Adultcollector.org asked artists Joe Amaro and Nate Baertsch to talk about Masters of the Universe Classics and Super7's new Snake Mountain playset!
Q: Could you please summarize your involvement with the new Snake Mountain playset and other MOTU-related projects you've been a part of?
Nate Baertsch: I've been working with the Four Horsemen since 2007, when I first did some packaging art for their Seventh Kingdom line. In these last 12 years, I've been lucky enough to work with them on a variety of lines from their own home-grown properties like Seventh Kingdom, Gothitropolis, and MythicLegions. For Masters of the Universe, I've helped with just a few characters that have been made - Unnamed One, NA She-Ra and Light Hope.
Joe and I worked together on Castle Grayskull, Snake Mountain, Point Dread and the Talon Fighter, Roton, and Night Stalker/Stridor. For Classics, I've also done a few collaborations with Axel Gimenez such as the Castle Grayskull cutaway poster, Multi-Bot's packaging, and issue 7 of the MotU Classics minicomics. Outside of Classics, I've worked also very closely with Tweeterhead and their MotU busts that were released a few years ago, and more recently with Tweeterhead and Sideshow together, on the large scale MotU statues. Orko was my debut there.
Adultcollector.org: And you've been a part of the Roast Gooble Dinner podcast.
Nate Baertsch: That too, yep! And the MVCreations 200X MotU Comics.
Joe Amaro: I was hired by Four Horsemen Studios to help design and sculpt all of the vehicle sand playsets for the Masters of the Universe Classics line. I did the initial sculpting of Snake Mountain and helped with some of the revisions that were made after. I am also helping Super7 with their ReAction line; they have a lot of things planned!
Oh, and we both have worked with Icon Heroes! Nate, I think that is some of your best work. I did a lot of design and sculpting work for Pat on MOTU and ThunderCats.
Nate Baertsch: Yep! It should be mentioned because especially with Grayskull and Snake Mountain, those jobs came first and set a tone for what the playsets would become.
Q: Are either of you involved with Super7's upcoming line of Classics-scaled TMNT figures?
Joe Amaro: I am not involved, but I am excited to see them!
Nate Baertsch: Yes, I've been involved with the design sheets for the TMNT Super7 line. It's gonna be so much fun!!!
Q: What lessons were learned from working on Castle Grayskull? How did the work differ in conceptualizing, designing, prototyping, and preparing the two play sets for manufacturing?
Joe Amaro: The biggest difference between the two playsets is how they were sculpted. For CG I made a base castle in 3D to size and printed that. It had all the main parts, but it was completely blank. No face, no rocks, no accessories,nothing. The 4H then traditionally sculpted on top of it using casteline sculpting wax. It took a long time and it was not easy. When it came time for Snake Mountain, we kinda did it backwards. Since we were in a hurry, I sculpted it in clay at ¼ scale first and scanned that in. That gave us a digital base to start and push it. All revisions were done in 3D and then when everyone was happy, we printed it. The biggest advantage to this is that it allowed us to make several revisions that would have been almost impossible if it were done in clay.
Nate Baertsch: Simply getting a better feel for what could be done with Snake Mountain. We wanted to push even more the idea that the stickers in the old set needed to be sculpted bits in Snake Mountain. We didn't want a repeat of losing the sculpted Castle Grayskull dungeon sticker, for example, so we went a little lighter on the number of accessories. Thankfully, the original Snake Mountain didn't have much in the way of accessories, so we were able to add things like the throne and the table with pretty good confidence that they'd stay. Maybe it wasn't so much what we learned from Grayskull... but more, Grayskull was enough of a success, they opened up enough options to really let us play with this one.
Q: Joe, you said that you were in a hurry?
Joe Amaro: Both projects had a deadline, but Mattel was not going to show Castle Grayskull until everyone was happy. It was a huge endeavor and a big investment, so they were cautious. By the time we did Snake Mountain, Mattel was very confident in the process and the team. So, they wanted it done in time to show it off at San Diego Comic Con which was in July of 2015. That's where the time crunch came in. When I was asked to work on Snake Mountain all the designs were already done by the 4H and Nate. That was around March 2015.
Because of the deadline, I thought it would be faster for me to sculpt SM in clay and then scan it in. I could sculpt it in clay faster than in 3D, especially because of the scale. Even digitally you have to sculpt to scale so that file was going to be huge! So, by scanning it in it gave me a digital base from where to start, rather than starting from nothing. The sculpting and scanning took maybe a week. That was a huge time saver.
Q: When did the process begin to conceptualize Snake Mountain?
Nate Baertsch: I finished up the initial drawings back in September of 2014.
Joe Amaro: Nate, I still remember that you sent me some comments on Roton with a little side note that Snake Mountain was next! We were both so excited!!!
Nate Baertsch: It was such an exciting time! Roton, Stridor and Night Stalker, and Snake Mountain! Thus, our crushing sadness when Mattel announced the end of Mattycollector and thus the end of Classics! And then to have all those emotions boil back up when Super7 swooshed in to save the day!
Joe Amaro: I know. I was so sad that Snake Mountain was never gonna see the light of day. Then out of nowhere CB [Eric "Cornboy" Mayse of Four Horsemen Studios] sent me an email saying it "might be back on" I was so excited!!! Almost six years to get to this point. It is very exciting.
Q: Snake Mountain is 36-inches high and 48-inches wide. What is its depth?
Joe Amaro: From the front of the mountain to the edge of the platforms in the back, it's about 16 inches. The actual Snake Mountain shell is about 12 inches in depth. Of course, the size will change after production, but it should be around there. Anytime you make a copy of copy it gets smaller, mainly because liquid plastic is injected into the molds, so when it cools it shrinks a little. Plus, there may have been additional changes made by Super7 or the factory for engineering or production purposes. A lot of people are working on SM!
Nate Baertsch: I found an earlier sketch where I figured it might be close to 20" deep, but I know a lot of things had to be scaled down. I was thinking way too big.
Q: Will the lava waterfall (aka "Blood Falls") illuminate when you shine a light behind it, or when the sunlight hits it?
Joe Amaro: The guys made it translucent and it can be seen from both sides. So, if you wanted to you can light it from the back.
Nate Baertsch: I saw one of Eric's personal photos of the prototype in the studio, with sunlight behind it, and it looked like the lava was glowing. So yeah, that should be a feature for sure.
Q: What is a design element that you've heard concerns about?
Joe Amaro: One of the comments I see is, why didn't we make the snake go behind the door like in Nate's original drawing? Snake Mountain is cut in half, you are only seeing the front half. It is difficult to visualize that when you see it from the front. However, from the top you can see that the snake spiraling is an optical illusion. There is no way for the snake to go completely around. Plus, there is a trap door behind the gate. The trap door extends about four inches behind the archway, so we did not want to obstruct the play pattern.
Nate Baertsch: You have to often weigh those options out, which is the better play feature in a toy, something that looks logistically right? Or take away the awesome trap door? Our opinion was, don't take away the cool trap door.
Q: Can you talk about some of the design elements that were left on the "cutting room floor" in conceptualizing this new play set? In Nate's illustration I see "Tri-Klop's work bench", a "Small storage area (like orb room on Grayskull)", and the net from the vintage playset.
Joe Amaro: Nate, it is amazing how close the final SM is to your illustration!
Nate Baertsch: Yeah, Eric really poured over this design sheet as he finished up the details on the exterior especially. I think that storage area didn't happen. It would've housed the Golden Disks of Knowledge. It's my own dang fault but I would've liked to flesh out the black gargoyles a little more around the throne room... but there's not a ton of space to work with there so I can easily see why they were nixed.
We had the look figured out from the Icon Heroes statue that we had already designed. But back when we designed the statue, there was a little back and forth on how many Filmation style spikes were going to be on the mountain part, and we ended up trying to hit a middle ground from the Filmation look and the toy look.
There was also a little bit of play with the snake head, and we landed on the more Filmation stone look vsthe more organic look the toy had. We felt in that case it was more importantto go with the more recognized Filmation head. We also agreed in this rare instance we preferred that design over the toy. Normally we tend to prefer the toy designs.
As to other influences like 200X? Like Grayskull, we stayed away from the 200X look. Nothing wrong with the 200X design, we just didn't feel those designs would've blended well in the Classics aesthetics. We also didn't want it to get too muddy with our pallet so to speak. Meaning we didn't feel it necessary to try and work in a third unique style to what we already had to work with.
Q: Why was the net from the vintage playset not included in SM's new design?
Joe Amaro: I cannot speak about the net, but I hope it will be included. Maybe for the prototype they couldn't make a proper net?
Nate Baertsch: I hope they can make the net work! I've emailed Brian about it but haven't heard back. The guys at Super7 are great toy designers on their own, and it's likely they already have a solution and are working on it.
Q: I've heard a few collectors speculate about the likelihood that Mattel could offer a cheaper Snake Mountain playset in the future.
Joe Amaro: I think Mattel's focus is not going to be MOTUC. They have their own plans for something new. If Snake Mountain does not go through with Super7, I fear we will never get it. I don't think it makes sense for Mattel to take on Snake Mountain. Why would they invest time and effort on a project that was not supported by fans? I think they would rather put their money into the upcoming movie.
Q: What would you tell MOTU collectors who are on the fence about whether to buy the new Classics Snake Mountain playset?
Joe Amaro: I think every iconic toy line has an epic playset or vehicle. A toy that is so monumental that we now call it a "Holy Grail" because we all dreamed about getting it... but few did. Like the U.S.S. Flagg from G.I. Joe. I think Snake Mountain is going to be one of those epic playsets that will always be remembered and sought after for years to come!
Nate Baertsch: This really is a once in a lifetime playset. Maybe I'm wrong, and in 10 years, there will be another, bigger, better Snake Mountain play set? But I kinda, highly doubt it. Mattel was crazy for green lighting it when they did. And I love them for it! Super7 is even crazier for resurrecting the project and giving the Horsemen the added time needed to perfect the look of this thing. I love that it's still on the table and that we're all talking about it again!
It's so insane, how can it not be supported?! I understand the lack of space for something like this, I also understand the lack of funds for this monstrosity. But if you think you can find space, and find the funds, this is going to be an amazing capstone to your Classics collection. The original designers poured a lot of love into this playset in the 80s. We've done all we can to honor their vision and give today's Classics collectors something that may fill one of the last giant holes in our collections. We went big because we didn't want to go home.
Q: Nate, you mentioned filling "one of the last giant holes in our collections." For each of you, what are some of those giant holes? Those figures, playsets or other items that you really hoped would make it into the line?
Nate Baertsch: For me personally, I'd love a stab at a combined playset of Fright Zone with the Slime Pit. I love the Horde faction and would love to see them get a place to hang their capes and crossbows. The Slime Pit in particular was a favorite for me as a kid, and it was one of the last MotU things I got as a kid. But really, this line has fleshed out pretty much everything I've ever wanted! But as I think just a little more... I want a toy/model kit inspired Attack Track, maybe a Road Ripper. For figures? Preternia version of Sharella. The other characters that could be in a "William Stout Collection" Such as Evil-Lyn, Beastman, Teela, Man-At-Arms and She-Ra. Other beasts I'd love to see would be the giant Gator/Bear monster that attacked the Green skinned Sorceress/Goddess in the first mini comic. The Masks of Power Demons, Gilgamesh Monster in Siege of Avion. That's what I'd love to see. I doubt they'll happen? But a guy can dream right?
Joe Amaro: Like Nate said, my MOTUC collection feels really complete. But I should say that I have always wanted the Road Ripper in MOTUC. It seemed like a no brainer; I have no idea why we didn't make it? Side note, I do like that Super 7 is doing other licenses using the MOTUC buck! I cannot wait for my Conan figure to arrive. I hope they do The Savage Sword of Conan figures. Those Joe Jusko covers need to be turned into figures. And hopefully they can continue ThunderCats and dare I dream Silver Hawks and TigerSharks!!! I did some TigerShark customs and the MOTUC buck fits them perfectly!
Q: What do you see in the future for Masters of the Universe Classics?
Nate Baertsch: In my heart, I hold onto hope that we'll get to design a Fright Zone, Slime Pit, and a Crystal Castle and even an Eternia play set! Could you imagine? But back to reality... I think Snake Mountain would have to do more than exceptionally well to even begin talks again on other play sets. As old Scott might say... maybe in a movie year! Which... hey... there actually may be a movie year now! I would add... maybe in a "successful movie year".
But even then, look at Transformers, the movies did great things for that property. However, the G1 fans didn't really get what they wanted until years after the movie's success. I think the same could apply here with MotU, a good movie will do us all good, but us old timers probably won't get items geared for us until a few years after proven brand success.
Joe Amaro: I think for Classics Snake Mountain will be that last big project! And what an awesome way to go out. SM will be the jewel in my collection. A lot of people have put their blood, sweat and tears into it. I suspect we might still see some new figures trickle out but for the most part MOTUC is winding down. I think apart from a few niche characters and vehicles we have everything we could want, that is once Snake Mountain is here.
I still remember seeing that He-Man Classics prototype at SDCC back in 2007. I remember being blown away at the possibilities. Who knew the line would last over 10 years and that I would be able to be a part of it. It has been a dream come true to work on a brand that I loved as a kid. And now I get to watch my kiddo play with He-Man toys I worked on! And for that I am eternally grateful to the Four Horsemen! Working with them has been one of the highlights of my toy career, a real dream come true. And of course I have to thank Mattel, Super7 and the fans, without their support we would never be here.