Child’s play

by Kate C
Publish date
15 May 2013
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Up in her studio in Melbourne’s CBD, artist and animator Isobel Knowles is working on something wonderful for the First Peoples exhibition. She is turning accounts of the traditional toys and play of Aboriginal children into beautiful animations for our young visitors. 

Isobel Knowles with paper cutouts Isobel Knowles in her studio with some of the paper cutouts she uses in her animations.
Source: Museum Victoria

Isobel creates her animations with a combination of delicately cut pieces of paper, watercolour washes, photography and digital techniques. For this project, she took scripts that the exhibition curators wrote – mostly in collaboration with members of the First Peoples Yulendj Group – and brought them to life. Each animation shows the playthings in use which, in many cases, emulate the activities of the adults around them, such as nursing mothers and men hunting. Isobel has presented the stories with a deft touch of humour because, as she describes them, “they’re stories of the cheeky things that kids do.”

Paper cutout of paddlesteamer boat Isobel's materials: paper cutouts of a paddlesteamer and vegetation, and her storyboard sketches.
Source: Museum Victoria

Isobel began with thinking about how she wanted the animations to feel and researching the landscapes of the different areas and the colours that would capture the Australian bush. “It’s been really nice working with Australian bush imagery,” she says. “Usually I’m referencing fairy tales so it’s a European look.” She also carefully considered how the children should appear. “I’ve been trying to research what they would wear but a lot of the reference pictures are during special events,” explains Isobel. Yulendj members helped her get these details right when she showed them the animations last week.

Paddlesteamer illustration Still image from a work-in-progress: Isobel's digital animation of the mudswitch story.
Image: Isobel Knowles
Source: Museum Victoria

In the Toy Story case of the Many Nations section, visitors will see the animated stories next to the actual toys. This section, with its animations, will be a key part of the museum's educational programs. The toys are from cultural groups across the country and they haven’t been on display before; many of them aren’t well-known outside their communities of origin.

Isobel says she’s enjoying the work and finding it incredibly interesting. “It’s a really exciting project for me and I feel very honoured to have been asked to do it and to contribute to such an amazing exhibition.”


Isobel Knowles's website

MV Blog: Modelling Myee's hands

MV Blog: Mudswitches on the plaza

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.