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Impossibly-Compact Folding

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Taking compact vehicles to the next level.
Barnacle Boy: Drive? What do you know about driving the Invisible Boatmobile?
SpongeBob: Tons. Like the windshield wipers are right here. [pushes a button]
Barnacle Boy: Don't touch that button, that's the... [folds into origami swan] ... Origami Button.

In some works, a character will pull out a small piece of paper or metal, which will then unfold to an object many times its original size. In others, a large object will fold itself up into a smaller one. Either way, the object becomes much smaller than is at all reasonable (and may also change mass accordingly) through folding.

Very common in Zeerust settings, being explained as a result of advanced technology. This goes without saying, but while real life technology does tend to become more and more compact as time goes on, it simply can't overcome the basic principles of physics.

A subtrope of Hammerspace and Toon Physics, and a supertrope of Telescoping Robot. May overlap with Bag of Holding, Bigger on the Inside, Transforming Mecha, Swiss-Army Weapon, Retractable Weapon or Collapsible Helmet. Fold-Spindle Mutilation does this (messily) to a person.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Chrome Shelled Regios: The dites, which, for something that collapses into a perfect box the size of a remote control, can be anything from a pistol to a surfboard-sized BFS.

    Comic Books 
  • The Flash's entire costume is stored inside his ring, but the folding is aided with a special shrinking gas.
  • Iznogoud features an example of this. In "Iznogoud's Nightmarish Birthday", he opens a very small box and extracts a small piece of paper and proceeds to unfold it (it's so small that he needs a magnifying glass to start to unfold it). When completely unfolded, the paper is several metres large. Of course, the box had been given to him by the guild of mages...
  • At one point in the original comic-book version of The Tick, the Tick and Arthur take a road trip; the Tick insists that he knows how to fold up their (standard US-style) road map, but every time he tries, he produces an even larger wad of paper, until he's filled up the entire backseat of the car with it.
  • In the Silver and Bronze Ages, Superman used to hide his civilian clothes by folding it up to the size of a wafer; everything he wore was chemically treated to survive the super-pressure this required. This process, oddly enough, only worked on items which were red, white, or blue, resulting in a very limited wardrobe for Clark. No word on what he did with his shoes (or how he hid his boots and cape under Clark's socks and shirt while wearing both).
  • In the 1970's and 80's Tony Stark routinely carried around his Iron Man armour in a slim briefcase barely larger than a contemporary laptop case. "Depolarizing" the armour mesh supposedly rendered it ultra-super-mega-compressible, but a shot of the open case once clearly showed the mask alone taking up most of the interior space. In one instance Stark was thrown out of an aircraft in flight and, while in freefall, he was able to open the briefcase, don the modular pieces of the armour one by one, and ignite his boot jets seconds before hitting the ocean! Many, many laws of physics were harmed during this production. But so what? It was awesome!

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Simpsons Movie, Homer has a small billboard-sized poster of Alaska folded up to the size of a business card.
  • In Despicable Me 2, Lucy Wilde's teeny-tiny car suddenly sprouts massive sternplanes, rudders and engines — all obviously bigger than the entire volume of the vehicle — when it transforms into a submarine. Impossible, but perfectly in conformity with the Rule of Funny.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Unlike the original manga, where objects are stored and released in a puff of smoke, a capsule for a motorcycle in Dragon Ball Evolution is depicted as folding mechanically.
  • In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, when Balthazar gives Dave the book, Dave marvels at how tiny and light it is. Balthazar then proceeds to unfold it several times until it's the size of an atlas, and hands it to Dave, who no longer finds it light. Balthazar then picks the top and lifts it and the book also becomes thick as a technical manual, nearly making Dave lose his balance.
  • In Transformers, the All Spark cube goes from the size of a house to the size of a basketball. It also, apparently, forgoes the conservation of mass by allowing a teenager to lift it without trouble.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man 2, introduces the Mark V or more colloquially know as the "Suitcase Suit". A full-body Iron Man Suit, all inside a briefcase. Although it's evened out by the fact that it's clearly not as durable as a regular suit, and it's not seen if it can fly, having to sacrifice a few things just to be compact.
    • A slightly realistic and downplayed version of this trope (surprisingly enough) appears in Captain America: Civil War. When fighting Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier who was brainwashed by Baron Zemo, Tony is revealed to have a special Iron Man Gauntlet stored within a custom wristwatch and seems to be foreshadowing of how Stark is close to understanding nanotech. Although the gauntlet is clearly more of a deterrent or self-defense weapon rather than a offensive one, as it lacks the repulsor rays his gauntlet are known for, but it still has a bulletproof construction as it manages to block a point-blank shot from a pistol.
    • In Black Panther (2018), the Black Panther suit is conveniently stored in a decorative necklace, thanks to a combination of Minovsky Physics and nanotech.
    • By Avengers: Infinity War, Tony finally manages to catch up to Wakanda-tech and has his own Instant Iron Man Nanotech Armor. Stored in a chest device over his Arc Reactor. To make it even more improbable, thanks to it's Nanotechnology the suit is capable of having Shapeshifter Weapon arsenal!
  • Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare: While the teens are cruising around the abandoned Springwood, Carlos unfolds a road map to see where they are. It just keeps unfolding and unfolding until it fills up the whole van, with a part of the map saying "You're fucked!". This is then revealed to be a nightmare.
  • A gag in Buster Keaton's The High Sign involves Keaton unfolding a newspaper that just keeps going, then struggling to fold it up again.

  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • Glory Road. The foldbox which carries all of the team's equipment.
      Rufo's baggage turned out to be a little black box about the size and shape of a portable typewriter. He opened it. And opened it again. And kept on opening it and kept right on unfolding its sides and letting them down until the durn thing was the size of a small moving van and even more packed.
    • In the short story —And He Built a Crooked House—, a mad architect designs a house in the form of an unfolded tesseract (four-dimensional cube); it is constructed in Southern California; an earthquake causes it to fold up. Into the fourth dimension.
  • Planetron, star of two children's books about the solar system and the galaxy, unfolds from the size of a toy robot to a fully functional spaceship, and back.
  • Played for horror in China Miéville's Kraken when a pair of baddies use magical 4-dimensional folding to hide themselves in a small package in order to break into the hero's home, and later to kill the folding expert who taught it to them, giving disturbing new meaning to "tying up loose ends".
  • This is how Unseen University's Cabinet of Curiosity works in Discworld. In its "dormant" state, it looks like a simple wooden cabinet. When you slide out a drawer, it slides out much further than it should. And the drawer has other drawers along its sides which do likewise. When we first see it in Making Money, it's fully extended (or as fully extended as the wizards have managed so far) and looks like an enormous tree with an unusual amount of right angles. Collapsing it causes a partial vacuum.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: Wesley's folding wrist blade/sword in later series. Could function as a short 'assassin' style retractable blade or could unfold with a 'swinging' motion into a full-blown long sword in one of the simpler yet cooler special effects to appear on the show.
  • Babylon 5: Minbari battle staff instantly extends from a small hand-held cylinder when you shake it.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Jaffa helmets fold down into the collar, apparently having relatively thick armor.
    • The Iris also folds up into a thin ring around the edge of the Stargate.
  • In the Star Trek: Discovery episode "Brother", a portable gravity field generator starts as a small slab about the size of a manhole cover that can be carried by two people. When activated, it unfolds into a complex contraption larger than a minivan.
  • Walt Disney Presents: In "A Day in the Life of Donald Duck", Donald parks his car at the Disney Studio and a cop makes him aware that he's in a "No Parking" zone. Donald responds by folding his car to miniature size and hiding it under his hat.
  • In one episode of Batman (1966), Bruce presents Dick with instant batsuits, which were dehydrated and folded down to be no larger than vitamin tablets. To get the suits back up to size, the two Just Add Water.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Norse Mythology: Skidbladnir is a Dwarf-built ship that could carry all the gods and all their gear while magically raising good winds. It also folds up small enough to carry in one's pocket.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues, Mission 4. In order to enter Troubleshooter Headquarters, the PCs must enter a huge machine. If they stall, then an NPC enters to demonstrate how safe it is, and the machine folds in on itself repeatedly until it's the size of a suitcase. If they don't stall, well, activate clones.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Module I12 "Egg of the Phoenix". The title egg is an homage to the foldbox in the Glory Road entry in the Literature section. It can be opened up multiple times, each time becoming larger.
    • There is also a folding boat.
    • In 4th Ed., there's the "Compact Folding Astral Skiff", which folds to the size of a backpack and only weighs a few pounds, but folds out to a full-sized astral skiff which requires a crew of four. Of course, like many items in the book it's introduced in, it has some weird multidimensional physics applied to it.
  • In GURPS Ultra-Tech this appears to be possible at Tech Level 10, which includes such things as the "Suitcase Doc", which just keeps unfolding life support systems, surgical manipulators and diagnostic sensors as needed, the "Dynamic Car", which folds into a box when not in use (or, if an enemy hacks its systems, while in use) and the "Backpack Dragonfly", a microlight aircraft that can be carried in a backpack, and unfolded in seconds.

    Video Games 
  • Astroneer: Pretty much all objects built by an Astroneer can unfold from a noticeably smaller packages - and can be folded right back with a one-use Packager.
  • The Pokémon games feature a bike that can be folded up small enough to fit into a backpack, although this may just be an example of Bag of Holding.
  • Manny Calavera of Grim Fandango can fold up his huge Sinister Scythe to fit in his coat pocket.
  • Everything in Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Apparently that wooden bridge can be turned into a folded up sticker the size of a rubber band ball then chucked across the map. Then unfolded and stuck back down in place. See about two minutes into this video.

    Web Animation 
  • In Minilife TV, Chris owns a car and a scooter that can both fold themselves into a 1x1 square.
  • Monsterbox: The birdhouses the old man sells are compressed into an impossibly compact size and held in place by a thread tied around them. Loosening the thread causes the birdhouses to pop back into their original shape.
  • RWBY is a series where almost everyone uses a Swiss-Army Weapon, some of which make limited, excusable use of this. And then there's Coco Adel, whose briefcase-sized Handbag of Hurt can somehow expand into an enormous minigun. Amusingly enough, when she uses the briefcase as a melee weapon, it seems to actually weigh enough to seriously hurt Grimm.

  • xkcd strip #2534 "Retractable Rocket" features a retractable rocket, which doesn't take off — it just extends itself upwards until it's tall enough to reach the ISSnote , then retracts back down again.

    Western Animation 
  • The Jetsons: George Jetson's car could fold up into a briefcase, which he can easily carry into his workplace in the show's intro.
  • The Back to the Future pilot, "Brothers", combines this with Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Doc includes a new security feature on the DeLorean, which makes it fold up into the size of a briefcase, but it still weighs as much as a full-size car.
  • Phineas and Ferb loves using this.
    • In "Summer Belongs to You" Ferb unfolds a map from a roughly two-by-two inch square into a world map larger than the house it was leaning on.
    • The boys' "Plataposterior" robot from "Perry Lays an Egg" is about 10 feet tall, but folds up into a square that fits in Ferb's front shirt pocket.
    • Their initial plan in "Journey to the Center of Candace'' was a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot into Pinky the Chihuahua's stomach to retrieve Isabella's sash by folding it to microscopic size.
    • The full-sized chemistry lab they carry around with them qualifies.
    • The "Wrapped up in a nice little boxinator" literally compacts Dr. Doofenshmirtz's WHOLE BUILDING into a tiny box.
  • Inspector Gadget: The Gadget Hat and Shoes are half-this and half Hammerspace, even more so in the live-action movies.
  • A common gag on Looney Tunes is for a character to fold a large box, door or what have you, into a square the size of a matchbox.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Pushing the origami button on Mermaid Man's invisible boatmobile folds it and everyone inside into a paper swan.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer folds a Giant Novelty Check into a small wad and stuffs it into his pocket. Then it expands.
    • Marge buys Homer some large underwear for Christmas. After making sure it'll fit him by asking two clerks to wear it together, one clerk then folds up the bed sheet-sized underwear and stuffs into a gift box that would fit a wedding ring. He warns her to be careful when opening it.
  • On one The Pink Panther cartoon, Pink is hungry, so he folds up the background to the size of an index card, sprinkles salt on it and eats it. It then unfolds inside him.
  • In Car of Tomorrow, there was a car "designed to fit the working man's pocket". The man driving it steps out, folds it up, tucks it in his jacket pocket and walks off.
  • Lampshaded with the credits of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which Bullwinkle claims "are all here on this itty-bitty card"; the card then folds out to list the cast and crew.
  • The Flintstones: In the episode "The Hit Song Writers", the celebrity songwriter Hoagy performs Fred and Barney's song on piano, then immediately folds the piano into a briefcase and exits the stage.
  • On How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, Goofy opens the "easy" instructions for the home theater. Unfolded, they cover most of the room.
  • Common for Aviva's inventions on Wild Kratts, such as the miniaturizer and the remote time-trampoline.
  • Rick and Morty: In order to perform a test, Rick orders Jerry to fold himself in half twelve times. First, Jerry actually does it, becoming impossibly flat and small, and second, he can only manage six folds. From this, Rick deduces the exact model number of the Lotus-Eater Machine he's in.
  • Penelope Pitstop from Wacky Races drives the ultra-girly Compact Pussycat, the #5 car. During the series intro, Penelope presses a button that compacts her car into a handheld ladies compact, and proceeds to touch up her face with the normal-sized powderpuff within the compact. Being beautiful, it seems, is more important to Penelope than winning stages.

    Real Life 
  • The current world record for folding a piece of paper in half is 12 times. That's about 4,096 layers (2^12). It was done with an incredibly long "roll" of toilet paper, folded lengthwise. (For the record, the most you can get with notebook-style paper is 7, maybe 8 depending on folding technique. 8 folds is possible with tracing paper.) The MythBusters managed to get 11 folds in alternating directions, but this required a "sheet" of paper the size of a football field and the assistance of a forklift and a steamroller.
  • Vacuum packs kind of sort of do this with your clothes and other cloths since a good chunk of their volume is air.
  • "Astronaut Blankets", or metallic Mylar sheets, come in a pack no bigger than say two of those tissue packs stacked on their side, and can fold out to cover about a 8'x4' area. Considering these are normally meant for campers, it's better if they're tiny. On the other hand, any camper who has actually had a reason to open one has discovered the joys of trying to fold it back into that size. (It's not possible, by the way, not without machines.)
  • One of Roald Dahl's teachers proved to his class that a sheet of paper 1/4" thick, folded 50 times in half, would reach from the Earth to the Sun.
  • Many engineers are working to create objects capable of this trick, working from the premise that much of the problem is in the empty space and unnecessary excess material present in most objectsnote  The holy grail is an object that functions like a dome tent — a bare-bones but strong and stable structure large enough to comfortably sleep two or more adults, which folds into a tiny bundle of tubes and cloth easily stored inside a hiker's pack. The mass remains constant, but unnecessary empty space is eliminated.
    • When folded, much like the tent, the object would be condensed into an ultra-compact form- ideally a nearly solid block or tube. When unfolded, however, a collapsible device could expand into a significantly larger structure utilizing Hoberman lattice structures and inflatable supports kept rigid by compressed air or a honeycomb structure, potentially covered in a thin layer of metal, plastic, or carbon fiber skin to give the illusion of a solid object. A well engineered device could be just as strong or stronger than an equivalent solid device, but much lighter. A shovel could fold to fit in a pocket, a self-deploying multi-wing modern surgical hospital in a single (rather heavy) shipping container, needing only the addition of perishable supplies, a water source, and staff.
    • Nanotech could take this even further by allowing the empty space to be minimized on a molecular level, condensing an entire structure into a solid ingot of material containing all the mass needed to extrude the full structure.
  • Similar to the above, available ultralight camping/backpacking equipment approaches this. A sleeping bag/quilt might compact to the size of a beer can and weigh less than a pound, yet expand out to become a thick, fluffy warm bed. A tent/tarp might be the size of a book but be entirely capable of sheltering multiple people against rain or snow. Even the clothing is often this way; wind shells roll up small enough to fit in your pocket but cover your entire body and provide more warmth per weight than any other article of clothing. This can occasionally be visually spectacular to a newcomer, as a complete campsite can be set up from the contents of a small bag in a matter of a few minutes.


Video Example(s):


Varecut's Hovermov

Dr. Varecut pulls out of his pocket a small, weird-looking nanorobotic device that, when launched into the air, turns into a hovermov in milliseconds.

How well does it match the trope?

3.33 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ImpossiblyCompactFolding

Media sources: