Mariano Zavala can do amazing things with a piece of paper. With a few precise folds, one mottled gray sheet becomes a regal elephant. Creative creases transform bright green paper into a lifelike praying mantis.

A self-taught origami artist based in Lima, Peru, Zavala's work has earned a following on social media. Not only does he show his finished creations on Facebook, but he also shows video tutorials on YouTube.

He talked to MNN about how he developed an interest and talent in the traditional Japanese art of paper folding.

"With origami I discovered a way to develop the skills in the art that I have," Zavala says. "I love three-dimensional sculpture, to work with my hands, shape, the figures. And origami has all that, besides it gives me many benefits, such as concentration, patience, creativity, motor skills, mathematical theories, etc."

origami triceratops
This origami triceratops is hardly extinct in Zavala's world. Designed by Fumiaki Kawahata, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)

Zavala says he has come to know and value nature through the variety of figures — from animals to insects to dinosaurs — that he is able to create through origami. Plus, he says, it's a simple craft to pursue.

"It is a very noble art and does not require much investment. Only a few materials are needed: some kind of paper (tissue paper, rice paper, etc.), school synthetic glue or methylcellulose."

origami koala
An attentive koala is perhaps looking for origami bamboo. Designed by David Llanque, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)

Zavala started to teach himself origami several years ago and says now it has become his lifestyle. Although he majored in marketing, he loved art as a child — he made figures out of modeling clay and pursued music through piano and guitar classes.

"Finally in 2009, origami captivated me completely," he says. "I have conducted origami workshops for high school, universities and private classes. Now, I'm making videos of origami tutorials. I like to help and share all my years of experience with the portfolio."

origami Hatsune Miku
Japanese character Hatsune Miku is one of Zavala's favorite subjects. Designed and folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)

Zavala's subjects range from dogs and dinosaurs to caribou and chameleons. He has tackled insects and birds, flowers and pop culture characters. He admits to having a few favorites.

"I love insects in origami like beetles, they look so real. I also like the mythological characters like Mahoraga/Makora Taisho, or my design Hatsune Miku from Japanese culture," he says. "I spend many hours, even days, shaping them, to make them look as real as possible."

origami bulldog
The origami bulldog was Zavala's first creation. Designed and folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)

One of Zavala's first pieces was his now well-known dog.

"I started designing my bulldog several years ago and until I felt comfortable with the result, I couldn't show it," he says. "Designing a figure in origami takes a lot of time. You have to analyze the animal or character you want to perform and study its physiognomy (structure) to achieve a good result and look as real as possible."

origami praying mantis
This praying mantis looks like it was just out in the woods.Designed by Satoshi Kamiya, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)

Zavala sometimes creates origami art of his own design and sometimes creates origami designed by other artists. So far, Zavala says he's only been able to fold dragons and insects that other authors have designed. He'd like to be able to create his own eventually.

"It is easier to fold a figure from another author, because diagrams are already published in magazines or books of origami," he explains.

"In this case I only make my paper, I fold the figure and shaping — which is the most important part for me — that gives life to the paper. All this can take a week to finish a figure."

Here's a look at more of Zavala's creased creations.

origami owl
A wise origami owl imparts his wisdom. Designed by Fernando Castellanos, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)
origami caribou
There's amazing detail in this caribou's antlers. Designed by Satoshi Kamiya, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)
origami elephants
An elephant watches over her origami offspring. Designed by Sipho Mabona, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)
origami kitten
What big eyes you have, origami kitten. Designed by Fernando Gilgado, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)
penguin origami
All dressed up, a parent and little penguin strut their papery stuff. Designed by Hsi-hua Liu, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)
Yakushi Nyorai, the healing Buddha, and his two generals, origami
Yakushi Nyorai, the healing Buddha, is flanked by his two heavenly generals. Designed by Hojyo Takashi, folded by Mariano Zavala. (Photo: Mariano Zavala)