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Thread: A designer point of view on retro styling figures in MOTUC

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    Heroic Warrior Emiliano's Avatar
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    A designer point of view on retro styling figures in MOTUC

    My recent Fan-art for a possible Illumina figure (see the original thread here) made me wanted to write a more extensive article on Action Figures design, focused on the MOTUC retro style.

    The style of the new line is often object of some quite heated debates with fans, and many interesting theories are mentioned from the most bizzarre to some really well thought.
    So I felt it was time to really try to analyze what means to actually devolve the style of a modern, 2002 character to what MOTUC is generically supposed to do.

    A few important premises:
    this thread isn't in any way supposed to tell the 4H or Mattel how to do their job. We trust them 100%!
    This'is more a designer analysis aimed to the fans to let understand the design process.
    Fans doen't need to like more or less the designs presented here. That's not the purpose of this thread. My sketches here are only to support my explanations.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    The problem when translating a 200x design from a character that only existed in the modern series is that just applying the same costume and elements to the MOTUC bodies may not be enough.
    Some shapes and design choices simply don't fit a style form the eighties unless you chose to ignore the design evolution and keep shapes vocabulary to what designer used to do back then.

    That mean that not only the amount of details and how they are sculpted make a difference, but also specific lines and shapes and how designers use them have evolved during time.

    To many of us, the MOTU design style is basically Mark Taylor's and Ted Mayer's styling elements. With the very first figures and accessories, they created the base on which the rest of the MOTU was going to be built. We also need to keep in mind those design elements and design choises were also what Taylor's and Mayer's styles were at that time.
    In that context, they have very specific influences and preferences, and those evolved naturally with time as well.

    In genaral, heroic fantasy (including Superheroes, movies, etc,) constantly evolves, exploring new ways to represent costumes, creating new armor shapes, etc.

    But in MOTUC, the nostalgia factor is very important, and Mattel and the 4H always said they wanted to represent new figures like they coudl have been part of the vintage line.
    So, the process would be:
    1 -take a new, modern design
    2 - retro fit it to the vintage line, like it was a toy created back then
    3 - re-update it to the new MOTUC line, addign just a few extra details, improving sculpts and color applications.

    So, the challenge is to look all the design elements from a modern design, discard all the extra ones that would have never appeared in vintage figure and "downgrade" the others.
    By also changing shapes and the overall shapes vocabulary on a figure.

    To make it more clear, I created two examples.
    The first one is my old Illumina design:



    Created for the 200x comics, it tried to mimic Eric Treadaway style and designs. But it was also made thinking about how the figure could have been actually produced, reusing existing molds.

    I looked at that again and decided what parts had to be changed to retro style the figure.
    First things to go were the knee pads. No figure in the vintage line had them and they were very distinctive of the 200x line.
    By using the same tooling created for MOTUC Teela, arms and legs were already taken care of.
    Then the costume. That has to be one mold so I can just do a complete new design. But the amount of details from the 200x design had to be drastically reduced: less intricated lines, overlapping shapes, less enrichments overall. Simplifying shapes was the way to go, reducing them to a small numbers of immediatly recognizable forms.
    Breastplate is a perfect example. You wouldn't find those convoluted forms in any toy form the eighties. Those had to go too. A simple, silver cup would work as good adn still be different enough from Teela.
    Same for the weapon and the headpiece: streamline them and try to think with the limitation fo the eighties sculpting and engineering.
    And here is the final result:



    The bare arms, in case someone is wondering, are just something that felt right when I got to color her.

    Let's move to the second example, Count Marzo
    It's possibly the perfect example for many reasons. People have been debating about his figure fitting or not fitting the MOTUC line.
    (and it isn't also an original 4H designs, so hopefully they won't be offended! )
    Some don't feel he fit the MOTUC line just because is not based on a vintage toy.
    Other feels there is just something about his design that doens't sit well with the rest of the figures.
    The seconds are probably perceiving something that actually is there.
    But trust me, it isn't the Hyper Anime Details!

    The Four Horsemen didn't do anything wrong: they made a very faithful interpretation of the model created by Mike Young Productions designers:

    The figure was a great homage to the character from the new cartoon and I'm sure it was made to make all the fans of that series very happy.

    But, what some fans are noticing is that his original design is already very far from any vintage figure.
    Just putting aside the cartoon model and analyzing the MOTUC figure, its' very easy to spot what's not fitting a 1982/88 toy.
    There are simply some shapes and elements that would have never used at that time, simply because no one had introduced them yet in design of fantasy/sci-fy/superheroes characters

    Those big shoulder elements are probably the only survived hints of the classic Filmation character. Per the new 4H style direction, they had been made bigger and changed a bit their purpose. Firts thing to do in retro-stylign the figure: bring them back to their original size.

    The shapes of the belt and the upper portion of the suit are also something you wouldn't encounter easily in old toys. Those forms are just not part of the visual language of those times.
    If we want the figure to look like an old toy, some of those needs to be altered as well.
    Same goes for the sword, where all those angular shapes and the colored tips are distant from the vintage MOTU weapons (but very 200x!)
    Finally some of the "extreme" renditions of hairs and capes have to be toned down too.
    They are not too detailed. It's more about how the "move", while the vintage toy had more of generic poses for everything (mostly due to materials and engineering limitations).
    The image below outlines this elements and show what a possible retro fitting could look like.



    In conclusion, remember this is just a theory from a newbie of action figure design and I'm not telling you how your figures should look like. It was just fun exploration of what may goes through a designer mind when you work in this industry

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    Heroic Warrior
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    My compliments on a really interesting and insightful thread.
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    Totally Rad Underling's Avatar
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    Fantastic read. I love reading Emiliano's insights into how the industry actually works. Very appreciated.

    Oh, and who doesn't want to see more of Emiliano's design artwork.
    END OF LINE

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    Heroic Photog Supporter musclor's Avatar
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    Very interesting read. Thanks.

    I personally much prefer Marzo the way he was released, but that isn't the point of this thread.

    And I would buy that motuc illumina in a heartbeat.
    Photog is here! thank you, Mattel!

    Now how about some mini-comics love (like Lodar, Geldor, Dakon......)? And Mermista?

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    Heroic Warrior DO4M's Avatar
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    I like most of the look of Vintage-ized Marzo.
    the only thing that I don't like is the Cap going all over the neck, but I understand the reasoning behind it... (I'd sill buy one.)
    The MOTUC Illumina looks awesome...
    FINALLY!! GLIMMER IS IN MY SHELF!! Now I need a Crita!! Crita is to Mara what Evil Lyn is to Teela. If we ARE getting Mara, then we NEED Crita.

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    Heroic Weather Oddity Raining Light's Avatar
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    I think you are spot on!
    Marzo toned down looks a little funny compared to what we got but I do not have him, so I can not truly see what he is like. But with saying that, I have to agree that I think he looks way 200X compared to other figures. But again alot of that could be that we have no vintage figure to compare him too.

    With all this in mind I would like to hear your thoughts or opinion on Chief Carnivus.

    As always you offer great incite into the MOTU art and toys with your designs and ideas. I am very thankful for that.
    I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity--Edgar Allen Poe

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    Heroic Warrior urbanmyth's Avatar
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    Great read! Thanks. Everything you say makes perfect sense. I love your new Marzo but the facial expression would also need to be altered slightly IMO.

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    Heroic Warrior Flor2099's Avatar
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    I don't think any retro-fitting in this line should be altering the characters' designs. The MOTUC Marzo is the basically the exact same DESIGN as the 200X cartoon, and he's done in the exact same STYLE as the rest of the MOTUC figures. And isn't that what this line is all about? Yes, there are dynamic elements to his sculpt, but just because there are no dynamic sculpts in the 80s line doesn't mean we shouldn't have some of them now. None of the MOTUC figures look like they came straight out of the 80s anyway, they all look modern in one way or another.

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    Heroic Warrior Emiliano's Avatar
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    Thank you guys!
    And keep in mind, I'm not criticizing Marzo figure. I'm perfectly happy with how he is.
    I used him as an exmaple as he's the first figure from the 2002 cartoon, addressing some fans' concerns about styling. It's just for fun

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    Master of 3D printing Neo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flor2099 View Post
    I don't think any retro-fitting in this line should be altering the characters' designs. The MOTUC Marzo is the basically the exact same DESIGN as the 200X cartoon, and he's done in the exact same STYLE as the rest of the MOTUC figures. And isn't that what this line is all about? Yes, there are dynamic elements to his sculpt, but just because there are no dynamic sculpts in the 80s line doesn't mean we shouldn't have some of them now. None of the MOTUC figures look like they came straight out of the 80s anyway, they all look modern in one way or another.
    I agree with Flor... Also about Ilumina's chest piece. I can't really see why you wouldn't ad the details. Teela and Evil lyn both have detailling on their chest.

    As for Marzo's armour. I don't think the shape it is right now should be changed like in your mock up. Triklops' armour was pretty different from the rest too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Emiliano View Post
    Thank you guys!
    And keep in mind, I'm not criticizing Marzo figure. I'm perfectly happy with how he is.
    I used him as an exmaple as he's the first figure from the 2002 cartoon, addressing some fans' concerns about styling. It's just for fun
    You are forgetting King Grayskull.
    Take a look at my deviantart. http://kaassouffle.deviantart.com/gallery/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Emiliano View Post
    Thank you guys!
    And keep in mind, I'm not criticizing Marzo figure. I'm perfectly happy with how he is.
    I used him as an exmaple as he's the first figure from the 2002 cartoon, addressing some fans' concerns about styling. It's just for fun
    I have no qualms at all about the Marzo figue, as i think it's a great one. The thing I don't understand is if Mattel says they would create 200X characters as if they had figures in the vinbtage line, wht didn't they simply use the furry loincloth for Marzo, and Carnivus even. Why did thet make it look like Marzo's hair is blowing in the wind? Just saying, those are the things they could have avoided if they wanted to, that's all.

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    Illumina & Cat please! Darkspecter's Avatar
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    Emil, I love your work...but with the Count Marzo figure, the only thing I didn't really like was the head/hair. Everything else on him was perfect. If they made him like the edited version on the right, I would have been SEVERELY disappointed.

    In both your examples you made 200X characters look much more classic than the Classics style (by which I mean less detailed or plain)...if that makes sense.

    Here are some examples to show what I mean:

    The intricacy and detail on Teela's outfit (which is very similar to the 200X drawings of Illumina's chest):



    Man-At-Arms' rivets, tubes, knives, hiking gear (basically):





    Trap-Jaw's arms, shoulder pads, rivets, ripped off jaw:



    Trap-Jaw's extremely detailed legs:



    Mer-Man's neck, alternate head, armour and weapons (notice all the spikes and how spikes are a "no-no"):



    Beast-Man's over-sized arm bands, armour, the bone detail spikes, the large size of the spikes (reminiscent of Count Marzo's belt and shoulder pads):



    There are a million more examples. The Master of the Universe Classics style is a hybrid of 80's parts and buck sharing (where they can) with increased articulation and detail.

    Lately, a lot of people seem to think Classics means taller versions of the 80's figures with more articulation, but that's simply not the case. This line is a style completely on its own, combining elements from MOTU over the years but taking most of its influences from the 80's toys.
    Take part in Illumina Day! Let people know who she is and help get her in MOTUC.

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    Master of 3D printing Neo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darkspecter View Post
    Emil, I love your work...but with the Count Marzo figure, the only thing I didn't really like was the head/hair. Everything else on him was perfect. If they made him like the edited version on the right, I would have been SEVERELY disappointed.

    In both your examples you made 200X characters look much more classic than the Classics style (by which I mean less detailed or plain)...if that makes sense.

    Here are some examples to show what I mean:

    The intricacy and detail on Teela's outfit (which is very similar to the 200X drawings of Illumina's chest):

    Trap-Jaw's arms, shoulder pads, rivets, ripped off jaw:

    Trap-Jaw's extremely detailed legs:

    Mer-Man's neck, alternate head, armour and weapons (notice all the spikes and how spikes are a "no-no"):

    Beast-Man's over-sized arm bands, armour, the bone detail spikes, the large size of the spikes (reminiscent of Count Marzo's belt and shoulder pads):

    There are a million more examples. The Master of the Universe Classics style is a hybrid of 80's parts and buck sharing (where they can) with increased articulation and detail.

    Lately, a lot of people seem to think Classics means taller versions of the 80's figures with more articulation, but that's simply not the case. This line is a style completely on its own, combining elements from MOTU over the years but taking most of its influences from the 80's toys.
    This elaborates on my points exactly.
    Last edited by Neo; August 27, 2010 at 02:27pm.
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    Sad Eternian Jester nanoFatato's Avatar
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    Thank you Emiliano, it's always a pleasure reading about your work and your thoughts about the 'behind the scene' of the toy industry

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    Heroic Warrior Emiliano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neo View Post
    You are forgetting King Grayskull.
    True, but KG was still based on He-Man. Marzo is a completely new design

    And, I will stress it on each post: I'm not criticizing Marzo design.
    And i'm not saying that's how all the figures should be done.
    I made some examples, maybe trying to get to the extreme opposite to prove my point

  16. #16
    Heroic Warrior urbanmyth's Avatar
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    My personal take on what Emiliano is saying about shapes and details is not necessarily that his drawings are the end all of the amount of detail, just that certain shapes don't work as well as a vintage throw back as others do. Meaning both his of his classics drawings above could easily have a lot more detail when they make it to figure form, just not the specific details he pointed out as not working so well.

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    Heroic Warrior Emiliano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urbanmyth View Post
    My personal take on what Emiliano is saying about shapes and details is not necessarily that his drawings are the end all of the amount of detail, just that certain shapes don't work as well as a vintage throw back as others do. Meaning both his of his classics drawings above could easily have a lot more detail when they make it to figure form, just not the specific details he pointed out as not working so well.
    You nailed the point, thanks!

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    Illumina & Cat please! Darkspecter's Avatar
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    I'm still semi-confused.

    Like, lets go with Count Marzo's belt. His MOTUC figure's belt is basically the same shape as the 80's toy Rattlor (so it shouldn't have have to be made a straight line to be 80's shaped, right?):



    ...or am I still missing something?
    Take part in Illumina Day! Let people know who she is and help get her in MOTUC.

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    Heroic Warrior urbanmyth's Avatar
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    Not to argue but I don't feel they are the same shape. I would think 80s Rattlers belt would work just fine on Emiliano's Classic Marzo dawning but you'd need to make a few tweaks to other parts of that Marzo to make the belt fit on the figure.

  20. #20
    Heroic Warrior Emiliano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urbanmyth View Post
    Not to argue but I don't feel they are the same shape. I would think 80s Rattlers belt would work just fine on Emiliano's Classic Marzo dawning
    Absolutely. I never said that is THE design. As a matter of fact a belt shaped like that woudl work better than what I did.
    Keep in mind that was like a 10 minutes sketch, just to make some observations.

  21. #21
    Master of Mix & Match Charlie Brown's Avatar
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    thanks for the explanation emiliano, it's really appreciated.

    if i understood correctly your point, it's not a matter of amount of details but of choice of those that fit with the general impression of the figure: so, in the example by darkspecter, rattlor's belt could be rendered by redoubling the standard belt (as for tri-klops, more or less) to preserve the general appereance, putting away the inner details and then redesing new details in respect of the characterization of the figure.
    more or less what emiliano made with illumina' spear, giving to it two blades shaped reminding shera' sword...well, i suppose, at least!
    Last edited by Charlie Brown; August 27, 2010 at 03:59pm.

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    Heroic Warrior danvin's Avatar
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    thanks for this thread, Emiliano!

    I think the 4HM are doing a great job, but I also like to see other artists' interpretations. and the "not-so-MOTUC" elements on Count Marzo you mentioned are really interesting and also came to my mind when I saw the figure (especially the giant shoulder-parts and the details on the skirt).

    even though I think Bow was the greatest figure during sdcc, I think he has the biggest "200X feeling" in the whole line. strange thing is that the 4HM merged the removable torso armor and the molded chest plate of the vintage toy into one piece.

    just for fun, I did a reinterpreation that I think is more fitting to the "MOTUC look/feel". (no offense, 4HM!)



    1. I reduced the difference between the gold colors (maybe just one?)
    2. I simplified the chest armor: smaller star and heart, plain surface (not so many levels/borders)
    3. one color on the shoulder-part
    4. vintage boots instead of NA He-Man boots (I used Emiliano's drawing)

    also, the details on the shoulder part and quiver seem to be rather 200X influenced.

    Last edited by danvin; August 27, 2010 at 03:43pm.

  23. #23
    2002/DC He-Man Video guy Jukka's Avatar
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    Very informative and insightful.

    Those examples are great and the altered Marzo looks very interesting.

  24. #24
    IQ test results: negative sdilks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darkspecter View Post
    Lately, a lot of people seem to think Classics means taller versions of the 80's figures with more articulation, but that's simply not the case. This line is a style completely on its own, combining elements from MOTU over the years but taking most of its influences from the 80's toys.
    I couldn't have said it better.

    I think this is how it should be, but when Matty or TG make statements that are not 100% clear as to the direction they are going, it makes for heated debates, and unnecessary animosity toward each fan base, and toward Matty as a whole.

    They definitely need to be more descript...
    "The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, is that none of it has tried to contact us." -B.W.

  25. #25
    Heroic Warrior danvin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sdilks View Post
    I couldn't have said it better.

    I think this is how it should be, but when Matty or TG make statements that are not 100% clear as to the direction they are going, it makes for heated debates, and unnecessary animosity toward each fan base, and toward Matty as a whole.

    They definitely need to be more descript...
    I agree that TG/Matty sometimes make rather vague statements that cause a lot of unnecessary fuss.

    but as I understood it, this thread is not "Vintage vs 200X styles", but it's trying to analyse what the MOTUC style is - and what may not be so consistent WITHIN the MOTUC style.

    I think often it is not so much "6 details are to much, but 4 are ok", but more a kind of a feeling, what seems 'unfitting'.

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