Behind the scenes of the Origami World Marathon

Next weekend (September 9th – 10th) a unique online event takes place: the Origami World Marathon. BOS member Lee Armstrong met up with organiser Ilan Galibri to hear about this global origami phenomenon.

Lee: The first online marathon was back in the pandemic, when we are all learning how to do origami online and its now in its 4th year. Can you tell us about how it started and what’s happened since?

Ilan: The whole idea came into my head in about 5 seconds… I was driving on the highway, it was March 2020, the pandemic was out there and the traffic was so low, and I was thinking “there is some potential in this… it should be online, let’s do something big, lets do it around the world, lets do it 48 hours”, and it was there – just like that!

Lee: A flash of inspiration?

Ilan: yes just like that it comes, when you are in the zone, you’re in the zone!

So the first call I made was to Guy Loel, because we are working together in origami Israel on projects – he in an actor in the theatre, so he had a lot of free time. Guy immediately said yes. I said “we cannot do it by ourselves, we need someone who understands the global market”, so I approached Nicolas Terry, who understands the global market – and he immediately said yes.

Believe it or not we started around April to send emails to people and miraculously it happened in August. The first marathon was very spontaneous, everyone was very enthusiastic about it, and we managed to bring a lot of people – about 850 people attended.

Lee: So since then how has the event progressed – you’re now on year 4, you must have learnt a lot?


Immediately after the previous marathon we start to plan who to invite. We sit and plan – we have people we want to have again, and we try to have at least one third of new creators, and after 2 figurative to have a modular (its not always possible!). So we have to balance figurative and geometric, the difficulty level, the location to make sure we cover all the timeslots, female and male, old and new artists all have to be balanced. Once you make it, it is almost impossible to change!

We start with about 60 artists, but not everyone will reply with a suitable model, so we end with exactly 48 people. We are paying the artists – but how much depends on how many people come, so while we are paying everyone, it is not really covering all hours you put into it. We ask them to record videos, in case anything happens on the day and because with the marathon the idea is we upload the pre-recorded video, so the quality is controlled, the pace is very easy, we don’t have any disturbances. It also means we can learn the model, in case it was too difficult, too complex, or too long. So people give us videos by January, and then we start to build the programme and the booklet. A lot of effort is done on that, all the graphic design too. And for the artists – from the third year onwards we are asking for new models – we promise people they can fold 48 brand new models.

The most important thing is to choose a very lovely lineup of models. Guy is all about the beauty and the elegance and the fun in the fold, and I’m more into the politics, let’s say. Lets make sure that we have simple models, new people, women as well as men, representing the community in a way and give more people the opportunity to be part of it. So there is always a fight – its not really a fight!

Lee: Its extraordinary. I’ve organised a few online conventions and its a lot of work, but this is on a different scale.

Ilan: We have a lot of experience now – the zoom instructions in order to not make mistakes, how to set the calendar, the links. Everything there is a process you have to go through, it goes on and on. We put in a lot of hours, its not profitable, but we are quite happy. Its a unique experience and a unique event.

Lee: So I know as well as having a third of new creators you have some superstars of the origami world, like Joseph Wu, Roman Diaz, but who would you say in the new creators we should really watch out for this time?

Ilan: I think Eliot Dupreé is a beautiful designer, Tatsumi from Japan, also Pierre-Yves Gallard has a very nice sense of humour, his inflatable T-Rex is adorable.

Lee: Its a great line up this year

Ilan, I’m very happy – we also have Mu-Tsun Tsai. He brought the pinwheel without cuts, it looks simple, but its highly complex and you have a handle on the back so you can actually rotate it – and its one single sheet of paper – of course. He was surprised that we found him – but with the help of Nicolas, we have access to quite a big pool of unknown – to the west, lets say unknown – artists, through his connections with China and Vietnam.

I hope that at a certain point people will approach us to say look – I’m young, I’m new, I have this kind of unique idea that no one did before. Also we take from the Convention for Creators website, to find people thorugh the Joisel Awards.

Lee: if a creator wanted to get involved they should join the CFC site?

Ilan: yes that’s one way, or they can contact us and say they want to participate in 2024, and I wish to submit a model.

Lee: So obviously you will be back next year, what is the future for the marathon?

Ilan: So in the pandemic we had so many people come, and we thought it would only go higher, but some of those who came in the first year realised… its not an event for beginners… to fully enjoy its an event where you need to know some origami. But we want numbers to go up, for organisers and teachers to be paid, so we are trying to go back up, to find new markets, for the teacher to have more people participating, so that we reach all those who are going to enjoy the event.

From the point of view of the format, we want to change to an asset that can stay there for ever. At the moment, after a year it goes back to the creator, and we to change that we have to change the business model. I think there’s no question that we are going to continue … because the event is so much fun, you get to know so many nice people, and it brings a bit of energy to the community, of creation, of innovation and sharing.

Lee – Ilan thank you so much. I thought I knew about the marathon, but its amazing to see how it all comes together. Best of luck for OWM4

Ilan :Thank you!

Details of the event and the programme available here

Registration page is here:

OWM4 – 48 creators, teaching 48 original new and unpublished models in 48 hours.

Teaching is done via Zoom, with online video streaming.

The ticket includes access to pre-recorded videos, from the moment the workshop ends, for a year.

Dates – September 9th-10th. (Since the event goes around the world, for some time-zones the dates start on the 8th or end on the 11th!)

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