Meet Our Neighbors: Marie Thorhauge Tørslev, Designer for Through the Woods

Get to know Marie Thorhauge Tørslev, who won a Daytime Emmy award for her design work on our newest series, Through The Woods.

How did you come to animation design as a career?

I guess the molding of my career as a visual development artist started around preschool. So overall it has taken a while—from drawing outside the lines in the paint-by-numbers, to discovering the world of animation as something that didn’t just live inside my TV to actually getting accepted into the character animation bachelor program at The Animation Workshop (TAW) in Denmark. Drawing has always been second nature to me. Actually it has probably always been first nature. As an introverted kid and teen, drawing was a gift. From there the passion, drive and ability just kept getting stronger.

All that to say, my career has been a chain reaction of life; and since my bachelor film at TAW a chain reaction of events.

My bachelor films led to an internship at the wonderful Cartoon Saloon (in Ireland) where I ended up spending 4 years as designer and supervisor. This experience prepared me for handling clients and productions, and it gave me the confidence to go freelance. In the “early years” my style was very Disney-esque, as the Disney features as well as the Disney shorts—especially from the 1950s—were my fountain-of-animation. Then in college I got access to Cartoon Network, and my style developed into something much more stylized, while I simultaneously learned extensively about anatomy. And finally, following the advice of my supremely talented TAW design teacher, Lawrence Marvit, I have aimed to never settle on a style as such. Every time I find the key to a look, I like to move on and test other things. I do think I have a very recognizable way of designing, but I work towards having as wide a range within this as possible. It makes it tough to maintain an Instagram profile, but it has certainly been an asset in maintaining my career—and be able to always offer and find a unique styles for each new production.

What were your favorite television shows when you were growing up?

Oh I can talk about that for hours! Doing it short, I loved everything animated with a fiery passion when I was a kid. Though I did mainly watch feature films back that early. As everyone in animation, I am sure, I loved everything Disney did. I had all their films on VHS, and I was glued to the screen when their short films were on. This mania also included Tex Avery's shorts as well as Tom and Jerry. The scores, colors and overall vibe of the 1950s productions especially are still mind-blowing and amazing to me.

I do have a few “odd ducks” though that I also loved—among my favorites were the Hanna Barbera feature of Charlotte’s Web. We had that taped on VHS, and I watched it over and over as if possessed. It could tug at the heart-strings like nothing else. I also loved the Russian feature, The Wild Swans, which is just beautiful. And then there was a German feature called Once Upon a Time. When I found it as an adult, I couldn’t believe how I had built it up in my mind, but it is still very nostalgic (and a production I’d love to do a re-vamp fan art of one day). TV shows came a little later, and with those we dive right back into the arms of Disney, with the Gummi Bears, Rescue Rangers, and Darkwing Duck.

What are the steps that go into character and concept design for a television show like Through The Woods?

For any design I do, I like to consider several points. At the base it is important to know the intended age of the viewers plus the budget plus the overall intended feel of the production.

Then for a character there are two aspects: The style and the characteristics/personality. The more you can understand a character—when in a simple front pose—the more I feel we have nailed the design. So I actually try to always design a character in a neutral pose at first, to pass the initial test. Posing a good design is the cherry on top! The steps of getting there—be it a character or environment—would be: research, research, research! Both for style and for photo reference. For characters I try to find real people who fit the bill. Basing characters on actual people always adds another level of personality. In my own opinion, great caricaturists make for some of the best character designers.

The next step would be sketching. My way of sketching is almost more “molding” as I tend to play with shapes and then add line after (if needed). I think this technique arose while or after a life drawing course I did prior to college. When working on these life-drawing long studies our fantastic teacher Artem Alexeev always pointed out the importance of keeping the drawing “open,” and working with shapes seems to achieve this for me.

Once the sketch is roughly there, I start molding it further, pushing the shapes around to maximize proportions, etc. Then I go over the anatomy again, to make sure everything hooks up correctly, and there are no broken arms or twisted limbs. From here I can start testing different ways to clean it up: with or without line, design of detail—shapes such as eyes and hands, testing and choosing colors, deciding if there should be textures, etc.—and all in all going over the seven important points of design: line, shape, form, space, color, value, and texture.

When working with a client it is always a collaboration to create that universe and that unique style. You want to find that character they imagine. Bring it to life, with everything it entails. Sometimes it happens instantly, and sometimes it takes several tries and re-workings to get it exactly right. It is really the merger of two minds, and to hit that jackpot—there is nothing like it!

What is your favorite episode of Through the Woods?

Such a tough pick! I am so close to saying the butterfly episode, because it was really an amazing and intricate set of designs to work with. But my favorite final episode is the team effort of the winter episode. I just love how the animation of the deer and squirrel turned out!

Has contributing to Through the Woods changed the way you spend time in nature?

I have always spent time in nature—and loved studying it. So I would say, that this is more likely what made me a good fit for Through the Woods, and partly why we all were so in sync.

But naturally working on Through the Woods has had an effect! All productions do. They stay with you for so long after. And via Through the Woods I have probably started looking at nature more with the curious and wondering eyes of a kid as much as the eyes of a designer.

Since March is Women’s History Month, who are the women that inspire you?

There are so many amazing women both in the world and in the field of animation. It is definitely hard to select just a few.

But as a conclusion to my answers, the woman that inspires me the most—and the woman who has always been my rock in life as well as career—would be my amazing mother. The pillar without which I could not stand.

And in regards to Through the Woods, I will absolutely have to give a shout out to both wonderful Ellen Doherty and Meeka Stuart. It has been an immense honor to work with two such talented, driven, and lovely women!

Watch Through The Woods on Curious World.