02/16/2011 08:53 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

One Piece Of Paper. Fold. No Cuts. 'Between The Folds' Is A Thriller.

One piece of paper. Folded. No cuts.

Yes, origami.

On a rainy day when you were a kid, you made a bird.


Please. You have put away childish things.

Fine. But I want you to buy/rent/download --- like: right away -- "Between the Folds," a 60-minute documentary that profiles the world's greatest origami artists. And not for the origami. For the artists. For the inspiration. [To buy the DVD of "Between the Folds" from Amazon, click here. To rent a download of the movie and watch it now, click here. To buy the download, click here.]

What these gents do with a single piece of paper --- for once, the word "mind-blowing" is an accurate description. Because if someone can take an uncut paper square and turn it into a figure so complex that collectors line up to buy it... well, we're not talking about a little bird that flaps its wings anymore, are we? Watch:

This movie, from first-time director Vanessa Gould, edited by Kristi Barlow, takes us to the intersection of engineering, mathematics and art --- a place so challenging only very special people can go there. (Or would want to, because a single piece of this kind of origami can take hundreds of hours to invent, refine and, finally, create.) One by one, we meet these creators.

Gloomy about the human experiment? Think the current tsunami of stupidity in media and politics will become permanent? Stunned at the lack of entrepreneurial spark in the land?

I was too. No more. For as I watched "Between the Folds," many of the origami artists --- and two in particular --- fascinated me, inspired me and more: They almost convinced me that I can be much more creative.

Start with Erik Demaine. A child prodigy. Home schooled. Started college at 12, graduated at 14. He was 20 when he joinedthe MIT faculty --- the youngest professor in its history. Winner of a MacArthur "genius" award? Of course.

This is what he makes. This is why:

Paper folds itself into a natural equilibrium form depending on its creases. These equilibria are poorly understood, especially for curved creases. We are exploring what shapes are possible in this genre of self-folding origami, with applications to deployable structures, manufacturing, and self-assembly. This transformation of flat paper into swirling surfaces creates sculpture that feels alive.

Don't feel badly if some of that eluded you. Just appreciate what exposure to thinking at that level does to your mind. Mental temperature rising? Good.

Eric Joisel was --- tragically, he died in 2010, at 53 --- a more accessible genius. He was French, with a continental appreciation of the absurd. His figures were wry, expressive, one of a kind. They were also so complex, so lifelike, that he often needed very large pieces of paper: a rectangle measuring more than 15 feet by 25 feet.

Musicians, barbarians, Renaissance actors - his figures were less than a foot high, but their detail was exacting. No wonder it took him as long as five years to design some of them.

You watch these men work. You see their commitment. You gasp at how much they can create with so little. And, if you're like me, you walk around for a few days afterward with fresh eyes, looking for a way to make your contribution. Or just appreciating the rich possibilities around you.

"Between the Folds" will set your head on fire.

[Cross-posted from]