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Tunnel Books: The art and history of immersive 3D scenes

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Books have taken a variety of forms throughout their long history, from clay tablets to papyrus scrolls, from accordion fold books to today’s pages held together with a central spine. Tunnel books are an artful extension of this evolution, using layers of paper to craft immersive three-dimensional scenes.

In this video from the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida, Curator of Rare Books Neil Weijer takes a closer look at a few incredible tunnel books from the 1700s through today.

accordion structure book

“Their origins, like so many experiments with printed books can actually be traced back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when Renaissance scholars were elaborating on the camera obscura, which used lenses to project an image onto a flat surface while preserving its perspective.”

peep show book through the lens
The video includes A Feast in the Woods (c.1750), Martin Engelbrecht’s hand-colored accordion structure diorama. A more portable version of a peep box or raree show, the layered scene could be placed into a wooden viewing box and seen through a lens.

Created to commemorated one of the first zoos in Paris, Le Jardin d’Acclimatation (c.1880) is a French fold-out panel book that features lions, monkeys, birds, and marine life in toy-theater scenes.

layers of Le Jardin d’Acclimatation (c.1880)
Little Red Riding Hood (c.1950), a moveable book by illustrator Patricia Turner, is a captivating carousel book that opens into six separate tunnel-view scenes.

carousel book
Watch these videos about scenes and books next:
• Walt Disney explains his studio’s multiplane camera technology
How the V&A recreated an 18th-century Mechanical Theatre
• The evolution of the book
• The art of making a book: Setting type, printing, and binding by hand
The hidden art of fore-edge painting
• The Magic Moment: Work by paper engineer Peter Dahmen
This Book is a Planetarium by Kelli Anderson

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