Tucked away in New Jersey, the Four Horsemen plot and plan the next stages of the new Masters of the Universe. He-Man.org had the rare and exciting opportunity to visit where it all happens.
Many fans wonder what it's like to be involved with the rebirth of a toyline so highly regarded as Masters of the Universe. But, it's not some uptight, stuffed-shirt atmosphere full of corporate ladders and miles of red tape like some have envisioned. The Four Horsemen are just like us: they are fans. They care about what happens with the line, and they pour their heart and soul into every toy they design, especially for Masters of the Universe.Visiting the Four Horsemen studio gave the ultimate insight on what goes into giving life back to a most cherished icon such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The intimate quarters of a hard working crew, mixed with the pleasant and friendly attitude of the Four Horsemen reflects the dedication and commitment behind every new sculpt you see.
Two years of hard work went on in secret for the new line. And throughout this time, the Four Horsemen lurked on many boards (especially on our very own He-Man.org) paying close attention to what fans liked and disliked. It was difficult to come to definitive ideas on what to do because of such a wide diversity of opinions, not to mention the ideas the Four Horsemen had as well. And of course, all of that had to coincide with the needs of Mattel and the rigorous testing Mattel does with children to determine just what will be a success.
Eventually, a taste of the new line appeared, and it was in the form of the limited cold cast statue shown prior to the San Diego Comic Con in 2001. Fan response wasn't the strongest of support for the new design. But that is understandable. So many had dreamed about what the next look would be that it took some time to absorb what was about to happen, and what the fans were seeing.
And how did the Four Horsemen react to the initial opinions of the fans? They were devastated. They thought their careers had come to a close after witnessing the fan response. But as time went on, many fans came to realize what the Four Horsemen were trying to do.
The strongest opinion was and still is focused on the new design of He-Man. And that goes without saying. Being the most recognizable figure of Masters of the Universe, his look and design comes under the most scrutiny.
Many fans wonder about the look of the new sword and about the sculpt of He-Man's head. A lot of this, though, came to be through testing with children and from bouncing ideas back and forth with Mattel.
Many fans already know the story, but for those who don't: The Four Horsemen had taken the time to think out a new story for MOTU. This story was strongly influenced by the barbarian aspects of how MOTU began. Skeletor had acquired both halves of the Power Sword. That is why his sword has two blades and two hilts. With the loss of the Power Sword, He-Man needed a new way to call upon the power of Grayskull. With the aid of his closest allies, a new sword was born. Built by Man-At-Arms, and enchanted by the Sorceress, the new sword that you see today was created.
But this idea didn't stick. Mattel ultimately decided to reboot the MOTU story, telling it from scratch but paying close and loyal attention to the story that already exists. The Four Horsemen did not have the chance to change the sword once more. By this time, child testing had already been done and it was determined that children were more receptive to the new design. How this new sword and Skeletor's sword will play into the new story has yet to be seen.
Also, people were curious about the colors used on the sword and He-Man himself. The Four Horsemen not only implemented some of the barbarian aspects of He-Man in their original design, but they also intended for him to be more realistic. So, his colors were updated to reflect what they would be like in real life.
Child testing once again played a part in how these colors came to stay. The realistic elements the Four Horsemen had intended were replaced with a more Anime feel as directed by the wants of children. The Four Horsemen went back and gave the color scheme an overhaul to match this more Manga influence. And it worked out perfectly that the original color scheme from the 80's fit the bill. BUT, in testing with children, they found the more realistic colors were preferred.
In the interview with ToyFare, we got to see images of the paints used by the Four Horsemen in their more Anime efforts. But, don't confuse the images you saw on the cover of ToyFare and inside the magazine with what will really hit the shelves. The 2-ups we saw in San Diego are closer to what the color schemes will really be.
And what about He-Man's face and hair? This went through many changes. And, overtime, He-Man's face and muscle structure (along with the rest of the characters) became more angular and stronger in definition.
But the area that went though the most changes was his hair. The Four Horsemen concept sketches had two braids that hung down in front, with a long ponytail that came down his back. This was changed early in the design. So in an effort to keep the barbarian feel and also introduce the Manga look, the first sculpt gave He-Man shoulder-length hair that was somewhat spikey in appearance. This was changed yet again, to a third look with short, somewhat spikey hair with two long pieces that came down in front. Finally, a third and final sculpt came to pass and that's what you see today: the shorter, somewhat spikey hair. Sculpts for these designs reside on the shelves in the Four Horsemen's studio.
The opinions of fans were closely observed when this new look was shown. But by that time, a great deal had been invested and all testing had been done. So the new He-Man is here to stay. Of course, such opinions are taken into consideration for future designs... probably not for He-Man, but definitely for the line itself.
As one can imagine, such an involved process takes a lot of time. And while the Four Horsemen love every minute of it, it's also a job that comes with responsibilities. And what of their job? Just how did the Four Horsemen come to work on this line and what's the job like?Well, for starters we should know a little about the members of the Four Horsemen.
First off, we have Chris Dahlberg (War). Chris has been sculpting since he was a child. He has always been into classic monsters. He loved to rip the heads off of figures and resculpt them. He eventually attended a college for classical training in art. Afterwards he backpacked across Europe and went on to get his Masters at Parsons.
Chris had friends at Toybiz who kept pushing him to sculpt toys because they all wanted to see what he was capable of. This eventually lead to a job at McFarlane Toys.
Chris' artistic influences includes classic masters such as Leonardo and Michaelango as well as modern fantasy illustrators like Frazetta and Vallejo. He's very aware of his surrounding and nature, and looks for inspiration in it all.
MOTU was a little after Chris' time. He missed out on it as part of his childhood. So, the new line is a way for him to live out the whole MOTU story. It's a challenge for him (and the rest of the team) to update the line while maintaining attributes from the classic design.
Next up is Eric Mayse (Famine), known to us all as the loveable Cornboy. He has been drawing, playing with toys, and reading comics since he was a child. His wife eventually talked him into attending the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.
After attending the school for a couple months, a friend talked him into visiting a toy company that did children's toys such as plastic cars and the like. But after visiting the company, he learned it was actually McFarlane Toys. He was thrilled to be there and was fortunate enough to start work there part-time. Eventually the bills added up, and Cornboy left Kubert's to work at McFarlane full-time.
Cornboy's influences are mostly comic artists like Mike Mignola and Art Adams, as well as classic comic artists like Jack Kirby.
Cornboy appreciates all things MOTU. Like Chris, MOTU was a tad after his childhood, but he jumped at every chance to check out the cartoons and the figures. Even today, he does the same thing.
And what would the Four Horsemen be without Jim Preziosi (Death)? Jim is a seasoned toy vet, who started out designing prototypes for children's toys like shovels and pails. When a friend of his got involved with McFarlane, it wasn't long before he found himself designing prototypes for them as well.
Jim remarks how on the plane trip out to meet with Mattel the first time how they felt it would be so incredible if they would revamp MOTU. And as luck had it, Mattel was looking to do just that.
Jim is influenced by the art of his coworkers. Being involved more with the technical aspect of design, he is always in awe of what the other Four Horsemen design and create.
Jim's love for MOTU has really developed while working on the line. He was always conscious of the classic line, and appreciated it for what it became.
Last, and certainly not least, we have Eric Treadaway (Pestilence). Eric has drawn and sculpted all his life. He took a number of art classes all the way through school and went on to college for Graphic Design. While he loved Graphic Design, he never felt he had the passion for it that others had. Eric eventually shifted more to comic art, and then on to sculpture as his concentration.
Todd McFarlane saw a piece he did and Eric eventually went on to work for McFarlane toys. This was great, as he was there from the beginning and got to learn a lot of things first hand.
Eric finds a lot of inspiration in comic art and art from all throughout the course of our history. He took influence out of a lot of things, even the toys he played with as a child. Nature and his surroundings are also an important artistic muse for Eric.
The four became friends during their time at McFarlane Toys. Eventually, things changed and they decided to go out on their own to see what they were capable of doing. Having a strong desire to create more playable toys, the now Four Horsemen put together a game plan to make their dreams come true.
Like many things you see today, the idea was based on a proposal. After leaving McFarlane Toys, one of the first things the Four Horsemen did was approach Mattel about doing a new MOTU. And, as fate would have it, Mattel had just begun to toy with the idea of doing a new MOTU line.
After an in depth pitch, and many hurdles jumped, the Four Horsemen not only landed the job of designing and sculpting the new MOTU, but received an exclusive contract with Mattel do work on many of their current properties.
Working with Mattel means precision quality, and that's exactly what the Four Horsemen deliver. Each figure takes a minimum of 2 to 3 weeks to design. And then you have to add the time involved with testing and changes. But that comes with the territory, and the Four Horsemen wouldn't trade it for the world.
Even when they have to do things like remove articulation from figures. That's right, the MOTU figures were originally more articulated and we witnessed it first hand. The Four Horsemen pulled out unpainted prototypes of various figures to show how they originally sported full elbow, knee, ankle, etc articulation. Unfortunately, play testing revealed these points of articulation had to be removed for a more durable product. Otherwise, the joints would have been too huge to meet safety standards and would have ruined the look of the figure.
Fans and collectors have wanted to know if the Four Horsemen will make a website where they can showcase their designs and concepts for not only MOTU, but any toy line they work on. In the future, that could happen. But in the mean time, the Four Horsemen are in hopes Mattel will include some of their concept designs in the next mastersofthenuniverse.com update.
A lot goes into the design and the actual creation of a MOTU prototype. And in order to do it right, you have to have a creative team that loves what they are working on. The Four Horsemen are huge fans of the cartoon and the original toy. Jim was working in the toy industry when MOTU was successful so he knew about the toy line. Chris was a classical monster fan, so he appreciates the mythology and design behind Masters of the Universe. And both Cornboy and Eric (especially Eric) were exposed to the cartoons and toys in the 1980s.
So when designing the new toys, the Four Horsemen wanted to incorporate the best elements of each figure into the new designs, whether it be from the cartoon, the original toy, or even the packaging itself. The Four Horsemen don't reference the likes of anyone living or dead. Instead, the Four Horsemen purchased old cartoons to watch and almost all of the old toyline to use as reference. Sometimes the characters lean towards the more barbarian aspects of the line, while others focus on the technological overtones. Having a story rich with so many elements is another reason why the line is so enjoyable for fans, and a thrill for creators like the Four Horsemen to design and develop.
People think that the Four Horsemen may dread certain figures, or have a dislike for existing characters. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Each figure offers a new challenge, and they only see the good in every figure that exists. One of the most invigorating things is to take a figure and actually improve it to where fans like a figure that wasn't quite as popular before.
Regardless, some of the older figures could prove difficult to redesign. The Four Horsemen peg the figures Roboto and Rio Blast as possible trouble makers in redesign because of how intricate they would have to be. They'd also like to see Scare Glow revamped. Cornboy made note of how cool it would be for him to have a clear body with an actual glow-in-the-dark skeletal structure inside. But it's never certain what figure will be next for redesign.
That being said, the Four Horsemen DO have favorites that they have either redesigned or would like to redo. Jim has no favorites and enjoys all of the figures. Chris has a fondness for Zodac and Mossman. Eric really likes Trap-Jaw, Clawful, and Webstor. And Cornboy really wants to see Titus and Megator redone, feeling they could really design something incredible with their huge detail and size, making them new deluxe figures.
Favorites aside, there comes the task of deciding who gets to design which figure. Chris, for example, sculpted He-Man because of his classical training in sculpture and the human figure. They sit down and determine who is the best for each character. And, luckily, no arguments have broken out yet over who gets to sculpt what.
The story was pretty important, and when the Four Horsemen made their initial pitch, they had a basic story already created. But, much like the figure design, Mattel has the say on the story and what happens with it. So, as it stands, the Four Horsemen are in the dark about much of the new story. Mattel is keeping a lot of the line a secret so it will be a big surprise when it debuts in the summer of 2002.
Fans want to know what the Four Horsemen think of things like the New Adventures, Princess of Power, and the MOTU movie. And they are happy to share their opinions and views of these offsets of the original MOTU toyline.
The Four Horsemen definitely make note of the movie. While not exactly in their Top 10, they admit the found the movie to be amusing. They feel some of the costume design was very cool, but it strayed too far from the original design. On the other hand, they also think there were some neat characters that were or should have been made into toys from the movie.
The New Adventures could play a roll in the new line. While not exactly a fan favorite, there are characters and elements of the New Adventures story that the Four Horsemen appreciate. After all, they are fans of all things MOTU.
And the same holds true for She-Ra: Princess of Power. The Four Horsemen really want to see She-Ra get the redesign treatment. But, that all depends on the success of the new line and the direction it takes.
With ideas like that brewing in the back of their minds, the Four Horsemen had to turn and deal with the matter at hand. And that was the creation of the new figures. Yet, exactly how much say did they have over what new figures were introduced? As we said before, Mattel has the final say over what happens. But, based on their initial pitch, the Four Horsemen had a lot of input on what the first assortment would include. Designs were made and shown to Mattel. Mattel, in turn, would accept or reject the figure and then make suggestions. And for the first assortment, Mattel didn't offer much resistance over the figures the Four Horsemen brought to the table.
Now the line is in full swing, Mattel directs which figures are to be made. So, the Four Horsemen continue to work on the figures at hand, and wait until Mattel comes to them with orders for the next assortment. These figures-to-be-determined are based on the research done by marketing. Mattel looks at which figures are the most sellable. After that, they consider secondary figures that are important to the story. Finally, you have the tertiary characters that don't have a strong presence in the line or the story, but have some sellable factors.
Fans and collectors also want to know about figures that weren't produced in the original line, but were important to the cartoon such as Queen Marlena. The Four Horsemen certainly made note of these figures not only from when fans have commented about them, but from when they watched the cartoons. The Four Horsemen aren't even sure if Mattel has rights to all characters in the old Filmation cartoons, but they probably do. These figures being introduced into the new line depends on the new story and what happens in a new cartoon.
And will there be a new cartoon? Well, sorry, the Four Horsemen are in the dark on that one. But, if there is a new cartoon, they feel confident their designs will be used in order to maintain a consistent canon.
The Four Horsemen also made suggestions for the new packaging, and how they felt it should resemble the original. But, when it was all said and done, they felt Mattel did a spectacular job with the new packaging. It will really catch your eye in the toy isle, and jump off the peg into your shopping cartS well, not literally.
Fans and collectors are curious about how much input the Four Horsemen have over new vehicles and playsets. The Four Horsemen really wanted the new figures to look their best. In the process, the design of vehicles and playsets was brought in-house by Mattel, and the Four Horsemen were left to concentrate solely on the figures. The Four Horsemen did some design drawings for Grayskull, but do not know if they were used. But the Four Horsemen have seen some images of the new Grayskull and say it is incredible. They have talked with Mattel about the redesign of some of the key vehicles like the Wind Raider and Attak Trak, but that is all.
Aside from the playsets and vehicles, Mattel is also making some cool extras for children such as a child-size Power Sword. This is one of an assortment of incredible extras to be offered with the line.
Speaking of extras, fans have had a taste of the new line with the Cold Cast statue at 2001's San Diego Comic Con and they've laid eyes on the new Hotwheels cars to debut later this year.
For those who want a peak at the designs done by the Four Horsemen for the new figures, check out the new Hotwheels vehicles. With the exception of He-Man's hair, the images came directly from the Four Horsemen's illustrations.
There are some changes fans have wondered about, such as Teela's outfit or Orko's appearance. When Mattel decided to go with a more Anime feel, the Four Horsemen found that Teela's snake armor didn't fit. Mattel will be doing variants of figures other than He-Man and Skeletor as the line progresses, and the Four Horsemen suggested Teela with her snake armor. But no one knows if that will happen.
Orko was revamped like all of the figures to fit today's standards. He's still the court jester he was before, but now he can kick some butt if need be. The Four Horsemen made sure his size was smaller than the other figures, but big enough to be sold as a stand-alone figure.
And what about variants? Right now, He-Man and Skeletor are the only figures to have variants. Most likely, you will see a variant of He-Man in every assortment. But, it is possible you won't see an opposing Skeletor variant in every wave. Instead, you may see variants of other figures.
Fans and collectors also want to know about the features each figure will have. The Four Horsemen are happy to share what they know:
He-Man will have his classic "punch" action as well as a sword-slashing action. Skeletor will have a side-slashing action for his Havoc Staff. Man-at-Arms will have a mace-smashing action and his gun launches a missile. Stratos will have two rockets that will shoot from his backpack, and a wing-flapping action. Mekanek's neck will extend, and hopefully he'll have a window in the back of his head so you can look through his visor. Ram-Man will have his spring-loaded legs for his ramming action. Mer-Man will have a trident-trusting action. Whiplash will have a button that makes his whole lower torso swing around. Trap Jaw will have a hook-gutting action. Beastman will have both arms coming down in a clawing action. He was originally going to roar as well, but that got cut. Tri-Klops has a diagonal sword-slashing action and you can turn his visor like before. There was talk of having light pipe through the top of his head so his eyes would light up, but that may not happen. And, for now, Orko and Teela's actions are secret. Battle Cat and Panthor both have clawing actions and possibly sound chips that make them roar.
They both have launching missiles. The saddles are removable. And you will most likely be able to remove the guns.
It's clear that the Four Horsemen have done a spectacular job with the new Masters of the Universe toy line. You'd be hard pressed to find creators that would take the same amount of time to make sure every detail is right, while paying close attention not only to the opinions of the fans but to the original designs as well. They have excelled at making a toy line that is not only looked upon favorably by MOTU fans and collectors alike, but also by the children of today. The Four Horsemen have surpassed anyone's expectation of what they could do, and they continue to amaze us all with every new figure. Be on the lookout for more figures from what will be THE best toyline of 2002 and undoubtedly for years to come.
See more photos of the figures and the prototypes in the Toys Section!
From left to right: Jim Preziosi, Chris Dahlberg, Eric Treadaway and Cornboy