I met Jami through our critique group and enjoy reading her manuscripts. She creates warm and comforting characters that have a timeless feel, and she also illustrates them. Jami started her artistic career in digital animation before moving to 3D and VFX work, as you will see, and entered the kidlit world with her debut picture book Mae and Moon published through Ripple Grove Press. Her follow up book Seb and the Sun, also through Ripple Grove, is due in 2018.
Thank you, Jami for sharing your story.
Jami, you have a cool day job as a visual effects artist and you’ve worked on some pretty big movies: Batman v. Superman, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Pan, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Can you be more specific on what you do?
When a film is shot these days, a lot, sometimes even the majority, of shots are done in a studio in front of a giant green screen. I work with a team that fills in that space with digital environments, creatures, vehicles, and props, all of which are created solely in the computer. I do a lot of different tasks, but my main focus recently has been on texture painting and lighting scenes.
Which movie has been your favorite to work on? Do you have a favorite sequence or asset?
It’s hard to pick one film as my favorite as they all bring their own unique challenges. My favorite projects have been ones where I am given the most creative liberty. Sweeney Todd was a wonderful experience because I got to work at the film studio doing concept art and I was able to meet and learn from some of my heroes, Tim Burton and Dante Ferretti. I also loved working on the giant shoes and lily pad sequence for Terry Gilliam’s film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and painting the Jolly Roger ship in the film Pan.
Do you have any cool inside stories about some of the movies you’ve worked on?
There were only four of us that worked on the cgi for the lily pad sequence in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus from start to finish. That show was in a bit of chaos after Heath Ledger died during filming, but screenwriters worked like mad and rewrote the script quite brilliantly to add Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law to replace his roles. All three actors gave all their wages from the film to Heath’s daughter, which is wonderful.
What have you learned about writing stories from working on movies? What about illustrating How have you translated the work you do 3D onto a printed page and make it as dynamic?
Working in film has definitely helped me when it comes to visual storytelling. In terms of writing, I’m not sure if working on movies has helped as much as watching them. I think every writer can find insight into character development and plot structure from watching films. In terms of illustrating, picture books use a lot of the same principles as film such as pacing, composition and shot variation.
What was your biggest challenge when you started writing and illustrating children’s books? How did you overcome it?
Striving to hone and improve my craft has been, and probably will continue to be the biggest challenge for me. I have always kept little sketchbooks around but I have never worked on crafting my own stories to this level, and I still feel I am learning a ton both about writing and illustrating. I joined SCBWI and started connecting with other writers and illustrators. I joined a great critique group, and I constantly look for inspiration in the world around me. And most importantly, I am continually working on and revising new projects.
Did you have a pivotal moment when you decided to act on your desire to write and illustrate kidlit?
I enjoy working collaboratively very much, but on large budget feature films it can feel sometimes like you are a cog in a big machine. After my kids were born I was reading a ton of picture books, and I started to look seriously at picture books as a method for getting my own ideas and stories out there. I have always loved picture books and it just clicked that this is what I wanted to do.
What’s your favorite spread in Mae and Moon? Do you have any hidden ‘stories’ in any of your illustrations?
I probably like the cover the most. Also, I do love the spread where she is giving the moon a full body hug. As for hidden stories, the main character of this book was actually inspired by my daughter Mae and there are a couple pages where you can see Mae’s brother, mom, and dad, and that’s our family! You can tell my husband is a big Packers fan, because he is sporting an Aaron Rogers jersey. And my son Sebastien is playing with blocks that spell his name. A reviewer made a comment about the parents being ‘hipsters’ which made me laugh. I never thought of us as ‘hipsters!’
Did you have a book as a child that may have influenced your taste in picture books now?
I don’t know if it influenced my taste in picture books now, especially since picture books have changed so much over the years, but I remember reading Dr Suess’ Yertle the Turtle And Other Stories a lot. That book definitely taught me a few life lessons. My sense of humor was influenced by Shel Silverstein. I had copies of both Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic that I read so often, they were literally falling apart.
Who are some of your favorite characters in kidlit?
Curious George, the Queen of Hearts, Amos McGee, Rosie Revere, Max (from Where the Wild Things Are).
For aspiring illustrators, what’s the first thing you’d recommend they do to break into the industry?
Work hard and build a portfolio of work. Also, I’ve found it invaluable to connect with a community of other writers and illustrators.
For writers, how can they best create text that an illustrator will want to illustrate?
I don’t think the writer should worry so much about the illustrations, but just write from their heart.
What would be your dream story to illustrate?
Lately, I’ve been drawing a lot of birds with funny haircuts for an idea I am working on. I’d like to make that into a book. Or maybe something with airships, hot air balloons, or whales.
Talk about your next project.
I am working on a project that I am very excited about. It is a picture book called Seb and the Sun. It’s about a boy who lives in a sleepy coastal town far in the north where the sun doesn’t shine in winter. Seb embarks on an adventure with his friend Walrus to try and find the sun. It’s a companion book of sorts to Mae and The Moon, and will have a similar illustration style but is a completely different story. It is slated to release in spring 2018.
Thanks so much for having me Johnell and happy writing everyone!
For more information, visit: jamigigot.com