Five Minutes With Harlow Russell, Austin-based Creator, Awesome 3D Cards

by Julie Tereshchuk on April 27, 2022 in Living Texas,

In today’s increasingly virtual world, a unique Austin company is on a mission to bring a breath of fresh air to how companies connect with their customers.

Using a popular technique long-established in the Far East, Awesome 3D Cards’ founder Harlow Russell is successfully combining his love of theatrics with a career that’s taken him from Hollywood to Vietnam and now back to Texas. 

Awesome 3D Cards’ founder Harlow Russell with one of his favorite projects — a 3D card of the Texas State Capitol. Courtesy photo

We caught up with this Austin-based entrepreneur recently to learn more about the story and technique behind his intriguing 3D pop-up card business. 

When did you first come to Texas?

I first arrived in Austin in 1983 — I was fresh out of college, and I had gotten a great job with Texas Instruments. But, I left for Hollywood in 1986. My mom retired in Austin in 1994, so I’ve been calling it “home” since. I moved back permanently in 2018 from Asia in order to take care of her in her final chapter. I love being back! 

How did you settle on the idea of your company, Awesome 3D Cards? 

I had lived in Vietnam for many years, so I was familiar with the Kirigami art form. I had been bringing these handmade cards back to family and friends for years, and everyone always loved them! What really made Awesome 3D Cards come to life was when I had a negative customer service experience here in Austin in 2018. I was told that I was a VIP customer, and then I was sent a generic $1 Thank You card. 

Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, located in the heart of downtown Austin, hosts the largest urban bat colony in the world, estimated at 1.5 million bats. This card captures 50 people to scale on the bridge watching the bats (cutouts) and is finely detailed masterpiece of Kirigami art. Photo courtesy Awesome 3D Cards

In my dissatisfaction with how I was treated, I thought to myself, “If they had sent me a Vietnamese-style 3D pop-up card, I would have been delighted, impressed, and surprised!” On my next trip back to Vietnam, I learned about the industry and created my first two Awesome 3D cards.

Where did the technique of folding/unfolding 3D cards originate?

Kirigami is an offshoot of Japanese origami. The Vietnamese form always has the folded paper moving inside a card, almost like a jack-in-the-box. It is a home industry in Vietnam, employing thousands of people creating handmade, beautiful micro-art.

What have been some of your favorite Texas projects to work on?

My first two concept cards for the business were the Texas State Capitol and the Congress Avenue “Bat” Bridge. Both showcased the detail that can be achieved, and were two well-known Austin landmarks, making them the perfect choice to launch the company. 

Since then, creating the COTA Tower, the Frost Bank building, the Pennybacker Bridge, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s electric guitar, and the Tesla CyberTruck (to be built in Austin) have been my favorite 3D models to showcase the art form and the business opportunities. Historical buildings like the Neill-Cochran House Museum and the La Belle 1684 ship at the Bullock Museum have also been very fun to create.

The electric guitar in this card is a tribute to Austin’s Stevie Ray Vaughan. Photo courtesy Awesome 3D Cards

Where are the cards made? And are they made by hand?

All Awesome 3D Cards are made in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in a number of quality workshops employing craftsmen and women. The 3D models are laser-cut to get great detail, then hand-assembled. No 3D printing, no glue! Then, the model is attached to the heavy art paper card with very fine wires. The faces of the cards are also laser-cut and sometimes color-printed to add the commercial value of the product for the companies who use them.

What one thing would you want someone to know about the cards?

At a time when we’re all looking for more direct non-virtual interaction, a physical card depicting some symbol which resonates with you and its recipient is a breath of fresh air.  It’s far nicer to receive a card than an unwanted email, which is reflected in response rates which are around 30 times those of email marketing.

Awesome 3D Cards helps cut through the “digital noise” to express gratitude, information, and sincerity in a unique personal way that delights, impresses and surprises.

Cover photo courtesy Awesome 3D Cards

Julie Tereshchuk is the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Lifestyle Magazine and a confirmed card sender.