Happy birthday Roald Dahl!

Roald Dahl creations brought to life in life-size paper reconstruction to mark 100 years since writer’s birth. A project created at Birmingham City University’s Design for Theatre, Performance and Events course in the UK.

Roald Dahl was born on the 13 September 1916 and passed away in 1990 having written dozens of books and short stories which have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.

Away from the written word, he was also an ace fighter pilot, a chocolate historian, a medical inventor and a spy.

Life-size versions of Roald Dahl’s most iconic creations have been hand-crafted from paper and cardboard as part of an exhibition celebrating 100 years since the writer’s birth.

Students on Birmingham City University’s Design for Theatre, Performance and Events course in the UK have created the unique structures which features a cast of Dahl’s most well-known characters from Matilda and George to Augustus Gloop and Fantastic Mr Fox.

The installation

The installation, which is made up of a set and characters constructed entirely from brown paper and cardboard, went on display at Birmingham City University’s Parkside building from February 8th until February 20th, 2017.

The exhibition imagines a 100th birthday party for Roald Dahl, attended by characters from the writer’s books. Books referenced in the exhibition include Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, George’s Marvellous Medicine, Fantastic Mr Fox and The Twits.

Among the creations are 12 characters, paper trees and furniture – including a replica of the original writing chair Dahl used to pen his classics, reconstructed to the exact dimensions of the piece which now sits in the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire.

The show is made up of 1 km of corrugated cardboard and 2 km of brown paper, with the first-year students working day and night over 18 days to pull together their creations.

The installation concept was designed completely by the students and is lit with specialised set lighting and includes a backdrop replicating the look and sound of giants from the BFG walking through the woods.

Interviewing Hollie Wright, Lecturer and Project Leader for the paper installation, speaks about the project

What kind of paper did you use in this project?

«Brown parcel paper, purchased on one metre wide rolls and corrugated packing card, purchased on 1.5 m wide rolls.»

What are the reasons for this choice?

«In using cheap and readily available materials we are able to take on a large scale project within the course budget. The project is all about student experience, of collaboration and realisation; tenacity cannot be taught – a student has to experience the pain of rolling paper for weeks on end, but when they see the effect of this as part of a whole it becomes worth it. As the material is also very flexible the students are more inclined to be experimental, also it seems to be less daunting as it’s familiar – if an arm is too long it can simply be cut off and remade!»

How many time was necessary in order to design and realize the installation?

«Students respond individually to a given theme and have one week to research and come up with a concept which is then pitched to a staff team. Once a design has been agreed the students had three weeks to realise it.»

How many staff and students participated in the project?

«Two lecturing staff, one experienced technical facilitator and the first year cohort – this year there were 22 students.»

How could you make solid figures?

«Each figure has an armature made from very tightly rolled paper tubes which are taped and hot glued to produce a frame, which is then stuffed with screwed up paper and clad. Finally, a costume masks all of the work underneath!»

Do you often use paper in educational projects and why?

«This is the only project whereby we prescribe and provide the paper for reasons above, however we often find students acknowledge how they have been experimental in using it and surprised by what they can achieve with it so often go on to use it in future practice.»

What other materials do you usually use?

«As the installation is open for several weeks and to the public we have to have an eye of health and safety, paper can only be made so strong, so where an element of the design is going to carry weight or needs to appear self-supporting (i.e. the tree) a very basic timber structure would be built within and then clad in the paper and card.»

Witnesses
«This year’s installation captures some beautiful details. It really is over to the students to devise methods to complete them to such a high standard of finish with such basic materials. «Having only been at university for a few months, the challenge of collaborating on such a scale must be daunting, one which the students embarked on positively. «Such lessons in tenacity cannot be taught in a lecture theatre and must be experienced. The sense of elation after many late nights and gruelling days, seeing their hard work come together, is tangible» Hollie Wright, Module Leader for the project said.
Roald Dahl Museum Director Steve Gardam spoke to the students about the writer’s life and work on their research trip and visited the installation for a special view: «What fantastic, creative collaboration», he said, «it was a privilege to see the work of these talented young people, inspired by their visit to the Museum and Dahl Country. «I loved the leafy woodland setting for the 100th birthday party for Roald Dahl, with his empty chair waiting for the guest of honour. «So many of his books grew out of the beautiful landscape of the Chilterns, where our Museum is based today, and it seems apt that a great artist – whose main tools were pencil and paper – has been celebrated in an explosion of paper and imagination.»
«It was an interesting challenge because we are not using the famous Quentin Blake drawings and had to go back to the original source to come up with the look and design of the characters» a student, Laura Watson, said.
Student Shirley Gilbertson added that «we had to make it realise so that when people come in they can recognise the characters, because you are really putting people’s childhoods out there. When we started this projected we didn’t really understand how big an impact Roald Dahl had had in his life outside of the writing, so it was really interesting to learn more about him.»

  • Life-size versions of Roald Dahl’s most iconic creations have been hand-crafted from paper and cardboard as part of an exhibition celebrating 100 years since the writer’s birth by students of Birmingham City University’s Design for Theatre, Performance and Events course in the UK.

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