From Weta to the world and back
At age seven Tanya Marriott sold her doll’s pram to start a career which has taken her over the world. She talks to Karoline Tuckey.
Professional dollmaker and digital designer Tanya Marriott has plied her trade around the world, working for some of the biggest names in entertainment and sculpting hobbits’ ears, plasticine sheep and creating amazing toys.
An early passion for dollmaking and DIY craftsmanship led her to roles with the likes of Weta, Aardman Animations and the company that created the Rubik’s Cube, then back home again to Wellington where she now works as a digital media design lecturer at Massey University.
Marriott grew up in Whitby and says her earliest memory is of being taken to see the puppetry fantasy film The Dark Crystal. The experience kicked off her first creations; a wardrobe of fantasy themed dolls’ clothes. By sevenyears-old she wanted more time with her mum’s sewing machine. So she sold her doll’s pram to buy her own second- hand sewing machine and at 10 she took a porcelain doll-making course for children, which fed years of crafting and experimenting with dolls.
‘‘I’ve been doing sculpting my whole life and everything else’s attached to that.’’
She jokes she may be nearing the lifetime of hours required to be recognised as a master craftsman.
Marriott went to Aotea College and remembers hours spent in the art department working on portfolios and the woodwork teacher letting her potter about in his workshop.
From school she completed a degree in design at Massey University, during which she scored a job working for Weta Workshop on The Lord of the Rings as a prosthetics technician making hobbit ears.
‘‘I sent them a sculpture of a goblin, called The Messenger, saying ‘Please hire me’.
‘‘I loved it [at Weta]. It was really amazing but quite daunting being there. I it was a big bustling workshop with a lot going on, and I was really young – it was an amazing experience.’’
After graduating, Marriott sought international experience and found work as a sculptor with Canadian stop motion animation company Bowes production.
‘‘They were a small company that came together when they had a film on and rented facilities. We worked in a reforested area near Vancouver with coyotes wandering about. We had some amazing artists around, and worked on projects like Coraline, and Robot Chicken.’’
From there Marriott had the opportunity to work for industry leaders Aardman Animations, the creators of the much loved British claymation series Wallace and Gromit in Bristol, England.
Marriott worked on sheep and seagulls for the Creature Comforts series, a chain of advertisements and later a TV series that was inspired by an Academy Awardwinning claymation short film of animals commenting on their living situations.
Next came a ‘‘ dream job’’ with London toy makers Seven Towns, the creators of the Rubik’s Cube. The company made and marketed its own designs, as well as working on design briefs from international companies like Mattel and Tomy.
‘‘They are a very old and very well respected company in the industry, and I was working as a toymaker which is what I always really wanted to do.’’
Unfortunately the company restructured and Marriott decided she was at a point in her career where she wanted more time to work on her own projects.
‘‘It was quite cool but it does get a bit routine after a while. It’s really hard to see what someone else has in their head and visualise it and interpret it.’’
She headed back to Massey, Wellington, to do a Masters degree in design, with the intention of revisiting some of her fundamental design skills like drawing and attention to detail in her sculpture. While studying she became interested in the dimensions she could add to her characters with digital design and animation.
‘‘With animation there’s lots of different ways you can make things move, but you’ve got to work out why they move that way, and you can give them more expression.’’
While completing her Masters she began working as a tutor for Massey, and on completion was hired as a lecturer, which she describes as unusual and a little bit ‘‘jammy’’.
Teaching design has been the perfect role to enable her time and energy to work on her own projects.
‘‘The students have so many great ideas, I come home really inspired, and enthused to get on with my own work – they amaze me.’’
You can see examples of Tanya Marriott’s work at tanyamarriott.co.nz
Fantastic: Wellington sculptor and dollmaker Tanya Marriott, working on a griffin, one of her bespoke creations.