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The Evolution of Origami Ungulates

This article was originally published in the August/September 1998 issue of Imagiro. A revised and expanded version appears here.

On July 15, 1998, a former co-worker of mine (writer Daniel Canty) challenged me to fold The Last White Rhinoceros of Kilimanjaro. There are, of course, many good rhinoceros designs. David Brill's is very nicely done (see below), as are examples by Montroll, Maekawa, Kasahara and Joisel. I wanted to make mine distinctive, but how could I do that?

I started by making a study of the rhinoceros. I found out that there are five species of rhino: two large ones in Africa, and three smaller (and rarer) species in the jungles of southeast Asia. Since the African rhinos are more distinctive (and since I had better photos of them), I focused on them.

The white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum or Diceros simus) is a plains creature, feeding on grass. It is slightly larger than the black rhino, is usually lighter in colour, and has a larger hump on the back between the shoulders. To aid in feeding, its mouth is wide and flat, allowing it to munch on larger amounts of grass at a time, biting it off quite close to the ground. Its typical posture is with its head down as it grazes. This posture is perfect, since it gives the rhino a sad look which is appropriate for the "last rhino".

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) lives in the scrub that grows at the edge of the plains and feeds on leaves. Aside from its (usually) darker colour, its most distinguishing feature is its mouth: it has a long, flexible upper lip that it uses to pluck leaves off of the trees and bushes. Both rhinos typically have two horns that are actually formed of fused hair and that grow continuously throughout the animal's life (so horns that are broken off can regrow). The longest horn on record was over 5 feet long.

In designing this rhino, I wanted to focus on several traits. These were

  1. the overall massiveness of the animal,
  2. the detailing of the head (eyes, nostrils, horns, ears, mouth),
  3. the toes,
  4. the hump between the shoulders,
  5. the roundness of the belly, and
  6. the socket-like shoulder where the front legs join the body.

I chose this set of traits because I felt that none of the designs I'd seen captured traits (3) to (6) effectively.

Crease pattern for the Brill/Montroll/Kasahara rhinoceros designs.

I started off with the base that Brill, Montroll (I think), and Kasahara all used (see crease pattern above). I found, however, that the proportions of that base did not allow for detailed feet, a rounded belly, or for a lower jaw. Also, the feet tended to be too short and too thin. (Of course, on a real rhino, the legs are quite thin proportionate to the body, but they always seem to look too spindly when done that way on an origami rhino.) A modification of the base (see crease pattern below) gave me the proportions I needed as well as the extra point for forming the mouth. An octagonal sink of the mouth point allowed the formation of nostrils and both jaws.

Crease pattern for my rhinoceros designs.

The Last White Rhinoceros of Kilimanjaro.

The black rhino variant is essentially the same as the white rhino, with the head raised (thus reducing the shoulder hump), and the mouth modified into a long, grasping upper lip. I've since discovered that its head should also be changed to make it shorter and rounder. A photo of the black rhino can be seen here. The designs for both rhinos were completed on July 16, 1998.

After seeing the rhinoceros models on July 19, 1998, my father challenged me to come up with a design for a Chinese water buffalo. The Chinese people consider large, fat oxen to be symbols of prosperity, and have included the ox as one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. My father was born in the Year of the Ox, so such a model was of particular interest to him.

Crease pattern for the Cape buffalo.

Using the same base, I managed to design the Cape (or African) buffalo (Syncerus caffer). Several of the points on the head were reassigned to different purposes to create two large side-ways pointing horns rather than two forward-pointing horns (see crease pattern above). These horns are actually colour-changed, although this is not visible in the models I've folded from elephant hide. Special care was given to the formation of the eyes and of the lips. This buffalo was completed on July 20, 1998. A photo of the Cape buffalo can be seen here.

Noting that I needed a smaller head and a fatter body for the Chinese buffalo, I adjusted the proportions of the base. The rhino base used a division of the paper's edge that was approximately 0.4142 [tan(22.5)] of the length of the square. By reducing this amount to 0.375 [3/8], a base with the proper proportions for a Chinese buffalo was formed (see crease pattern below). The horn structure was also changed to reflect the differences between the two animals. The new horn structure also gave an opportunity to add extra detail to the eyes. The change in proportions was achieved within a few days, but the adjustment of the head details took longer, so this buffalo was not completed until August 10, 1998.

Crease pattern for the Chinese water buffalo.

The animal I've chosen to call the Chinese water buffalo is properly called the Asian (or Indian) water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis). It is widely domesticated throughout southeast Asia. In the final model, I've tried to emphasize the animal's round, fat belly to make it more appealing to Chinese people. People have commented on the model's liveliness, but I would like to give it more character. Perhaps a different pose would make the buffalo more lively. As always, the design process can continue on forever if I let it. However, until inspiration strikes again, I am content to call this model completed, and I dedicate it to my father.

Chinese water buffalo.

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