be cumbersome to fold, so striking a good balance can be challenging. Especially in the beginning, try folding the model from different sizes of paper to figure out what paper size works best.
The 24cm squares of Kami I use for more advanced models
I usually use Kami in my videos. Often there is a different type of paper from which the model can be folded more easily, or the result will be more beautiful (or both, of course). One of the reasons I still use Kami is because it is widely accessible. Many viewers will only have very plain paper, and I do not want them to think they need to buy something special to fold a nice model. And let's be honest: I will not be folding a display model when I record a video, so there is no real point in "wasting" some expensive paper on it. And with Kami it is easy to get the right colors and size, the two aspects I think are the most important.
Some models will require special paper. If that is the case, be sure to point out in your video what qualities the paper should have, and preferably list at least one type of paper that works well, including a source for where to buy it. Your viewers will thank you greatly for your effort, and you will not have to answer the same question over and over if you make such basic information part of your video.

Example Model

It is good to tell viewers what type of paper you used, its original size, and the size of the completed model. I usually have a small sheet of paper lying close by that lists the sizes in cm and inches, and then provide that information while I show the model.

At the beginning of the video you will want to show the completed model. I usually use the same type and size of paper as I do in the video. In the past, I sometimes opened the video by showing the exact model I folded in the video itself. I achieved this time travel trick through editing my video. If you are planning on editing your video after you record it (which I highly recommend), then that is easy enough. I did this for a while, because I thought it was nice to show the exact result the video produced. But because I often draw in creases while teaching the model, the final result looked a bit misleading. And it is not as smooth to cut the video so that the very end appears in the beginning. As such, I tend to fold the model in advance and use the result as my example of the completed model.

Adding the information on paper type and size is a bit controversial. I know some viewers skip over this "boring" part of my video. In my experience, though, plenty of people appreciate this information. And it is easy to skip over the first minute or so of a video.

Clean Hands

Is this too obvious to state? Wash your hands before recording. I usually do a quick manicure the day before, so that my nails are relatively short and not distracting. Surprisingly, I have had someone comment I should try polishing my nails, so that viewers will pay more attention to my fingers, rather than the paper. It is an interesting suggestion, but not one I will act on. In my opinion it would probably be more distracting than helpful, and honestly, I am not very fond of nail polish!

Having clean hands and fingernails is simple enough. Not having injuries can be harder, mostly because accidents simply happen and healing takes some time. I have delayed the recording of a video several times already, because I had cut or burnt myself, had mosquito bites, or onychia. In the end, I avoid all things that can distract from the folding demonstration. And be it dirt under your fingernails or red spots on your hands, they will distract. It is important to remember that you record once, but the video will be viewed many times.

As a side note, for the same reasons I do not wear any jewelry in while shooting the video.

Preparing the Space


A prepared work space: the surface has a neutral color, the camera position and lighting are adjusted, and all necessary materials are at hand.

You will want to have a flat surface to work on. Often it will be easier to work precisely, if you can make creases on a hard surface, rather than folding in the air. It will also allow you to move the paper less when it is not necessary to move the paper. This will make it easier to follow the video.

The surface you work on should ideally be non-shiny, have no pattern, and in general not be distracting. It is good when the color of the surface is different from either side of the paper you are using.

My preferred approach is to simply spread some paper on a desk and tape it down. The paper is some cheap material that is used for wrapping china when you move. It is off-white and matte, so suits me well. I will have to admit that I have seen other videos that do a better job of selecting a backdrop that is not distracting, but looks professional. I did buy a light box a couple of months ago, and perhaps that would give nicer results, but so far I have not tried it. It suffices to say, there will always be room for improvement, but I have not seen enough need to change my backdrop thus far.

Finally, remove all unnecessary objects from the area that will be in the frame. Ideally, the frame will only show your hands folding the paper.

Camera Position

There are two camera positions that will probably work well for instructional videos. Shooting from directly above the surface (as I do), and in first-person perspective. To get first-person perspective, you will have to shoot over your shoulder, and probably extend your backdrop, so that it will cover the whole background of your frame.

Personally, I believe shooting from right above is easier and leads to results the viewer will more easily understand. One reason is that when you tilt the camera, the proportions are obscured. A square does not look square anymore, but rather like a trapezoid. And if you put the paper on the surface to crease, it will not be captured nicely by the camera.

A tripod with a horizontal arm allows you to easily position the camera right above the folding area.

In either case, it is important that the camera stays in a fixed position. If it moves around, because you or a different person is holding it while recording, do not be surprised if your viewers complain about a feeling of sea sickness. One easy way to ensure your camera stays in place is to use a tripod. Some years ago I bought a tripod with a horizontal arm, which makes it extremely easy to record from a bird's eye view. It is probably one of the most time-saving devices I have bought for recording my videos aside from the video editing program I purchased about one and a half years ago.

But of course a tripod is not the only solution. You can, for example, use a shelf or build a small construct to get the camera in just the position you like. One thing to remember is that the better the positioning of the camera, the less time you will have to spend editing your video later. My new tripod eliminated all the times where I leaned forward a bit too far, and the back of my head appeared in the frame and, of course, covered the view on the model.

For those interested, I have a tripod by Manfrotto: While these tripods are a bit pricey, it has been more than worth the money. The tripod is of a very high quality, and I would not want to record my videos without it anymore.


Do ensure that the recording area is well-lit. There is nothing worse than a video shot with too little light. It will be hard to tell what is going on, no matter how good the quality of the instructions.

I am lucky and have two studio lights, which I got for my birthday a while back. When using strong lighting be sure to check how the shadows fall. While you want good lighting, you also want to avoid long, hard shadows, especially if they fall in just the wrong direction. When setting up my space, I will check how the shadows fall and adjust the lighting until I am happy. You should do the same. It takes less than five minutes, but will make such a huge difference.

I also remove natural lighting as much as possible. I usually record my videos in the early mornings, and with the sun rising the natural lighting will change considerably and become a distraction if it is not shut out. More often, though, it is clouds that distract, because they can change the light situation from one second to the next. It is best when the lighting stays exactly the same throughout the recording.

Background Noise

I have mentioned this a couple of times now, but I fear I must mention it again here: It is good to avoid any and all outside elements that might distract viewers. Background noise is one of those distractions.

This is the main reason why I record in the early mornings. I do not want any background noise. This includes kids playing outside, but also any noise my husband might produce once he is awake. I pay special attention to this, because I give verbal instructions while recording. If you will not speak while recording, it is not as important. Then you can remove the audio from the video. However, even in that case I think it is nice to hear the paper move.

I do know that some people add background music to their instructional videos. I have to admit I am no great fan of musical embellishment. (Although some viewers have said I should speak less (to put it politely)). I think it is best to give guidance while folding, and second-best is letting the paper speak. But I will say that background music is better than hearing the stray noise of a TV or radio playing in a nearby room.

Do be aware that you will never be able to please everyone. Therefore, stay true to what you think works best, and what style of video you think is nicest. Indeed, you will find that each video producer has their own style. For example, I always add verbal instructions, Jo Nakashima never does, Tadashi Mori sometimes does and sometimes does not, and the British Origami Society works with background music.

Useful Items

Finally, before starting to record, be sure to have all items you may need handy.

  • Diagrams, even if you know the model by heart. Sometimes you may get stuck and having a quick reference will be really helpful then. I always have the diagrams lying a glance away, even though I often do not consult them.
  • A folded model and the sizes of the starting sheet and the final model. If you have the numbers written down, you do not have to worry about memorizing the numbers and thinking about how to best phrase everything.
  • Always keep a marker and a pointing device ready.
    A pointing device, in case you want to show your viewers a specific reference point or hidden point. I usually use a bone folder for this, but a pen should probably work just as well. As before, it is good to avoid anything shiny and patterns, though.
  • A marker if you plan to mark some creases. I am known to draw in many creases in my videos. While you may not want to take it to that extreme, it will sometimes prove useful to mark particular creases to clarify what the next step entails.
  • Paper, you do want to fold something, right? I commonly use 6-in (15-cm) squares for simple models and 9.5-in (24-cm) squares for more advanced models. The Kami I use is produced by An example source for the 15cm squares is OrigamiUSA's TheSource and for the 24-cm, Kim's Crane.
  • Video Camera. Right, we need one of those. I have a camera that has a small screen than can be tilted. This allows me to see the frame I am capturing while I am recording. I have found this to be extremely useful. One disadvantage is that when I look up or down to see the model or the screen, the audio will be recorded at different levels. My camera also has the ability to automatically balance out small disruptions. I always deactivate this feature. Essentially, when I shoot a video, the table does not move. But when the paper moves just slightly, the camera will wrongly try to correct the small disruption. In general, get to know your camera and the features to enable or disable to get the best quality recording from it.
  • A microphone can hugely increase the audio quality. As mentioned before, a built-in microphone will be sensitive to how you are holding your head relative to the camera. I have to admit that if I were to buy a camera today, I would ensure that it allows me to attach an external microphone. But when I bought my camera I was still a bit clueless, and now I work with what I have. But if you are still thinking about which camera to use, that is one feature I would consider.

A Small Test

Please remember that above I give guidelines only. You may disagree on some of them and decide to not follow all of them. This video by Joost Langeveld violates some of the guidelines I just gave you, but still results in a nice video.

Now as a test to yourself: Can you identify which of my guidelines the video follows, and which is does not? Scroll to the end of the page to see my evaluation.

My Evaluation

Practice the Fold
Joost obviously knows this model well. This should not come as a big surprise, as he presents his own designs. His fingers sometimes hide parts of the model, but I believe that is due to the paper size he chose.
Paper Choice: Color
Joost usually uses patterned paper, which does give many of his models the special something. In this video he uses black paper. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of that does show a couple of times in the video. For example, around 8:30 you cannot really see what step to perform next, because all you see is a black area.
Paper Choice: Size
The video would probably be easier to follow if Joost had chosen bigger paper. In the end the model is quite small, and it is hard to show the details and not hide the model behind the movement of your fingers.
Example Model
Joost shows the model in the beginning, as well as how it jumps. In the description he also mentions that spiders folded from small paper jump better. It would have been nice to include this in the video itself, as well as a recommended size and the size of the resulting spider.
Clean Hands
This video obviously does not have a plain backdrop. While such decoration can be distracting, you can also use it to give the video a special feel. Joost also folds completely in the air, rather than using a surface to make some of the creases.
Camera Position
Joost uses a first-person perspective. Recording this perspective is easier if you are folding in the air, which may partly explain why Joost does this. It is also worth noting that the frame only shows the model and Joost's folding hands without much free space around it. This allows a quite detailed view of the folding process.
Background Noise