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In conversation with Children's Literature Fellow Juliet Miranda Rowe

26 August 2022

We caught up with illustrator, animator, storyteller and 2022 Children's Literature Fellow Juliet Miranda Rowe to hear about their career path so far, and any words of wisdom they have for our Student members.


Q: Hi Juliet! Firstly, how’s your fellowship at the Library going?

A: Firstly, I can’t believe it’s July already! The year has certainly flown by. I was slow to start my research due to COVID-19 concerns at the start of the year, but I have now found a good rhythm by coming into the Library, and making friends with other fellows has certainly helped. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas around in the office or have a lunch buddy at Mr Tulk. My favourite moment so far has been going through a collection of pop-up doll houses in the Library’s Heritage Collections Reading Room. They were each so unique, with so many intricate details. I had to be very delicate opening them up, but it was a real joy to investigate how they were constructed. 

Q: Your 2022 fellowship project plans to explore the connection between the history of stage magic and the contemporary moving image. Where do you like to start your research for expansive projects like this one?

A: As a professional animator and illustrator, I can’t help but see things through how they relate to the moving image and sequential storytelling. It can often be very exhausting; my mind is always at work deconstructing images mentally to determine how they communicate what they do. What they’re distracting us from. It’s not unlike if you were trying to solve a magic trick. Our brains can only process so much at once, so we’re constantly editing information to make sense of things. 

Magicians use our perception to their advantage with a technique called redirection. Animators use a whole host of tricks and techniques to create the illusion of life. Cinema has always been this nexus between technology, art, entertainment and culture with its early history already connected to stage magic in a genre of shorts from the 1890s called Trick films, developed by French illusionist and filmmaker Georges Méliès. I also like to watch films where magicians and filmmakers have worked to create illusions by using film techniques and special effects. 

It’s wild to think that in just over 120 years, these techniques have gone from technological innovations to something the average teen can achieve alone on a single device they carry in their pocket. Our mobile phones play tricks on us all the time. Anyone who’s tried to take a photo at dusk can attest to that. However, they are a new lens through which we view the world. Somehow, even more, trusted than our own eyes, although we’re well aware of a phone’s capacity to deceive us.

With regard to my research for this project, I have a very specific end goal in mind of creating animated augmented reality assets in conjunction with real work pop-up illustrations. So that goal has directed my research. I’ve been trying to find images, objects, characters, techniques or stories that I think could enrich the development of that project - to help build a story up. 

Q: We’re curious – what kind of student were you? And how did you find the transition from the education environment into the industry?

A: I was a big art and history nerd in high school, so not much has changed. I spent many of my lunches in the art room working on projects. I just had a flashback to a Year 8 SOSE (Studies of Society and Environment) poster project on Vikings where my bibliography was the same word count as some other students. I also made an accompanied Viking in the form of a Ken doll my father and I fashioned an outfit and weapons for. 

I was burnt out when I got to the Victorian College Of the Arts for my first bachelor’s degree! I wasn’t the best student while there.

In my second year, I received an infamous ‘red letter’. Labelled as such for the school’s red letterhead branding at the time. The letter threatened that if I didn’t put in more effort, I would be kicked out of art school. Looking back, it’s clear I was struggling with perfectionism and what I felt were weighty expectations. I wish I’d taken myself less seriously and just used the resources I had available to me while there to experiment, learn and make mistakes. I ended up doing this but only after wasting a lot of time. 

When I went to university again a few years later to study Animation at RMIT, I was a lot more intentional. I used everything at my disposal. I made a lot of animation that will never see the light of day because it was bad. But, I learned a lot and even started freelancing while still at university, mostly because I was itching to get hands-on experience. 

Being a mature-aged student, I felt like I was already behind. However, in my experience, every industry seems to be in a state of flux. There are a lot of conversations around the future of work, and I would go as far to say that there are no ‘industry standards’ anymore, in that everything is up for debate. Things could change at any moment. 

Creative thinking and problem-solving seem to be the most useful skills in that they prepare you for anything that could be coming your way. 

Q: As a creative, how do you find that balance between personal projects and commercial ventures?

A: First, it’s never an equal balance. Sometimes commercial works have to take precedence over personal projects and vice versa. However, understanding my value, worth, and capacity has helped me find ways to communicate my needs, expectations and boundaries to those I’m working for or collaborating with. 

When I was younger, I used to stay up all night to finish a deadline that was impossible in the first place. I thought I had to say yes to everything a client had requested. I’m in my 30’s now and can’t physically do that anymore and should never have had to. The average person has no idea what’s involved in making an animation. So clients often don’t know what is and isn’t reasonable, so I try to educate them early on. I’m also upfront that I split my time and do not respond to commercial emails on certain days. I am not available 24/7. It’s harder with personal stuff because I’m very ambitious and get excited about big projects. Then I must bring myself back down to earth and work out what is achievable. 

Q: Thanks for your time! Finally, we’d love to hear if you have any advice for the students reading this?

A: Abandon perfectionism as soon as possible. It is not a virtue; it is a crutch. Allow yourself to be bad at stuff. Lean into your naivety, stay curious, ask questions, then ask more questions, assuming you’ll never have all the answers. Tell people when you don’t understand something and need it explained again. Tell people when you’re struggling to get something done and ask for help. Lower your expectations and celebrate even your littlest achievements. 

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