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 MOTUC Director's Commentary

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Messages : 305
Date d'inscription : 29/03/2008
Localisation : Eternia

MessageSujet: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:01

1: King Grayskull - Secret Origins

I’m a toy fan. That’s no secret. It’s pretty much the reason I applied to work at Mattel. I’m also a big movie fan (I was a film major in college, well at least one of my majors was film, I’m an overachiever sometimes). One of the things I love about movies is hearing the behind-the-scenes info and the DVD format was perfect for this because it gave us “Director’s Commentary” with insights and secrets behind some of our favorite films.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of MOTU, I thought it would be a blast to take a look back at MOTUC (circa 2008 – current) and create a blog reflecting on each figure released to date. It is rare for one brand manager to work on a single line as long as I have so I’m in a cool position to share ramblings on both the origins of the brand and a look behind each figure. I don’t remember every detail of every figure, and I’m sure as we get closer to current releases I will have more clarity. But for now, much like getting the director’s commentary on a DVD, this blog is my attempt to offer that same concept but for a fantastic collector toy line – Master of the Universe Classics!

Each entry will focus on one figure, starting with King Grayskull from SDCC 2008 and going all the way up to the current monthly or quarterly release coming out this year. I hope by the end of 2012 to be caught up with all the figures. There won’t be an exact rollout of these blog entries as I’m going to write them in my “spare” time. But look for them every so often as we take a trip down memory lane and reflect back on the greatest collector toy line of them all, MOTU Classics!

So where did it all start?

Well, back in 2007 I was new to the Action Play Marketing group. I had just moved over to the group from the Hot Wheels packaging team where I was a writer on basic cars and track sets. I was moved over to the Marketing team to help start up more robust collector lines as I was a collector myself (in addition to helping to launch the DCUC line with the WB group!).

One of the first things at the top of my list was somehow through **** or high water getting a MOTU line up and running for collectors. MOTU was my favorite line as a child and getting to work on a MOTU line (or line extension) was a dream job. Basically I wanted to make the MOTU line I always wanted, meaning highly articulated, fully detailed and huge character selection. Yes, that sounds 100% selfish, but remember, as a fan myself my plan was that if I was pleasing myself (as a HUGE MOTU fan), likely I was pleasing most fans (not every fan obviously) but I used my own “requirements” for what a collector MOTU line should be as a jumping off point.

First stop was SDCC.

We were a year off from SDCC 2008 and I really wanted to find some way to bring MOTU there. The 200X line had “ended” about 4 years earlier but we still had all of the tools and molds for this line at our factories. I was a HUGE fan of this show and the line (I remember waiting in line at SDCC myself for a Keldor and She-Ra figure and being very upset I only walked away with one She-Ra the year she came out. So much for having a second one MIB!)

A lot of folks were a bit unsure whether we could launch a MOTU line without any new entertainment and relying on collector interest only. Others were very supportive of the idea. In the end, what we decided was to try one figure using shared tooling.

There were quite a few characters that never made it into the 200X line and the original idea was to just pick up where the retail line ended and keep pumping out 200x style figures using what shared tooling we could use. Very early on, King Grayskull became the character we wanted to do as he would be a great SDCC item since he was “He-Man” but was not really “He-Man,” appealing to both hard core fans and ideally casual new buyers as well.

The original idea was to use the 200X Ice Armor He-Man body buck since it had the cape and boots we wanted. A new head would give us this figure perfect to “close out” the 200X line. King Grayskull was not originally intended to be the start of a new line but rather the “final” figure in the 200X line (or if he hit perhaps the start of a 200X collector line).

Design started looking over the concept and management approved King Grayskull as the SDCC exclusive for summer of 2008. We reached out to our vendor to dig up the old Ice Armor He-Man tool and were about to call the Horsemen to ask about creating a new head.

But then fate stepped in.

The Horsemen showed up at SDCC 2007 a month later with an all new concept for a He-Man figure they created on their own independently. You all know what I’m talking about because we slipped it into the display case just to see what fans thought!

This was a highly detailed, fully articulated figure that used the proportions of the vintage line but updated with today’s standards (set pretty high by a certain 6” Superhero line that was legendary and marvelous).

The best part about the Horsemen’s new pitch was the figure was designed to heavily use shared parts. I can’t overstress how important this is for a collector line. Tooling is INCREDIBLY expensive. So finding a way to incorporate shared tooling from day one was the only way a line could work. AND what was great was the vintage line was based on shared tooling, so reflecting that in a collector line actually worked without it looking like the line was going cheap.

The sneak peak in the case was a huge hit with fans at SDCC 2007 and we quickly came back to El Segundo and scrapped out plans to use the Ice Armor He-Man buck and instead thought, “what if we used this new buck for a whole new line of MOTU characters?”

Now at the same time, we were starting up Mattycollector.com (my major project for coming over to the marketing group). If we could get this new MOTU shared parts line up and running it might be the perfect backbone to this new online distribution model.

We hatched a plan to use the new buck system to premier King Grayskull at SDCC 2008 as planned, with the idea that if we reflected the vintage line and created basic human, beast (Beastman/Stratos) and reptile (Skeletor) bucks, we could make a variety of characters with minimal new tooling (heads, capes, weapons, etc…).

I’ll go into detail about the first 6 characters when I get to their blog entries, but for now, a look at how King Grayskull came about.

We had very little assets and very little time. The packaging group came up with the idea of putting him in a castle-like package and even adding in lights and sounds for that extra Comic-Con affect. Yes, he would be a 100% tool, but we were looking at him as an investment that if we tooled King Grayskull, we would essentially have He-Man and the base for countless other figures.

The dice were rolled and we took a risk!

I remember getting the first early sample back and plunking him down on my desk. Wow. We did it! The first new MOTU figure in almost 5 years and boy, was he amazing! I completely credit the Horsemen with the amazing look. Keeping those buffed-up proportions from the vintage line was a stroke of genius. While the original idea was to use the limited shared tooling from the 200X line, having an all-new buck system and starting an all-new line actually made way more sense (especially to upper management) because it gave us the chance to make ALL of the characters again, not just the ones that didn’t make it into the 200X line (like King Grayskull).

At NYCC in February 2008 we announced the figure as an SDCC exclusive with the idea that there was more to come and a whole new MOTU line with “the best distribution ever” and “MOTU would be back on shelves everywhere.” This was my first experience of fans misinterpreting what I meant. A lot of fans took this to mean store shelves everywhere. I wasn’t yet cleared to announce Mattycollector.com as the distribution model (as that was a reveal saved for SDCC in a few months).

What I had intended to mean was MOTU would be back on “your” shelf. Meaning the shelf you keep your collection on at home. And by the “best distribution ever” what I meant was anyone in any country could order these online. (As opposed to a retail-exclusive line. If MOTU was, for example, a TRU line, if you lived in a country without a TRU you were out of luck!). Online distribution really meant the widest distribution possible. I honestly never intended to mislead fans and customers and this was a good key learning to watch what I say as everything I say will be picked apart and possibly misinterpreted! A lot of fans were upset when they learned at SDCC this would be an online line, but I think over time it has worked out. Not having to rely on retailer interest has actually been a great move for this line and what has allowed us to do items without thinking about retailer shelf space.

Anyway, regardless of a few early communication issues, King Grayskull was off to a great start. We even came up with a concept for a “chase” version at the show to help generate more PR and noise by doing a bronze statue version (for the record, this was the suggestion of some of the web masters at He-Man.org who have been a great resource, especially in the beginning when we were getting out feet wet!).

The figure and package really came together nicely. We no longer had rights to use the actual voice from the 200X series in the toy, but luckily we had a recording from a talking figure from 200X that was a sounds-like voice that we owned. The sound studio deepened the “I have the Power” call from this toy to make it more “King Grayskull” and the package was set.

We brought King Grayskull to SDCC 2008 and he was a huge smash. This was also the show where we announced Mattycollector.com itself and that there would be more MOTUC figures coming later that fall. (I’ll get more into that in the next blog entry.) We also made sure to produce a few additional units to sell online to kick off the website. Unfortunately, due to not thinking holistically, the electronics we used in the package prevented us from shipping King Grayskull outside of North America. This was never something we did intentionally, but when you are trying to make a cake sometimes you break a few eggs. This was a big one. We really wanted to cultivate an international audience so it killed me that we had this restriction.

But in the end, despite a few missteps, we had a hit. King Grayskull wound up being the perfect figure to kick off the line since, as I said above, he “was He-Man, but was not He-Man”. He was a figure that was not in the vintage line, but was being done in the new Classics style as an interpretation of what an updated hypothetical vintage King Grayskull would be as updated through the new “Classics style.” Just as the 200X line was a reinterpretation of the vintage line, so was the Classics line. All characters would be in the same Classics look, regardless of where they were from, the vintage line, 200X, POP, NA etc… One all-inclusive line for all figures in a new style. How awesome.

King Grayskull sold out pretty fast online and it was soon clear that we could proceed with a whole line. But how to do them? Singles? Two packs? What would the packaging look like? How deep in character selection could we go?

The future was wide open and no one at Mattel was more excited then I. A skinny little kid from Connecticut who played with MOTU when he was 4 was now helping to make figures. Wow. A dream come true no matter how you shake it. For the very first time, MOTU had actual MOTU fans running the line. We were in for one heck of a ride.

(AKA Toyguru)

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Messages : 305
Date d'inscription : 29/03/2008
Localisation : Eternia

MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:04

#2: He-Man - the most powerful toy in the universe

Welcome back He-Fans and She-Ravers (never get sick of that fan coined term!).

So King Grayskull’s success was behind us. Now what? How (and can we) do a full line of MOTU characters using these new shared parts?

Grayskull was a bit easier to green light since we already had an approved “slot” for him for SDCC (before we ever saw the Horsemen He-Man proto!). Switching him from being the “last” 200X figure to the first “Classics” figure was a bit easier (due to having the slot already for one SDCC MOTU figure). Pitching an entire line would now come with its fare share of hurdles.

The original idea from the management team was to pack MOTUC figures as two packs pairing an A list figure with a B or C list figure. Experience from other brands had shown that only the top guys tend to sell so if we could pair a top guy with a not so top guy it might help move more units. (little did we know that in time the customer base would prove almost any MOTU character would sell! A true exception in toy making and a testament to the strength of the brand and the fans!)

We knew that MOTUC needed to use heavy shared tooling and parts to work from a financial stand point. Luckily the vintage line shared this strategy so we had precedent for this tactic without looking like we were going cheap. It also made the figures feel very “MOTU” by having them use common arms, legs, and furry loin clothes! Additionally, we came up with a creative direction for sculpting (more on this in a later blog).

All figures would be done in the new “Classics style” the Horsemen so brilliantly created. Much like 200X is a (and I know fans hate this phrase) “hyper detail” interpretation of the vintage toys, Classics was a new interpretation of the same vintage figures but in a new style. Yes, there were many fans who wanted more 200X style figures, but that was not what Classics was about. We took the same starting point that 200X did (the vintage line) but created a new look and style called “Classics” that would work for any character. Essentially, this was the idea:

-All characters would be considered modern upgrades of MOTU Vintage figures from the 1982-1987 line.

-If a figure did not have a vintage counterpart from the 1982 line, we would first “imagine” what that figure might look like had he or she hypothetically been in the vintage 1982 line and then make the update into Classics style.

So for example, a POP figure that was originally a doll figure in the 1980’s girl’s line would first be reimagined as what she (or “he” for Bow) would look like had the POP figures not been in a girl’s doll line but rather were females in the boy’s MOTU 82-87 line (like Teela or Sorceress who were female action figures not dolls). Then we would update that hypothetical vintage figure into Classics using shared parts. While this meant doing away with some of the POP soft goods and rooted hair, it helped make them into female action figures, not dolls, which was the idea. (Additionally the original vendor couldn’t do rooted hair so that sealed the deal on that option).

This was also applied to NA and 200X original characters (i.e. Carnivus, Faceless One etc…) We didn’t want to do a direct 200X character with all the Spawn inspired hyper details of early 2000’s toy making. Besides, management was VERY clear that this style was to be retired. We could do 200X weapons or armor in the Classics style, but not character faces or bodies (so Beastman for example would not be larger like he was in 200X but rather in scale to all other figures like he was in the vintage line).

We wanted all Classic figs to have the same style based on this new look the Horsemen created. So even a 200X character was first reimagined as if he or she had “had a vintage MOTU fig” and then updated for the Classics line. Same with NA to ensure we had the beefed up look for the Galactic Protectors and Space Mutants and not the super skinny look they had in the vintage NA line.

With this creative direction in place, we put together a proposal to management for how we wanted to do a handful of skus. 3 actually. The plan was to create 3 different 2 packs pairing a good guy and a bad guy together. By using these packs to tool the 3 main body types we would be set up for success should these sell well. The original plan was:

He-Man vs. Beastman
Skeletor vs. Stratos
Man-At-Arms vs. Zodac

Yes, yes you can argue that Zodac is not a bad guy but really this was about zeroing in on 6 characters that could use the human, reptile and beast bucks with minimal new parts. Mer Man needed more new parts vs Zodac so he didn’t make the cut.

Very late in the game the choice was made to split these 2 packs up into single figures to spread the releases out and have 6 months worth of product. This would give us time to gage success of the line and whether we could move forward with a 7th figure. (and on a personal note I am so glad this choice was approved!)

While most of “He-Man” was paid for already though King Grayskull, obviously a few additional items were needed. Originally design only wanted to give He-Man the half power sword. In one of those (not so rare) occasions of me stepping out of my marketing silo, I literally begged design to please throw in the full sword as well.

Additionally, the original plan was not to have the swappable heads or armor (which is why King Grayskull’s head and armor was not removable). As a fan, I really wanted swappable heads and armor for customization, and I extrapolated that my desires for multiple heads likely mirrored most fans’ desires. So again I literally pleaded and begged the design group to please look into this as an added feature.

While this meant a two month delay in product launch, design was willing to execute on my proposal to make removable heads and armor. He-Man was reworked to have this feature. This is why He-Man was delayed from early fall to the very end of 2008. I think it was worth it!

Packaging was also a major issue from the start. Management was pretty clear that we needed to do this on a very minimal budget and we had almost zero resources for new packaging. Actually, the specific direction from management was to slap them in a plain white box and send them out. Because this was an online toy line, management did not see why we needed full color packaging (retail needs packaging for obvious reasons). As a toy fan, again I knew many customers want to keep their figures mint in box as “art” pieces so it was important to go all the way (if we could). I was willing to fight for this too.

I sat down with packaging and pretty much begged them for any resources possible. While we couldn’t go with the red rock vintage homage concept that the Horsemen had pitched, we had the great Green Brick design from the SDCC figure already in the can. If we could use these existing graphic elements it would save a huge amount of time.

I was also very insistent that the bubble blister had the inverted belly button mark that was an homage to the vintage line. Because this was a simple addition, packaging agreed to add this even though they had little budget or resources. Essentially a few MOTU fans in the package group stayed late on their own time to make this package happen. (so while some fans have complained about the package over the years, you have to realize this was all done on spit and wax. It was pretty much reusing the green brick from the SDCC figure or having a plain white box. The option for a more elaborate package was just not available or possible).

We also knew that there was no new entertainment planned to support the line and we had no budget for mini comics (like I said, we could barely afford to create a new package!). Especially when fans voted for multiple heads over mini comics at NYCC in Feb of 2008.

To give fans some type of “entertainment” we decided to put bios on the back panel. Obviously there are tons of contradictory cannons for MOTU. We didn’t intend (and still don’t) for MOTUC to be the definitive cannon. There is no definitive cannon. The stories fans make up in their play and imaginations are just as valid.

But what we did do is take the best elements from different (often contradictory) cannons and merge them into one storyline. I’ll have more to say on this when we get to Stratos which was about the time all of the bios (beyond the first 6) were written.

The last packaging element was getting the vintage art for the shield. Luckily most of the vintage figures had art across the top. I put in a request to the archive department and pulled the 6 vintage figures that corresponded to the 6 figures in the roll out. (boy was there a lot of dust!) Cards were scanned and the art was good to go.

One quick side bar to note. All of the vintage figures also had one line of “copy” across the art. He-Man’s was something like “He-Man defends Eternia with his friends and allies” or something like that. I thought it would be really cool if the one line of copy from the vintage figures was incorporated into the bios so we made sure that the “last” line of most bios (Skeletor is an early exception) was the final line of the new bios. The idea (kinda) was “what if these bios were around for the vintage line, they just got cut down to one line on the final figure”. Now for the first time we were presenting the hypothetical “full bio” for each character as written in the vintage days (at least this is kinda how I saw it in my head, take it or leave it).

So there we had it. 6 figures ready to go, 6 bios written and we even managed to find a way to create packaging with almost no resources available What a month that was.

But I digress. Back to He-Man specifically.

So here was our flagship guy. The most powerful man in the Universe ready to kick off what could potentially be an entire line of new updated collector aimed figures. Man I hoped this worked! A lot was on the line.

The first samples came back and he looked great. A little bit too much overspray on the eyes and a few small adjustments, but the head was now removable as was the power vest. He had the half sword and the full sword that I begged for. At this point it was time to see if he would sell.

He-Man went up on Mattycollector.com in late fall 2008 and did “okay”. He was not at all a runaway success. We sold a modest number of units, but not anywhere what I expected or what Mattel needed to sell in order to green lit more figures.

Oh well. At least we got He-Man, King Grayskull and Beastman and Skeletor were already in production so we knew they would at least be sold. I had little hope after He-Man’s slow initial sell that we would ever get to another figure beyond the first 6 (well 7 if you count King Grayskull – which I do!).

One side note I should add is that He-Man was actually the first figure to suffer from the dreaded “reversed shoulder” issue. When He-Man was assembled (and actually the original King Grayskull too I should add) the male human shoulders were new to us and no one but the Horsemen caught that the shoulders were reversed. Obviously we made this correction with the second run, but man, now embarrassing. Luckily the detail that differentiated left from right was very minor. But still. A figure that wasn’t perfect was not what we wanted to sell.

Luckily (for us) fans did not have much exposure to these figures yet and no one really caught his until Skeletor came out with corrected shoulders (more on that when I get to Skeletor in this blog series). Plus, since He-Man was our main guy, we were able to get the resources to swap his shoulders for a second release later on.

Packaging and accessory issues aside, the line was kicked off. It wasn’t a run away success yet and no one (including myself) was looking or even thinking we could do more then these 6 figures ending with Zodac. At least we had 6 in the pipe and if sales picked up maybe, maybe we would get to more. Only time and fan interest would tell.

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Date d'inscription : 29/03/2008
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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:07

#3: Beast Man - OR "How I learned to love real names"

Beast Man.

Well actually, Beast Man, Stratos, Skeletor and Zodac…

All of these figures were sculpted at the same time for the original 2-pack concept. But for the sake of blogging, I will try to split them up into separate rants.

When these six figures were tooled, we had yet to sell a single figure, so there isn’t much I can say on how they influenced future figures, but I can chat a bit more about the line kicking off.

One thing to talk about at this time is the period between July 2008 and November 2008 when the first six figures were being sculpted by the boys in Jersey. I took this time to immerse myself back in MOTU lore and history to be ready should the first six figures prove successful and lead to a full line.

The first thing I did was request every box of work I could from the Mattel archives that the “founders” of the MOTU line worked on. Using a short list of names of former employees that I knew were attached to the original MOTU pitch in 1979/1980 (Roger Sweet’s non-licensed book “Mastering the Universe” was a good jumping off point for names and dates), I requested all of the work that anyone who worked on the original pitch had in our archives from pre-1982 product launch (i.e., design work, not post-launch work).

What I got back was 11 very old dusty security sealed boxes full of 99% paperwork. I hijacked an empty locked conference room and stuffed all of the boxes under a free table. Then on Friday afternoons for the next 4 months I would stay late (Mattel closes at 1 on Fridays!) and each week I would pull out one box and go through it item by item, piece of paper by pieced of paper. To say this was a tedious job or what I wanted to do in my free time is an understatement. But honestly, if it meant a full MOTU line, it was so worth it. Plus, hey, maybe I would find something neat!

Well, 95% of what was in these boxes had nothing to do with anything MOTU. It was mostly design briefs, memos, and proposal documents for a variety of late '70s, early '80s toy lines and pitches. To say there was a lot of dust involved was an understatement. By the third week (and third box) I was using gloves and a Mattel art smock I borrowed from the guys in the Chemical Lab.

Slowly I went through each box. As I said, most of it was useless for MOTU research, but I did find some amazing gems. One box had tons of prelim notes and research material on what would make a good boys' toy line. I even found the original letter from then-Mattel president Ray Wagner calling for a meeting to discuss a new boys' action play line (you can see this letter in the 2009 SDCC art book -- in fact, most of everything I found wound up in the art book). The conference was actually being held at the Hacienda Hotel, which is literally across the street from the current Mattel HQ in El Segundo (but at the time in 1979 was a bit of a drive from the former Hawthorne HQ off the 405 Freeway).

But the real gems were finding Glut’s prelim story notes and the original Mark Taylor concept sketches for He-Man, Skeletor and Beast Man (you may know them better as Vikor, Demo-Man and Red Beast!). I very distinctly remember pulling them out. This was about the third or forth week of me staying late on a Friday. I hadn’t found much useful at this point, but there at the very bottom of a dusty box was a manila envelope simply labeled “Fantasy/Monster” in faded pencil.

My heart stopped.

What could this be? Could this actually be something related to the creation of MOTU? OMG!

I slowly pulled the envelope out and laid it on the table of my empty conference room. Unhooked the brass tabs (that clearly had not been touched in 20 years!). Inside were three pieces of paper.

Holy cow! This was it!!!!! Here were (what I found our later were copies of) the actual original sketches from Mark Taylor of the main characters that would be in MOTU! I couldn’t believe that I was the first person in decades to open this envelope. How could these gems possibly have been sitting in this box for so long? To quote Indy, “They should be in a museum!”

After weeks of dead ends, this was hitting the Mother Lode. I just stared and stared at these pencil colors for an hour, blown away by what I had just unearthed from the Mattel archives. I had hit pay dirt.

This process continued for the next few weeks. I found a lot more items in my search, and pretty much EVERYTHING I found (which wasn’t much) wound up in the 2009 art book. It was clear some of the really good stuff wasn’t around anymore (or at least I couldn’t find it) but there were quite a few gems including a lot of handwritten notes about "Monster/Fantasy" toys, and even a few documents from early 1980 that mentions “He-Man” and “MOTU” by name. Very cool.

I spent weeks reviewing all of these boxes and categorizing everything. I made copious notes of every item I pulled out, which box it came from, what it was and what it signified. I had no idea what I might use any of this for, but something told me, “find everything you can!” I didn’t want MOTUC to be the greatest MOTU line of all time, I wanted it to be the greatest TOY line of all time! So all the research I could do was worth it.

In the six months of development, not only did I pull all of these boxes from the archives, but I used the time to re-familiarize myself with MOTU lore. I re-watched every episode of every series, re-read ever mini comic, DC comic, Marvel comic, Image comic and so forth. (The He-Man.org guys were nice enough to send me samples of all of their MVP comics since I only had a few issues in my personal collection.) I started making a lot of notes on characters and rights issues. Knowing we did not have access (at the time) to Filmation-created characters, I wanted to have a clear understanding of exactly which characters we could make if the line took off.

I used this time to start to draw up master plans. One of the reasons the 200X Staction line had a short life was because they blew though key characters very quickly. Therefore, it was very important that if MOTU Classics (as we were now calling this line) was going go for the long haul, we needed a road map to get us through a few years. More on this when we get to Stratos. That was around the time the master plans (and bios) started taking shape.

Back to Beast Man specifically. There actually isn’t much more to say. He was developed at the same time as the other “first six” figures that were originally meant to be 2-packs. It should be noted that these first six figures were actually a bit expensive, tooling-wise. While we have really only been able to do one to two newly tooled figures per year, right out of the gate we had to tool three complete body types: Human (paid for with King Grayskull) Beast (Beast Man, Stratos) and Reptile (Skeletor). So the first six figures actually wound up eating a lot of our tooling budget.

But we positioned this to management as an investment, and if it paid off we would be able to do a year’s worth of figures with very minimal tooling after this. Luckily, this was a gamble that paid off.

Another thing to point out is that while most figures in the ongoing MOTUC line had at least two accessories, most of the figures in the first six (Beast Man, Stratos, Zodac) had only one (or none!) This was essentially because they were envisioned as 2-packs and not as single figures that needed a minimum number of accessories. Fans still point out the lack of accessories (especially with Stratos, who had none). All I can say is that these first six fell under different “rules” compared to all of the figures after them. It wasn’t a lack of caring, we just weren’t looking at them as a long term line yet and essentially were just mimicking the vintage figures’ accessories for the first six. If the vintage figure had one accessory, the new figure got one. If he had none (like Stratos) the Classics figure got none. We were not being cheap; we were just mimicking the vintage line, even down to the accessories.

Eventually, when the line took off, we made it a self-imposed “rule” to try and give each figure at least two accessories. End of mystery! (Yes, I still see flaming posts on this issue, oh well…)

Beast Man had a few other issues. Hong Kong mixed up his and Stratos' belts on the cross-sell (we even had some incorrectly assembled Stratos figure show up on eBay which freaked everyone out). But we did catch this and quickly made the change (although we were unable to make the change to the cross-sell image right away!).

This was also before we started matching the cross-sell images and packouts to the vintage cross-sell pose/packout. Long time fans will note that (for the most part) we tried to match packouts and cross-sell poses to the vintage toy. But during the development of the first six figures, this wasn’t something we had thought of yet (we were just happy to be making MOTU figures at all!) and essentially all of our efforts were going into just making six figures (knowing that the line might just end at six figures and that would be it).

It really wasn’t until Stratos’ quick sell-out that we knew we had a hit on our hands. There was a lot more MOTUC to come, but at the time, we were just excited to be getting six figures out there!

Oh, one last note on Beast Man is to talk about his “real name.” While the full bio “storyline” and the actual bios for the next six years would not be written until Stratos’ quick sell out and we knew we were in this for the long haul, we did want to make sure the original six bios worked on their own.

One thing that is very common in toy bios is to provide “real names” for characters (GI Joe, anyone?). Some characters in MOTU lore already had very established real names (Adam, Duncan, Keldor, etc…). But for others, we felt that “Beast Man” or “Spikor” was much more of a description of the character (like a code name, like “Snake Eyes” or “Duke,” not to overuse the GI Joe reference here). So (at least for the first six) we decided to issue real names for the first time for characters that had descriptive names (come on, we know his mother did not name him “Beast Man!”). This was really the first time we added anything to the “lore” that was new.

There wasn’t an overarching rule on how the real names were created. Really, they were handled on a character-by-character basis. We also knew that ANY new info (be it info in the bio or the real name) would be controversial with long-time fans. (what can I say, many long time fans hate change). But as with any new info, we hoped fans would come to embrace it in time. Hey, remember when it was revealed in 2003-2004-ish that Keldor was Skeletor’s real name and he was in fact Adam’s uncle? Fans HATED this. The flaming on the boards over this connection made Snake Man-at-Arms 2012 figures look like cheesecake.

But like most changes, in time fans grew to accept these new facts and even embrace and defend them. Nowadays, if you tell someone Keldor is not Randor’s brother you will get flamed yourself! What was controversial eventually becomes lore. Many hard core fans just don’t like change, but tend to accept it in time. We were well aware of this going in and fully expected the reaction we got. No big surprise as we know how passionate MOTU fans are. Change is bad (or is it?).

Raqquill Rqazz specifically was created as Beast Man’s real name because it was designed to mimic his people’s voice and beastly language. It was also designed to sound vicious in nature (Ra-KILL Ra- Kazzz). Love it or hate it, we had a “real name” and were ready to unleash it on the public (fully aware this added element to the lore would be extremely controversial at first).

But a big point of the bios and all aspects of them (real names included) was to give fans something to talk about and it worked in spades (no Spector pun intended). While some loved the bios and names, others not so much. But with the lack of any new mini comic or animation, these bios were the form of entertainment available and they succeeded beyond out hopes giving fans another thing to talk about and keep the line going.

So that is about it for Beast Man, his figure and bio/real name. I’ll be back to jump into Skeletor next as we started to head towards our on-sale date and what would be the edge of a knife whether this new line would find an audience and, more importantly, if that audience would be big enough to support the line!

Until next time,

Scott Neitlich

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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:09

#4: Skeletor - cover model


Possibly our most popular character (hey, everyone knows the bad guys are way cooler vs. the good guys). Skeletor was loaded up with accessories, given a brand new paint job by the Horsemen and was ready to bring the conflict factor to MOTUC (sure, fans already had Beast Man, but Skelly was the real adversary for our new line!).

Skeletor was also one of our first big PR pushes. After a call to my buddies at Toy Fare magazine (sniff…rest in peace, you wonderful mag, you!) and after some haggling and negotiating we managed to land the cover to the Oct 2008 issue with a huge shot of the new Classics Skeletor surrounded by fire and smoke. A very cool shot (and I still have the cover framed on my desk at work!). The issue also included an interview with me, Mattel design, and a side bar with the Horsemen.

It is actually a bit surprising looking back that this was the first and last MOTUC cover we ever got with Toy Fair mag before it went big A-way in Jan 2011 (more on our planned, but never executed, Preternia cover with Megator when we get to his blog entry in a few months).

It is funny, going back and rereading the interview in this issue it is cool to see how much of our wishes for the line came true. Every single figure we listed in the interview as wanting to see has now been done! Even the Horsemen’s pick “Bow” made it into the line after about a year. Funny how time flies.

Anyway, back to Skeletor. There actually isn’t much more to say about him that hasn’t been covered in the last few blogs. Obviously, he introduced the new “reptile body” (that is what the vintage line called this body type and we swiped the name) as well as the Havoc staff and Skeletor armor (which could be later used for Faker).

Skeletor also introduced the new corrected human shoulders that were reversed on King Grayskull and He-Man (although not many fans took notice of this error until Skeletor came out and they had a comparison model). But man, were we embarrassed. Let's just hope this never happens again… (oh wait-crud!).

We also went back and forth on the paint ops on Skeletor’s head. First, there was not enough green, then we had too much. I think the final figure hit it very well, but it was distinctly different from the deco on the vintage figure’s head. This was something we were eventually able to add with the Battle Armor Skeletor from 2011. And by having swappable heads from Day 1, it ensured that long time fans could mix and match parts to create their “ultimate” version of any character. This would be a feature we would later put to use with Bubble Power She-Ra, but I digress.

Skeletor was also significant early on because of his rather quick sell out. Well, quicker compared to He-Man and Beast Man, that is. Both of the previous figures were available for (if I remember right…) well over a month. Skeletor, if I recall, sold out in about 3 weeks and was the first time a figure was not available for the next month’s sale. So fans who wanted to wait a few months and then buy a few figures at once to save on shipping were out of luck. And this pretty much directly translated to a super fast sell-out of Stratos.

While we never intended for 5 minute sell-outs, this certainly helped to kick start the full year’s line and give management the “proof” they needed that the line could be a hit.

After Skeletor’s sell-out, we quickly started looking into what a full year of product could look like. We knew we had spent most of our annual tooling on the first 6 figures (and with them, three 100% tool’d body types) so that meant the remaining figures (if the line was going to be expanded) would need to be very minimal tooling. What was nice is that the vintage line had already set a precedent for shared parts. So applying this to Classics (as I stated in a previous blog) would not make it look like we were going cheap, but rather we were paying homage to the vintage line.

After Skeletor’s sell-out, we got the green light for two more monthly figures. Mer-Man became the obvious choice since he was minimal new tooling and was one of the "original 8." After that, we wanted to stretch out a bit and went for the gold with Hordak. He wasn’t that much more tooling, but the new parts would really give us a lot of bang for our buck.

Pretty much at this point we thought Hordak would be the very last figure in the line. So hey, if we had to go out with a bang, at least we got to the “other” main villain.

It was also about this time that we finalized out plans to go to NYCC in February, and this time we wanted to bring a MOTUC figure with us. We had pretty much zero tooling available so the obvious choice was to do Faker.

Now Faker has an odd history in the modern lines because he was a NYCC-exclusive for Classics and a mail-away figure in the 200X line. I’ve seen a lot of fans taking issue with this but really taking a step back, he was the choice for both promotions (mail-away and NYCC item) BECAUSE he was a deco-only option.

Both projects had such small budgets that they required a deco-only figure for the slot. So it is not a prejudice against Faker or anything (as some fans insist), he just has the unique quality of being a deco-only character and therefore working for both promotions.

I’m totally off track at this point. More on Faker when I get to his entry. Back to Skeletor.

Actually, there really isn’t much more to tell. We developed Skeletor (as stated previously) at the same time that we developed the other “original 6.” His quick sell-out was the key to green lighting the next two figures (Mer Man and Hordak, who both got moved around in the schedule a bit). But other than that, there really isn’t much more to tell.

The key was that the line was finding its fan base and really starting to take off. With the next figure, Stratos, it became crystal-clear that we had a hit on our hands and it was time to start thinking long term, both in terms of character roll-out and creating bios for all the characters. But I’ll get into that in the next entry.

Oh, there is one more thing to hit on with Skeletor – his bio and the mention of the infamous “Demo-Man!"

So one of the things we hoped to do with the bios (other than justify the greatest number of figures) was to use them to seed ideas and concepts for future figures and storylines. We had hoped to one day get to a figure based on the concept art for the vintage line. We didn’t want to just call these characters “concept art He-Man” like Star Wars did back in 2007 with their Ralph line. Instead, we wanted to make all of the concept characters fully marketable and merchandisable characters on their own. We could have gone in either direction, and I know there are many fans who would have preferred we went with “concept art He-Man/Skeletor” for the eventual Vikor and Demo-Man figures released in 2011, but by making them both original stand-alone characters, we now had two more characters in our arsenal that could be merchandised and marketed to a new generation of fans and kids. And hey, the bios are there to embrace or ignore. If any fan/customer wants to just call Demo-Man “concept Skeletor” on their shelf, that is just as valid!

When I was doing all of my MOTU research between King Grayskull’s release and He-Man’s on-sale date, I was able to locate a few pieces of early art and a few early production memos. In many of these early drafts, Skeletor was called “Demo-Man” as well as “D-Man.” This was both a parallel to “He-Man” (D-Man/He-Man) as well as a nod to Skeletor’s original origin that was a demon from another dimension. (Love that classic panel in the first mini-comic where Skeletor is leading an army of Skeletor-looking demons through a portal to Eternia! How cool is that!).

Because so many of the vintage stories contradict each other, we basically wanted to choose the best elements from each and incorporate them into the bios. By making Demo-Man the being that was merged with Keldor to become Skeletor, it was a great way of legitimizing Demo-Man as a stand-alone character, tying him into Skeletor’s origin and paying homage to that first mini-comic story with a completely different origin for Skeletor compared to his more well-known Filmation and 200X stories. This story (as told in the bios) was not supposed to replace the older continuity or stories from mini comics or cartoons, but much like competitive brands like Joe or Transformers that reinvent themselves every few years, this was an all new storyline that in this case used some of the best parts of many other stories as a way of telling a new story that justified the greatest number of figures in the end.

And as an added bonus, by slipping Demo-Man into Skeletor’s bio, some fans actually started “asking for a Demo-Man figure” (while others begged us never to do one!). Either way, this was out first big proof of how important these bios were being treated by fans. We knew we could now use them as a tool to justify more figures (the main goal) and to entertain fans, and give them some type of content in lieu of a cartoon or comic book, which were just not in the cards at the time.

Due to a copyright error, the name Demo-Man was actually left off of the original bio card. We added it back into the online bio once the name cleared and when we went into a second run of Skeletor down the road, the bio was G-changed as well (that is the term for changing a package look).

Demo-Man would go on to be one of the most controversial elements of Skeletor’s bio. But in the end, much like the introduction of Keldor as his real name, a portion of fans have grown to accept and honor this addition to the lore. While we knew we were in no way going to please everyone, it really became a great way of building the line and justifying more toys (which we did when we made a Demo-Man figure in December of 2011 -- okay, well, he didn’t ship until January 2012, but you know what I mean!).

With Skeletor’s success behind us and two more figures green-lit (and a third new NYCC deco-change figure), it was time to start looking at this line long-term. We knew we needed a long-term rollout to ensure we didn’t run out of steam too quickly (as happened with the Staction line in 2003) and that the bios did not come across as “we are making this up as we go along").

Now was the time to kick it into high gear.

Until next time,


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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:11

#5: Stratos - Sky High

Stratos. So here was a big one.

Well, not so much for the particular figure, but after Stratos went on sale was when we not only pitched a full year of product (beyond Hordak, who at the time was the last figure), but this was also the time we sat down and thought about this line for the long haul.

But I’ll get into that in a minute. Let me round out any outstanding issues on our little flying monkey man first.

As I’ve said in previous blog entries, Stratos was sculpted and designed at the same time as the other "first" 6” figures. One of the issues that came up was that he and Beast Man were sculpted and shipped at the same time. When they arrived in Hong Kong, our vendor team accidently mixed up their loin cloth/belt pieces (likely due to seeing the red on the belt for Stratos and assuming it was for Beast Man to match his armor – oops!). The incorrectly assembled figures showed up in the cross-sell and a few loose (and packaged) samples of Stratos with the yellow Beast Man belt actually showed up online and freaked out a lot of fans.

But we quickly saw this error and made the correction before he went into production. I remember one of the members of the management team told us to ship him as-is and that he was “our character” so we could give him whatever belt color we wanted.

Terry and I were adamantly against this and pretty much spent up all of our political Mattel capital to insist that the belt be changed. And it was. It was a close call and if not for Terry’s insistence to his bosses, this wouldn’t have been changed (and my nagging).

Another issue that surrounds Stratos is his lack of accessories. I hit this one in a previous blog, but to recap, basically, the first six figures were worked on in a bit of a bubble. After Stratos, we started looking at the figures as part of a long term line. But before Stratos' sale, we didn’t think we would be getting past the first six, and then the first eight, when we added Mer-Man and Hordak (and Faker as a quick repaint for NYCC).

Once we knew we had a full line ahead of us, we made an unofficial rule that each character needed at least two accessories or a second head and one accessory (many got more than this!). But for the first six, we were not working under this self-imposed guideline and were just following the vintage line tit-for-tat.

The vintage figure had no accessories, so the Classics figure of Stratos did not. Many fans asked about adding accessories, such as the Emerald Staff of Avion or something like this. And had Stratos been a later monthly figure needing two accessories under our self-created rule, this would have likely been the first idea we had, too.

BUT: like the other early figures, Stratos fell victim to the “trial and error” that befalls every toy line’s early figures and wound up being accessory-less (just like his vintage figures). Hopefully, one day we can find a way to get him some accessories (if you haven’t armored up your Stratos already with one of the weapon paks or something). It is interesting to see how this happens on almost all toy lines. The first batch of figs are always experimental. Bugs need to be worked out and whomever is lucky or unlucky enough to be one of the first figures in a line usually winds up having issues that get resolved with later figures.

On a personal note, I should also add that Stratos was one of my absolute FAVORITE figures as a kid. I loved Stratos and used to bring him everywhere. I actually had the reversed colors version with blue wings and a red pack (the vintage line had some odd color swaps -- imagine what today’s online fans would say had the internet been around for the vintage line!) so I was particularly glad when we got to this reversed color version in the MOTU vs DCU line (more on that when we get to those figures in this blog series).

The final issue to talk about with Stratos (other than his sell-out in minutes) was the articulation on the wings. When the figure was reviewed, customers quickly pointed out and asked for articulation on the wings. I actually completely misunderstood what customers were asking for (and I take total fault on this one).

What I thought customers wanted was an articulation point at the wrist like the 200X Stratos had so the wings could be moved up and down. But what the customers were asking for was to make sure the wings could be rotated 360 degrees around the wrist to mimic the vintage cross-sell art. I totally dropped the ball on this and did not understand what customers were asking for. The online posts I read just were not that clear, or if they were I missed the point.

So when I said we couldn’t articulate the wings, what I thought I was responding to was that we couldn’t re-tool the wings to have an articulation point at the wrist. Of course we didn’t have to glue them in place! But I honestly didn’t understand what customers were saying when they asked for articulation and I trusted Terry and his design team with the choice to “glue” the wings from rotating. I didn’t want to step on their toes and it wasn’t my job to “tell” them how to make a figure.

Once customers clarified what they meant, I of course wanted to remove the glue to ensure the wings could rotate 360 degrees. But by that point it was too late. We were able to make this a feature on the reverse color Stratos in the retail vs. pack, but alas, original Stratos never got the rotating wings and I still chalk this up to an early miss on my part.

Okay, now the part you may be waiting for. The roll out (I’ll address the bio creation in the next blog).

So Stratos sold very well. Better than we could have hoped for. After Skeletor became the first figure to sell out before the next figure went on sale, customers jumped on Stratos like white on rice and bought him up lightning-fast. While this was faster than we needed to see, it became a great talking point for upper management to get a full year line green lit (and boy, did we need a victory talking point!)

Looking at past collector lines, many had died an early death simply because they burned through characters a bit too quickly. This was especially the case with the 2003 Staction line from NECA.

To avoid this, I decided to create a multiyear rollout to ensure that each year had a robust selection of figures from all the factions and corners of the MOTU world.

Of course, this rollout was not going to be set in stone, but it has actually surprised me how little we have deviated from it over the years. It has been a great tool and one we still use. We do make some changes and as we add or subtract the number of SKUs we offer each year (such as adding beasts) or when we get access to new characters (like Filmation rights), we do make alterations. But for the most part, I’d say we have followed the original rollout 85%+ of the time. The figures coming out next month were originally slotted into that month at the time of Stratos' sell out. Which is pretty cool and really helped make sure each year would be strong.

Now of course there is no guarantee this roll out will be followed forever. And heck, I am sure I will not be the brand manager on the line forever. But for the moment and for the last four years it has been a great tool to keep us on track.

To make the rollout, the first thing I did was make a master list of all the characters we had access to. I knew Filmation was off limits, as were things like comics and books (outside of the mini-comics and the DC comic book series, due to our partnership with DC Comics at the time and to this day). I brought my long list to Legal and sat down with a pair of very nice Mattel lawyers on the top floor of our corporate office.

For the most part the lawyers approved my list. I was told to definitely stay away from Filmation, and the 1987 movie was also a no-go for now due to rights issues. But for the most part, the 200X series (which we had full access to) provided most of the key Filmation characters (Orko, Man-At-Arms with a mustache, etc.), as well as some nice bonus characters that made it into 200X from Filmation, like Marzo and Evil Seed, during a legal window that existed when the 200X series was done and gave us an odd loophole.

I did show the legal team images of the Horde Witches from Episode 35 and images of Shadow Weaver to see if that was a “back door” way to get her into the line but was told flat-out “no” on that idea. Mattel respects other companies' copyrights and we, in return, respect theirs. Besides, Legal was very clear we had more than enough characters between the vintage line, POP, NA, and the 200X line and show. So there was no need to spend gobs of money and time chasing a few stray Filmation characters through shady loopholes. And honestly, even as a fan, I 100% agree with them. Sure I wanted Shadow Weaver, but from a business perspective it did not make sense to chase rights and spend money on what was (and still is) a very small collector line. Especially when there already were hundreds of characters we could do.

So life is life. We had a clear line drawn on who we had access to and who we did not. With this knowledge in place, it was time to draw up a road map for the character rollout.

I must have spent hours every night and on the weekends for the next few months just poring over spreadsheets and fan requests online, reviewing the lineup, then take a step back, review it again, move slots and figures around and keep fine-tuning it until I felt it was “just right.” Yes, I could have pounded this out at work and had adequate time to do so, but it was one of those things I wanted to spend hours on and was happy to do so.

To say I took this seriously was an understatement. I knew helping to pick the line up was not only a great honor, but a HUGE responsibility and I wanted to do right by the fans. The goal was a blend of males, females, vintage figures, 200X figures, POP, mini-comics etc… so that each year felt like a nice package and more importantly that we had strong characters to anchor each year. There were also some characters that checked-off multiple boxes. Catra, for example, was a POP figure, a Horde figure and a female. So she covered a lot of ground as a slot.

I also made sure to note all of the requests online (at the time). This is exactly why Optikk, for example, showed up as the first NA figure. At the time (late 2008), he was the most requested NA character on the boards. So while we still read fan requests, the ones that actually helped shape the line were those posted in late 2008. After that, requests were nice, but didn’t really affect the lineup since it was locked in. (A great example of this is requests for Blonde Bikini Teela. She was locked into the line as a spring 2011 figure from Day 1. But it was very cool that fans started “demanding” her pretty early on, not aware - and how could they be - that she was already in the line for eventual release in 2011! So this was a case of fans demanding a figure that was already coming. Pretty neat.)

It is also neat to look back and see how “right on” we tended to be with fan demand. If you look at the lists posted on sites, with the exception of Ram Man who has been a perpetual fan request (and one harder to do because of the one time use 100% tool) we tend to be hitting the figures in the order fans want. Everyone wanted Trap Jaw and we got to him. After Trap Jaw came out everyone wanted Hsss and Fisto and so on. It is neat to see that for the most part (not always) the #1 requested figure tends to be coming up rather soon. I think this is a good sign that the roll out was put together well. Heck, a few months ago Frosta and Spikor were the top requests and we just revealed them as coming later this year! I see this as a sign we did things right.

Anyway, after weeks of poring over the list at home in my off hours (Mattel did provide adequate time to do this at work, but I chose to take my time and go slow, bringing my work home), I finally brought it in and presented the list to Terry and his team. Surprisingly, Terry had almost zero comments and thought my rollout hit it just right.

Next step was running this by the Horsemen for their input. And much like the Mattel design team, the Horsemen also had very little to change. They did ask me to move Clawful up (he was originally a 2013 figure) due to it being one of Eric’s favorites. They also asked me to swap Whiplash and Buzz Off in my rollout as they wanted to logistically figure out the tail connector first before figuring out the wing attachment. Bow and Tytus/Megator were also characters CB wanted to get to, so I made sure to put them earlier in the line for them.

But other than that, my roll out was pretty much approved by all parties.

The next step was bringing the first year’s worth of figures to management for approval to continue the line past Mer-Man and Hordak. Even though we had (and have) the line thought-out for several years, we still bring it for approval one year at a time and just lift the next year’s figures from the master rollout doc and present at each year’s annual review meetings with management.

Based on the sales of the previous four figures and the brand equity in supporting our own intellectual property, management loved the idea of doing a full year of figures to “see how it goes.” All of the figures in Year 1 needed to be very minimal tooling since we spent so much tooling on the three main bodies (human, beast and reptile). We pretty much put all the rest of the tooling into the Teela figure so we would have a female buck to work with. (it is much easier to get fully tool’d figures approved if the tool is reusable) After that we were down to heads and armor only for the remaining figures. This is part of why there were so many “core” characters in Year 1. We simply did not have the tooling for more extravagant figures that year.
When we presented the line up to management, I do remember in particular one of the managers looking at Scareglow (the proposed October figure, until the Mer-Man slip moved him to November) and saying “Scareglow? Really? He was one of the cheap-outs back in the day.” Which is interesting because if you look at the vintage Scareglow wave (Randor, Clamp Champ, Ninjor and Scareglow) they were all pretty much "weapon and a head only" figures. It seemed that with the popularity of the line back in 1985/1986, the team back then needed to rush some new figures to market and just as it is today, the cheapest and easiest way to rush figures to market is to use minimal tooling and redeco option.

So while management members who were around for the vintage line thought of Scareglow as one of the “cheap-out figures, we did to keep fresh product out there," Terry and I knew he was actually one of the most demanded figures in the line, having been one of the few vintage figures to not make it into the 200X line or Staction line.

Either way, management was fine with our selections and trusted us that including a character like Scareglow was the right way to go. (Although management still thought we were a bit loony for including him. Oh well.)

Okay, wow. For a blog about Stratos, I’ve gone on and on. The rollout strategy just took up a lot of space. I’ll hit the bio creation subject next time and talk about how we took a look at the bios as a long-term story idea and why we wrote them all at once to avoid making it feel like we were making this up as we went along.

The line was officially a hit after Stratos. But there was still a lot of work to do, and Terry and I were both busy with our fulltime gigs on retail lines. Luckily my wife didn’t seem to mind me staying up every night pouring over MOTU comics and rollout sheets. While I never intended MOTUC to be an "outside of work" hobby, it was an enjoyable one and I hoped the customers would support it.

Until next time!


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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:13

#6: Faker - I hardly knew her!

So Faker is an interesting story. He has the lucky - or unlucky - feature of being one of the only figures in all of MOTU lore that is a direct repaint with zero new tooling.

A lot of fans have posted and complained over the years that Faker is never given his due. In the 200X line he was a mail away figure and in Classics he started off as a convention exclusive.

Pretty much he was a candidate for both of these programs because of how easy he was to do logistically. In both cases (in 2002 and in 2008) there was a need for a quick figure to fill a PR need (mail-away slot/con item). And as a deco only character, he became the go-to choice both times (independently, I should add).

It was never anything against Faker, and yes, had he been a normal monthly figure and not a character who could fill a last minute PR program need, he would have gotten a better shake (likely in both lines). I would have loved to give him a second head (maybe with battle damage, à la the Terminator, or a flip-up head to reveal robot parts or something) but just as was needed in 2002, in 2008 we had the opportunity to do a PR slot for NYCC and as a deco-only option (and pretty much the only one we had with the existing tooling for the first seven figures), he was the best/only choice.

One of the other interesting things about Faker is he is one of the few figures in the entire MOTUC line that was not deco’d by the Four Horsemen. When word came that we were going to be attending NYCC that year, the MOTUC team rushed to get a figure ready for the show. Terry did the deco himself and then we just used the existing packaging (due to the rush, there was no time to do a special convention package or anything).

Essentially, he was a pretty easy figure to do. I do remember Terry really having a ball recreating the vintage tape deck sticker on his chest. Martin Arriola, who was Terry’s boss and had worked on the vintage line, came over and saw Terry working on the sticker and said, “Hey, I did that back in the day!” It was a cool nostalgia moment. Martin is actually one of the few current employees who worked on the vintage line and one of the nicest guys around. He was very supportive of the line in the early days and it was good to have another member of management in our corner.

Although Faker was originally slotted to be just a NYCC item (with remaining stock perhaps sold online), Mer-Man and Zodac were running very late so we were pretty much forced to use him as a monthly figure in March 2009, but letting him be available “first” at NYCC.

Delays in product would wind up being a bane of my existence for years on MOTUC. It is funny, but 99.9% of the time I personally had nothing to do with almost any delay (from Faker to Demo-Man) but as the “public face” of the brand I tend to take the blunt of fans' anger and frustration (understandably so). I used to think, “Man, if they only knew how much I am working on this line in my spare time just to keep it going!” But nowadays I pretty much just accept that all delays and shipping and customer service issues are 100% my fault in the eyes of the customer. And you know what, that is totally fine. If it means people are angry at me personally but in the end we get more MOTU toys, then it is fine. But man, delays suck and on such a tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny line like MOTUC they are 100% inevitable.

So the Mer-Man and Zodac delay meant we needed to fill the monthly slot. Even though we didn’t have a subscription yet, we still wanted to guarantee a figure per month. Thank our lucky starts we had Faker ready for NYCC. If we had not, there would have been no March figure at all. Phew. Just made it though that one!

Before I hit the bio creation tale (which honestly has been told many times already) there is one last “Faker” story.

An early sample that Terry had was not glued properly and the hair piece fell off. It was actually neat because under the hair on the head piece is a T-slot. I brought it over to Terry and asked “what if we actually don’t glue the hair on and paint the T-slot to look like a bunch of computer chips?” This way fans could remove the hair and see his “computer brain!”

While a cool idea, by the time it was pitched it was WAY too late to make any changes. Since there wasn’t precedent for this, it is not like it was a miss. But man, to this day I wish we could have done that. (Yeah, we could do a Faker 2.0 and give him this feature and a new battle damage head or something, but that would mean bumping another figure and we have so precious few slots as it is that I honestly can’t see this happening anytime soon, but hey, you never know. Maybe in a movie year this would be a cool way to refresh him for a retail release?)

So that's about it on Faker. Let's chat a bit about the bios and how they came to be:

After Stratos sold out quickly we green lit more figuress beyond Mer-Man and Hordak. This meant we needed bios too. We didn’t want to just churn out the bios one month at a time and write them as we went along (as we did for the first six), for several reasons. Chiefly, as has always been the point of the bios, we wanted to create a storyline that would justify the greatest number of figures possible. We also didn’t want to give the impression that we were “making this up as we went along.” Fans/customers can see through that in a minute.

From the comments we had already received online from the bios for the first few figures, we knew fans were reading into these bios a lot more than was ever intended. We were not trying to create the definitive cannon to MOTU (which is impossible due to all the different contradictory stories over the years) but rather create a story that would allow us access and justify the highest number of potential toys to make. Other brands like GI Joe or Transformers have many, many different cannons. By creating a new cannon for the MOTUC line, we were essentially doing just this. This was not meant to replace previous cannons, but rather to be a new, exciting direction to take the story in.

Now for starters, I should state that from Day 1 we knew no matter what angle we took, there would be some backlash from customers and fans. I’ve stated earlier in another blog that we are well aware that our hard core fans hate any “change” but come to embrace new elements in the long term. (Keldor being Skeletor’s real name/origin is a great example of something fans hated at first in 2003, but it is now a concept fans embrace for the most part unilaterally). And that is fine. Totally get that. And we knew from Day 1 that all the “new” elements from the bios were the ones that would be the most controversial. This is why we deliberately spaced these elements out, introducing them slowly over the course of the bios (such as naming the power sword, “The Sword of He” but waiting about a year into the bios before introducing this element – even though it was written into the story from Day 1).

With that said, and expecting exactly the reaction the bios received, we set about on an almost insurmountable task of writing bios for all characters in the proposed lineup (through 2016!) together to create one giant storyline to support making the largest variety of figures.

There has been a lot of backlash over the years that the bios are there to “explain away this, or justify that” but in the end, really the main goal of the bios was to provide a story for fans to talk about (which they did/do) since we knew there was no other form of entertainment planned (i.e., a new comic or cartoon) and to again provide justification for more toys.

We started with the list. We had a list of all of the characters we knew we had access to. Knowing Filmation was off limits (at the time) that animated series was completely ignored. We are not saying it did not happen, but we tended to look at it more as the version of the story as told to children (perhaps by a royal bard or something – Songster???) to make the story more kid friendly.

Because we did have access to the 200X series, which essentially was the same story as Filmation (basic concepts, not all the details), it was decided very early on that the 200X storyline would form the backbone of the bios and connect the dots. The 200X story also provided a lot of definitive origins for characters, whether from episodes like Stinkor/Fisto/Kobra Kahn, or from the comic book with Trap Jaw/Mer-Man, etc.)

Additionally, before Ian Richter left Mattel to pursue new opportunities, I met with him in his office and explained what we were doing with the line (Ian was Mattel’s rep from the Entertainment group who headed up the 200X animated series from our end). Ian was thrilled to hear we were doing an adult collector-aimed line and he loaded me up with tons of goodies on his way out. Most important, were all of his notes for where the potential third season of the 200X series would have gone. This was the meeting where he really handed over the “keys to Castle Grayskull” to me on his last day with Mattel. I was honored.

Now yes, different creatives on the 200X series had different ideas of where the show was going (i.e., Dean, Gary, etc.), but since we were talking about a Mattel toy line for Classics, the only third season notes we looked at were what Ian provided since these represented what Mattel was going to do with the 200X series, not necessarily what other people involved in the 200X series might have done.

With Ian’s notes in hand and access to other early storylines from Don Glut, Michael Halprin, and others (some of which I unearthed during my archive search - see previous blogs) we set about beating out the major points of the “Classics bio story.”

Now before I dive in further, I should point out that it was also always intentional that the information in the bios would not be “released” in perfect chronological order. Of course we knew this would be different and would cause some backlash, but, hey, no one had ever tried anything like this before, telling a new story though bios one month at a time, released out of order on the back of toy packages! What a novel idea and approach to storytelling!

Now I am not saying everything that has “never been done” should be done. Hey, no one has tried to make a comic book out of mud and snow, and they probably should not. But in the lack of other entertainment for the brand (i.e., no new mini-comics or cartoon), the bios would provide something for the fans to follow and talk about. And if they were released out of order, it would provide fans with the opportunity to piece them together and create the story in order (which they have -- exactly as we hoped they would!).

And honestly, with that as our goal, we succeeded beyond out hopes. We 100% expected the backlash we got (as I said, all hard core fans shy away from any change) but the idea of the bios was to justify figures and give fans something to talk about. In that sense, we succeeded beyond our hopes.

As we set about writing these, I knew personally that this was not only a HUGE honor, but we were writing them with permission from the fans. Yes, Mattel owns the brand, but it is the fans that have kept the brand alive for years. This was not something done lightly or in haste.

So to start off, with the 200X series and season 3 notes as our backbone of the story, we now went through a lot of the early material from people like Don Glut and Michael Halprin for what other ideas would work. We never intended for the bios to be an all-inclusive continuity, but rather intended to pick some of the best elements from different storylines over the years and include them where they make sense.

It also really helped that many of the figures had definitive bios and origins from either the 200X series (the show, like Stinkor or Fisto, or the comic, like Trap Jaw) or from the 1987 licensor kits. We actually started with these elements and in the case of the 1987 licensor kits, I spent hours literally hand typing out every single licensor kit to try and use as much exact test as possible. These licensor kits also provided the tone and manner of the bios.

Many fans and customers over the years have pointed out that the bios read a bit “childish” or have run-on sentences. To say this was intentional is an understatement! All of the bios were written deliberately to be in the style of the 1987 licensor kit bios. Since these often represented the only published definitive origin for many characters, we wanted to use the wording from the kits word-for-word whenever possible. If a licensor kit bio did not exist, we tried to write one in the style of the kits.

We also deliberately used the single line of text from the back of most vintage figures, trying whenever possible to work this line of text in as the “last line” of each bio. Again, if a figure did not have a vintage figure with a single line of text (like Gygor), we would write a final bio line that was in the style and structure of these single lines.

One of the things that cracked me up was when fans would specifically point out these final lines of the bios and flame about how poorly worded they were. In particular, I remember when Scareglow came out, people would flame the final bio line saying it felt out of place. All the while, this was the one line in his bio that was 100% accurate to the vintage toy! So some loved the new stuff we created for him (since he did not have a 1987 kit bio) but hated the one existing the vintage line we worked in. Oh, well, can’t please everyone!

It also really helped that the NA figures had long bios on the back of their cards, too. I also spent hours retyping these by hand so that we could use as much existing copy as possible. Of course, we would need to make up some sentences and ideas to fill in the gaps (or entire bios for characters, again like Gygor) who did not have a vintage figure or licensor kit bio. But there was so much existing copy from these sources and we tried to use it as much as possible, avoiding making up anything “new” where we could. This also kept the tone and manner, (run-on sentences) that were from the vintage days. Like it or hate it, the style did help unify the bios and more importantly let us use as much existing copy as possible.

We also knew from online posts that there were a group of figures fans wanted that contradicted themselves in previous stories. Most notable was King Grayskull and He-Ro. Both characters were originally He-Man’s ancestor in different stories (1987 mini-comic vs 200X series episode 35) and we knew we wanted to get to both figures in the new line (well, we already did King Grayskull, so you know what I mean).

So to zero in on this one specific issue, it was proposed that King Grayskull be the origin of the bloodline and He-Ro be the origin of the sword (the one who brings the sword to Eternia). This would allow both characters to play a key role in He-Man’s origin.

We also had challenges with characters like Orko. He was originally created for Filmation as a source of comedic relief. Now that he didn’t need this role, we really wanted to bump up his importance. Obviously we were not birds with our heads in the sand. Of course we knew this would be “controversial” to older fans. But we also wanted to use the bios to bring the story forward and explore new areas of the world. We didn’t want to just stick to the guidelines of what happened in the 200X series and the proposed third season. We wanted to use these bios and the figures to move the brand forward to explore new worlds and new storylines, often leaving them a bit vague in order for future creators and writers to take the helm and have a cool jumping off point to explore.

Wun-Dar and characters based on prototype art were also a challenge. Another goal was to make all of the characters as marketable as possible. Even joke characters were recast as serious players. This way, if the brand ever got to the point of expanding (oh, for example say into a line of mini-figures at retail, or Retro-Action figures, or whatever) that the Classics line’s bios would provide more fully marketable characters for us to use, not just characters called “Wonderbread mail-away bootleg figure” or “concept art He-Man.” You just can’t put characters like this into a potential retail line. But “Wun-Dar – the Savage He-Man” or “Demo-Man – Evil Spirit of Despondos” are way more marketable and their figure sales have proven this.

In the end, I could not be more proud of how the bios turned out. To this day, we really have not changed much from the draft that was written around the time of Strato’s sell-out.

After the first 200 or so bios were written, they were sent to the Mattel legal team, the Entertainment team (Ian’s old team) and the Design and Marketing team. We also sent them off to the Horsemen for their input.

And much like the rollout and release schedule, we received almost no comments. Overwhelmingly, the bios served their intended purpose:

1: Include the greatest number of characters possible in order to justify the greatest number of figures (potentially) to keep MOTUC going as long as possible (knowing we would burn through the vintage toys in time).
2: Use the best elements from existing stories based primarily around the 200X series storyline knowing the new bios were not a definitive cannon but a new story.
3: Use as much existing copy as possible from the 1987 kits, vintage figure backs and NA bio copy and use these to set the tone and wording of the bios (again, hence the run-on sentences and childish elements).
4: Create new story elements to help bridge gaps and/or make joke/concept characters marketable in the long term.
5: Introduce new elements/times/locations in order to move the brand forward.
6: Give fans something to talk about in lieu of new entertainment being available (even if they were only talking smack – as Oscar Wilde says, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about!).
7: Release them purposely out of order as a new way of telling a story. Something no one had tried before letting fans enjoy (or hate) putting them together in order.

Given these goals, I would say we succeeded beyond out hopes. Yes, there are absolutely some fans who HATE the new bios. And to say this was expected is an understatement. But it is kinda interesting how the “hate” tends to be online only. (Customers are usually a lot more blunt when they can be at home posting using an avatar.) At conventions, the overwhelming feedback live in person has been the opposite, with fans coming out asking how we put up with all the online hate and how much they love the bios!

It is also interesting to gage the success of the bios on the number of requests for figures from concepts first introduced in bio form. The Fighting Foe Men and Demo-Man are both great examples. Both were introduced first in the bios, but since then there have been quite a large number of fans asking for them as toys (sometimes, as in the case with the Foe Men, not even knowing who they are – we do by the way! ). – And yes, we also knew there were fans asking us to never do a Demo-Man figure, but he actually wound up being one of our best sellers of all 2011! We sold more Demo-Man figures than we did Snout Spout or Bubble Power She-Ra that quarter.

Oh, I should also end this entry (in regard to the bios) on a few mistakes that 100% did happen. At first we had the time span between King Grayskull and He-Man to be 500 years. This was changed after a while to 5,000 years per the entertainment group. We knew we had several characters we wanted alive for King Grayskull and He-Man’s time, and at first 500 years felt like a better time span. But after rethinking it, the Entertainment group was totally right and 5,000 years felt more epic, even if it did mean having several characters be really old (or preserved through magic making them ageless!).

The other big, big mistake was on Tytus’ bio. His bio was one of those turnkey bios that was supposed to clear up a lot of order of event issues (much like Thunderpunch He-Man will). We actually messed up multiple times on his bio, first reversing the order of the Tree Towers being built and Castle Grayskull following. We also messed up the time line by “killing Tytus off” in the First Ultimate Battleground. This proved a mistake because we also wanted Tytus and the giants to be the “unknown hands that helped build Castle Grayskull” (per Glut’s mini-comic) Because the Castle was built after the First Ultimate Battleground it didn’t work to have Tytus die in the battle. It was felt it would be more important to have him help build the Castle vs. having him be one of the casualties of the battle. To “correct” this we just removed the final line from his bio. This was totally my fault, and my biggest and almost only regret with the bios. Hopefully, with this correction, the timeline of events is easier to follow. For those I threw off with this error, I am so sorry. It was a case of biting off more than we could chew!

So while the bios were expected to get exactly the reaction they got, they have helped us give fans something to talk about each month, a way to justify more figures in the line, and have added something new and fun with a new way of storytelling never tried before. They won’t be perfect, but we love them and plan to continue them for the length of the line! Hope you do, too.

Until next time!

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Date d'inscription : 29/03/2008
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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:15

#7: Dear Legal, it is "Zodac" not "Zodiac"

I never had the vintage Zodac figure. I actually never had Mer-Man, Beastman or Evil Lyn.

But my best friend Shawn did. Between the two of us, we pretty much had all of the original figures. I had received He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Stratos, Skeletor, Battle Cat, Ram-Man and Castle Grayskull for my fourth or fifth birthday. So my introduction to MOTU was with a huge pile of loot.

I had been very sick on my birthday (just a cold, nothing too terrible) but sick enough that my parents had to postpone my party. Pretty devastating to a 4 or 5 year old.

To help cheer me up, my parents gave me my gifts anyway (my party was moved to two weeks later). To say it was love at first sight as an understatement. These toys were awesome!

First off, they were way bigger then my Star Wars toys and could pretty much tear Luke Skywalker in half if they wanted. And the castle – wow. That was just the coolest thing a young boy could own in the '80s. It was my personal suitcase and I would drag it everywhere with me.

My MOTU collection grew when I had my actual party a few weeks later. I don’t remember if I got a ton more MOTU, but I do remember getting a Teela/Zoar 2 pack and this group formed the core of my adventures (supplemented in time by quite a lot of the 1984 and 1985 line).

But for all the toys I didn’t own, Shawn did. And that was awesome. I could bring my Castle Grayskull over to his house full of figures (he didn’t have one) and play with all of the figures and playsets that I didn’t have (like Snake Mountain). It is actually a little weird looking back how few figures/vehicles/playsets did overlap between both of our collections. Wonder if our parents were coordinating…

Of course, there were a few figs we both had and my mom was quick to dot them all with a bit of red nail polish on the foot or ankle. Because heaven forbid I come home with Shawn’s Battle Armor He-Man and not mine! That would have been a tragedy.

Anyway, I’m on a tangent. Back to Zodac. So I never had him. But Shawn did. And he was always one of those figures I loved recruiting into my army when we divided up figures (I don’t think we always paid attention to who was on whose team and pretty much made up good guys or bad guys depending on who we liked personally and wanted to play with.

Many fans will remember that Zodac started off life as a bad guy noted on package as an “Evil Cosmic Warrior.” From the notes I have seen in the archive, this was due to wanting an even number of bad and good guys in the first wave. And because Zodac had the “bad guy feet” (reptile) he was noted as a bad guy.

But in his limited early appearances (in the DC comics and the Talon Fighter record book) he was shown as a “neutral” cosmic enforcer.

Neutral? What makes a man go neutral? Lust for gold?

Zodac did appear in a handful of Filmation episodes, also as a Neutral Cosmic Enforcer. But man, without being a definitive Evil Warrior or Heroic Warrior he kinda got the short end of the stick in the old days. He was even “out of print” for a good length of time in the vintage days.

In 2002, the character was reimagined and redesigned. In an effort to diversify the cast, the show’s creators wanted to add an African American (on Eternia?) character. At first this was going to be Stratos but that idea was shelved when the visuals didn’t look right. Zodac became the character for this treatment and he was not only made into an African American character, but his role was completely changed from being a neutral Cosmic Enforcer to a good guy Mystic Enforcer who had a grudge against the Snake Men and glowing tattoos allowing him to sense any enemy’s weakness and use that weakness against him. The spelling of his name was also changed to Zodak with a "K."

So while I never had A vintage Caucasian Zodac, in 2002 I loved the Zodak character and shelled out big bucks to a dealer (Scalpor?) for a mint on-card Zodak. The 2002/2003 toy was pretty cool. Tatoos, staff and a kick-*** removable helmet. Today he is still my favorite 2002 figure.

When it came time to put Zodac/Zodak into the Classics line, we had to decide how to handle it him. The choice was actually very simple. As stated in the last blog, one of the goals of the Classics line and bios was to create a world that would justify the greatest number of characters (and hence figures/toys). Since vintage Zodac and 2002 Zodak had very different looks and, more importantly, roles (Cosmic Enforcer vs. Mystic Warrior) it was a no-brainer from the start to make them separate characters, if for no other reason so we could sell two toys. (Hey, at the end of the day that is really what it all comes down to! Don’t be too shocked).

We decided to go with the vintage Zodac first since this was Classics after all, and we wanted to celebrate the vintage line. Also, he was a head, armor and a gun. Very little tooling and for the first six (and eight) figures that was very key. In the beginning we had so little resources and tooling budget that anything we could do with minimal tooling would help.

But anticipating that we would eventually get to Zodak with a K, we decided to tool up his staff with Zodac so it would be “paid” for, giving us a free repaint, non-tool figure for the future. I’ll get into this more when I get to Zodak. Much like Faker, when we did release Zodak, it was more as a PR test to see if we could release more than one figure a month. As the test figure for this program (much like Goddess), he wound up not getting any tooling assigned to him. Had he been a regular monthly figure (Zodak) we would totally have done a second head, too. I’m actually trying to find a way to get this second head into the line much as we did with the extra comic book head for Skeletor that came with Demo-Man. Just gotta find the right figure to include this with!

Anyway, I digress. Back to Zodac, Caucasian guy and Cosmic Guy.

With a plan in place that he would most definitely be a separate character from Zodak (if for no other reason than to sell more toys), he was easily sculpted up using the same shared parts that the vintage figure had (come on, you gotta love that he has that hairy beast-man chest with the human flesh tones!).

We also talked a lot about how to handle his boots and gloves since the figure and the comic book art (not to mention Filmation) had a few variations of how his boots and gloves worked. In the end, we went with straight-up classic toy configuration of shared parts. A few years late,r when the opportunity came to put Zodac in a TRU two-pack with Green Lantern, we went with a more comic book/Filmation version with white gloves and human boots (and yes, we know this is still not 100% accurate to Filmation without other details like the white stripe on his helmet).

When we got the paintmasters in from the Horsemen, this was actually one of the only figures I had a deco comment on. For MOTU Classics, I really wanted to show that this was the vintage line updated with better articulation and better paint ops. Much as we had added deco arm bracelets to He-Man (the vintage toy had flesh colored arm bands for the Most Powerful Man in the Universe!), I wanted to apply this increased deco and modern standard to all the figures.

Taking a look at Zodac’s red blaster, I asked Terry to please add a small ring of silver to the barrel. While it wasn’t a shocking addition, I was actually REALLY proud of this. At the time, this was my first “influence” on the line (beyond helping to pick out the role and write the bio outline, etc.). As the years went on, I would be given many more opportunities to add a few suggestions to the line (such as Panthor’s helmet and, well, I don’t think he qualifies as a “suggestion” but I did get to add a new character into the MOTU 30th Anniversary line called The Mighty Spector. But more on him when we get there.)

At the time, this was the most influence I had on the design of a figure. And adding that small silver deco hit on the end of his blaster was one of the coolest things I ever got to do. I still have his gun on my computer at work. It was a little thing, but at the time it was my little thumbprint on the line. (For the record, this was never Scott Neitlich’s line, but I did think it fair I could make small suggestions like this, as long as Terry and his design team were okay with them).

So there you have it. Zodac was ready to go and we tooled up his counterpart Zodak’s staff at the same, giving us a cool deco-only figure for a later release (planning ahead wound up being a huge boon for us in the line after uncontrollable delay after delay would happen over time).

His bio confirmed he was indeed a Cosmic Enforcer and we purposely kept out any reference to the other Zodak version so that we could put all of that info into the potential future figure’s bio (if we ever got to him).

Oh, I should also add that adding in “Zur” as Zodac’s “real name” surname was not in anyway a reference to Green Lantern’s Abin Sur. This was one of those crazy coincidences. Fans and customers like to point out how much a Cosmic Enforcer and a Green Lantern have in common and it was thought this name was a deliberate reference. It was not. But we did obviously see this connection as well and logically paired them up down the line in that TRU two-pack.

The idea that a MOTU figure will have something in common with a comic character actually should not be that shocking. Fans are quick to point out similarities between Zodac and GL, or Spector and Deadpool (just based on visual look), but the same could be said of He-Man and Tarzan or Kazar, Ram Man and Juggernaut, Mer-Man and Aquaman, etc.

MOTU characters are based on archetypes from mythology, just as comic book characters are. Of course, thematically there will be similarities. But it doesn’t mean we are ripping each other off. If anything, DC, Marvel and MOTU all rip off from mythology of ancient cultures. So if anyone should be suing, I’d call up Homer and the Classic Poets. They have a better case. ;-)

So that was about it for Zodac. Another awesome classic character. I do really want to find a way to get to his chair one day. One of those characters that really is defined by his mode of transportation. There was obviously no way to include that with this basic figure. We are doing a DCU Metron figure with his chair, but needed to make that a deluxe subscription sku. Perhaps in time we can revisit this cosmic character and do a new release with his trademark transport. Time will tell!

Until next time,


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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:17

#8: Man-At-Arms - beware my bendy mace!

Man-at-Arms was the last of the “first 6” (although Mer-Man was sculpted first). Originally, the direction from management was to release the MOTUC figures as $40 two- packs pairing an A-list figure with a less well-known character. At the last minute, we changed things up and took as risk by releasing them as singles. And, man, am I glad we did that. The customers and fans have more than risen to the occasion and supported every figure we have released. Every first run has essentially sold out. It is really only a handful of figures’ second runs that have stuck around. Long live MOTUC!

Oh, before I get into MAA in particular, since this story is in the format of a weekly(ish) blog, I thought I’d respond to some of the feedback this blog has been generating. For the most part, it has been VERY positive. In fact, I think one of the only negative comments I saw was a few forum members upset that I was spending time writing these instead of fixing production issues or working with Digital River to make continued improvements in customer service.

So to put these fans at peace, I am currently writing this blog on the plane on my way to NYTF. I currently have my laptop but no access to email on this flight so there really isn’t much I can do to work on either of these issues right now. I hope this is an acceptable use of my time! ;-)

All kidding aside, it is thrilling to know our customers have enjoyed this blog so much. I have no idea how long I can keep this up, but I would like in the long run to get an entry out for every figure and beast. etc. I’m not sure if I will be able to keep this up on a weekly basis, but, hey, stick around and you’ll find out. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time and I’m glad to finally take the time. My biggest fear is actually running out of things to say. Now that the “how the line was started” and “how the bios were written” has been done, I’m pretty much down to writing about the figures themselves and I’m just hoping to have enough content to keep filling these posts! Time will tell.

Okay, back to Man-at-Arms. While he was originally planned as one of the first two-packs, if memory serves, he wound up getting delayed and shipped after Mer-Man. So while he was originally going to introduce the concept of a second head, Mer-Man has the actual honor of being the first release to have this feature.

We knew second heads was a feature we wanted to add on some select figures. This is why Terry and I held up the release of He-Man for two months specifically so his armor and head could be removable. Although not every figure would have a second head, it was very important to us that all figures could have interchangeable heads and armor to allow for the maximum customization for the customer.

MAA was kind of a no brainer for a second head. While management was very clear that the anime hyper-detail redesigned heads from the 2002 line were “retired, one snuck out on Whiplash, and Marzo had a bit too much anime in his hair for management, but there was no time to change him without delaying product. So those two kinda snuck in.

But all other figures would only get a second head if there was essentially a “compelling reason to add one.” And yes, I know for a lot of 200X fans, a 200X head IS a compelling reason. But management was very clear they wanted Classics to be a new style and while we could do arms and armor from the 2002 line in Classics style, heads all needed to remain Classics. 2002 heads were and are currently retired. (Maybe they will come out of retirement one day? Hey, you never know!)

I digress (again.).

Since the vintage MAA has no facial hair but so many other appearances in media gave Duncan a trademark mustache, he was a clear candidate for the rare second head. We definitely did not want to go overboard on the second heads, both to keep costs under control (heads cost way more in terms of time it take to sculpt and deco) but more importantly, we wanted the inclusion of a second head to be novel. If we overdid it, this feature would loose its pizzazz!

But adding a second head to MAA was actually not easy. He needed a huge amount of armor to be accurate to the vintage toy. Chest armor, shoulder armor, ankle armor and wrist armor. On top of that, the Horsemen wanted to add in a few extra accessories beyond the vintage mace.

Looking back, I honestly have no ides how we green-lit this figure. He was way more expensive compared to any other figure we had done to date due to the second head, all the armor, accessories and the huge amount of deco all of these items needed.

One issue that comes up a lot in the boards is the “rubbery” material his mace is made of. I totally get this and hear the customers/fans. But allow me to explain…

In order to afford new figures, most of the “new” tooling needs to be ganged together into one tool. In the case of MAA, the mace needed to be in the same tool as the armor. It was more important that the armor be a little flexible in order to fit properly on the figure. This is why the more flexible plastic was used on this tool. The mace, having to be included in this tool, needed to use the exact same plastic as the armor.

We did look into moving the mace into a second tool but that put MAA way over cost. So in the end, it is not like we thought, “how can we make this mace all rubbery!” but rather this was just part of the logistical fun of translating a sculpt and a character into a toy. Sometimes sacrifices, or rather considerations, have to be made. Yes, it would have been cool to tool the mace in a separate tool, but it just was not possible. So that is the whole story. (The same applies to other figures with similar issues like Catra. Her sword was in the same tool as the whip and we could either have a very stiff whip or a loose sword. Really, there isn’t always an ideal solution.)

But, man, even with a rubbery mace, MAA was still (and is) a real kick-*** figure. The Horsemen threw in a few other accessories, including a knife and gun (taken from the vintage Castle Grayskull weapon rack) and the first ever “secret accessory,” He-Man’s 2002 sword.

Okay, so here is some background on the sword. In the original pitch for the 2002 line, the Horsemen had the idea that Skeletor was now in control of the original Power Sword, having captured both halves (vintage fans may recall that in the vintage line the “Power Sword” was split in two and the combined sword could open the Jaw Bridge of Castle Grayskull).

In the Horsemen’s pitch, since Skeletor had captured the Power Sword (both the light and dark halves) in order for Adam to fight evil, Man-at-Arms worked with the Sorceress to create an electronic version of the sword (a tech version) that could artificially harmonize with the orb of power, allowing Adam to channel the energy and become He-Man.

That was why 200X had a new design for the Power Sword.

In fact, if you look at 200X Skeletor and examine his swords, you will see that not only are they in the “shape” (the hilt) of the vintage power sword (but with added 200X hyper-detail, etc.) but one half is a light half with a sun and one half is a dark half with (I believe) a skull.

This pitch idea was eventually dropped and the vintage sword just became double swords that Skeletor/Keldor carried and the replacement electronic sword became He-Man’s standard Power Sword.

Fast-forward to the Classics line. This pitch idea was actually the perfect example of how we wanted to incorporate some of the “best ideas” from previous stories into the new collector line (even if those ideas got cut). Including the “electronic Power Sword” with MAA was not only a way to please 200X fans who wanted this version of He-Man, but the story behind it (as noted in MAA’s bio) was a great nod to the Horsemen’s original concept for the 200X swords.

Like all “new” concepts introduced into the bios, this would also have its combination of fans and dissenters. But hey, it did its job. Making it a “mystery accessory” gave customers and fans something to talk about (always a goal of the bios and accessories) and it gave fans a new way to display their figures by letting He-Man have his choice in Power Weapons. (And we even re-released the electronic sword in true 200X colors in a later weapons pak! Who says we don’t go the extra mile when we can? ?)

Man-at-Arms is still one of my favorite figures in the Classics line. His armor and bulk really make him battle ready. And since I had him as a child, it was very cool to get this updated version which included a lot of details that the vintage cross-sell included but did not show up on the figure (such as the extra deco on the belt, and the fur included in the armor at the sleeves).

At the end of the day, MAA really represented what Classics was all about. A legit reason to add a second head, a crap-load of accessories, a mystery accessory and a ton of armor. Plus, with other variants such as a helmet-less head, armor cannon, snake head, underwater armor and other variations, fans can be sure that MAA will be back for other releases ensuring that this key member of the Masters continues to dominate toy shelves for years to come!

Until next time!


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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 23 Mar - 12:18

#9: Mer-Man - Something fishy this way comes!

Mer-Man and Hordak were added to the line after the success of the first few figures, although delays would cause a little bit of shake-up in their release schedule. But man, how cool was it to get so many of the core figures right off the bat.

Mer-Man to this day is still one of my favorite figures in the line (and Eric’s too). Now, I never had him in the vintage days, so I didn’t have as much of an emotional connection to him as I did to other figures like Webstor, Roboto and Buzz-Off that I did have. But wow, from head to foot, this was a figure that I credit the Horsemen 100% for knocking him out of the park.

Mer-Man used basic shared parts. But small additions like new hands and a slip-on glued on neck piece really made him look so visually different. And the final paint job that Terry did really knocked him out of the park. It really was the perfect mix of wash and base coat to give Mer-Man just the right amount of pop.

I’m sure, in no small way, Mer-Man was and is such an amazing figure because of how much Eric loved him. He has told this story a few times, but I’ll repeat it here since it is key to why this figure was done as he was.

When Mer-Man was released in the vintage line he had a VERY different head compared to the cross-sell, a head that would also later go on to be repainted as Stinkor. I honestly have no idea why this change was made, but as Eric likes to say, he was very disappointed when he got the figure, seeing how little compared to the mini comic Mer-Man and the painted cross-sell.

In the 200X line, when it came time to redesign the characters, the Horsemen very deliberately went for a look much closer to the original cross-sell look. It was 100% accurate, but it clearly took a leap in this direction. A lot of the managers at Mattel didn’t actually like Mer-Man’s 200X look as it was dubbed too cartoony. But I digress.

When it came time to bring him into the Classics line, doing both a vintage toy head and a vintage cross-sell head was a no-brainer. We definitely did not want to go overboard with the double heads. Not only because it was a huge amount of resources, but we wanted to preserve the novelty to the second heads and use them when there was a compelling reason to do so. (And for the record, a 200X styled head was not a compelling reason as that interpretation of the vintage line was and is currently retired).

Mer-Man also got some really cool new parts. New fishy hands (which later got used on Slushhead as well) and a cool new neck piece that was glued in place to, again, replicate the vintage cross-sell art.

Getting the cross-sell head on a finished Mer-Man figures was absolutely one of those “wow” moments in the line. At long last here was the Mer-Man we (or at least some of us, including Eric) always wanted.

His additional accessories were fleshed out with his vintage corncob sword and his 200X Trident. While some customers noted he couldn’t hold the trident with both hands due to the open palm, I never saw this as a major loss. The Horsemen also thought ahead to ensure the sword could be put away in his back, letting you pose Mer-Man on your shelf with all the accessories.

Mer-Man was also one of the first figures where the Horsemen really wanted to “over sculpt.” In no way do we like to block or limit their creativity, but many times their eagerness to do accessories comes into conflict with our tooling budget. In particular, I remember Eric asking to do a few little mean fish buddies for Mer-Man and I had to deliver the bad news that we couldn’t do that. Yes, totally would have been cool. But 1) we just couldn’t afford it, and 2) we didn’t want to set this standard or fans and customers would have asked for this type of treatment with all figures. (Hey, again for the record I would have loved if all figures could have come with little buddies, but at the end of the day there is a financial number we have to hit on these figures -- we can’t just give them away and more parts drives that up!)

So mean little fishy buddy aside, Mer-Man really became one of the (and still is) best figures in the line. The wash on his paint scheme was particularly good, hitting just the right amount of shadow and light. The colors really popped and with the double heads this was truly the ultimate Mer-Man figure.

Mer-Man also has the honor of being one of the early figures that ran late. He was actually sculpted very early, but wound up being slotted in later than some other figures for release. I honestly don’t remember why, but I do remember the huge headache this caused. Due to him running late, it not only meant we wouldn’t have a monthly figure, but it threw off the entire rest of the year. In particular, Scareglow was going to be the October figure for Halloween but because of the Mer-Man delay, it bumped all of the remaining figures and Scareglow wound up missing All Hallows’ Eve by 16 days to be released instead in mid November.

Our fishy friend was also another example of a real name that had mixed reactions. But for the record, there was kinda a precedent. We never liked the idea of just making up a name with no rationale. Beastman’s real name was intended to sound like the language of his people and be vicious sounding like a mean beast. For Mer-Man, in the 200X series (which always formed the background of the bios), he mentions having an “Uncle Squidee” in episode 32. So calling him Squidish Rex felt in line with established protocol for Mer-Man’s species, with Rex being added to note he was from a royal line.

Having multiple heads, Mer-Man also set a bit of a precedent for how pack-outs would work. Although the “cross-sell” head might have been more popular, we very deliberately went with the vintage head for the pack-out (while keeping the cross-sell head in the new cross-sell!). We know fans and customers like certain “rules” to maintain standardization in collector lines and as a self-imposed rule we decided around the time of Mer-Man that ALL figures going forward would be packed out in the same pose as the vintage figure. Not only was this a nod to the vintage line, but it gave us a second cool pack-out for a potential re-release of Classics if they ever went to retail that would make the figure look different a hypothetical second time around. We never did this for He-Man, but starting with Mer-Man we tried out best to ensure the pack-out on the card front matched the vintage pack-out as best we could.

Outside of these little antidotes, that is about it on Mer-Man. Now that we are past the conception of the line and the research/bios these blogs might start to get a bit shorter. But hey, I’ll keep writing them as long as the customers and fans enjoy them.

Until next time.


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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 6 Avr - 11:24

#10 Hordak - The last figure ever

We got to choose one more figure.
After the sale of the first few figures, we had the green light to do two more figures. Mer-Man was sculpted early, but due to some logistical issues he was slipping schedule so Man-At-Arms had to be developed first (although if memory serves he was actually sold after Mer-Man – honestly, doing all of this from memory is not as easy as it looks!)
At any rate, we had one final slot available to us and as far as we knew at the time, this was going to be it. One final figure. (Obviously things changes and the line really took off but at the time, this was going to be it!)

So who to pick? Who would be a great final figure if we were truly only going to get to eight? Well, for starters we had some conditions. We knew this figure had to use shared parts. So that meant Ram Man and Teela were out as both would need to be 100% sculpts. The next obvious choice might have been Trap Jaw but he also had a ton of new tooling needing new legs, arms and crotch pieces. And although all of those pieces would have been reusable for other figures, at the time this was going to be our very last figure so that wouldn’t have mattered. Which all meant we had to choose a figure that used minimal new parts.

We tossed around a few ideas. Tri-Klops might have been cool. He fit the bill in terms of minimum new parts and he was an early(er) vintage figure and had a big part in both the Filmation and Mike Young animated series. Or we could also go for a figure like Scareglow or Spikor who never had a figure or Staction in the 200X line. In the end, quite a few ideas were tossed around.

Then we thought about Hordak. Hmmm. Interesting. He actually wasn’t that much new tooling (relatively speaking) and was as “A” list as you got now that Skeletor and He-Man were out. Plus, he was a nice nod to POP which had no representation thus far and to say he is a fan favorite is an understatement.

With all of these considerations reviewed, we finally settled on the Ruthless Leader of the Evil Horde as what (at the time) was going to be our eighth and final figure (well, ninth, counting our cheap-out repaint of He-Man called “Faker”).

The Horde came out in 1985 at the height of the vintage line’s popularity. They were designed to add a new villain faction to the line that would be a threat to both He-Man and Skeletor. Although Filmation absconded with them as villains for the POP animated series, they were originally created first and foremost as villains in the He-Man MOTU line. I actually talked to some old time Mattel folks who were around in the day who confirmed this much debated topic. Hordak was actually influenced originally by a Tiki mask a designer had in his cube. The whole “bat” thing came later when Mattel marketing asked for a unified symbol for this new team of bad guys. But the original concept of Hordak was an evil Tiki deity run amok. Mattel even commissioned Bruce Timm (in his early freelance days) to draw a mini kids’ book explaining the intro of these new villains well before Filmation got their hands on him and his team. (We even used an image from this book in his shield art on the back of the new figure!)

When I was a kid I just loved the Horde. I had all of the original members; Hordak, Grizzlor, Leech, Modulok and Mantenna. By the time the ranks were boosted with additional members like Dragstor and Mosquitor I had moved on to other things (sorry, Pixel Dan) but the original 5 members will always hold a special place in my heart. I really remember that original TV spot introducing the Horde as the figures moved into the light from blackness and fog. That TV commercial really hit me hard. Wow. Skeletor was bad but these guys were even worse! Truly my MOTU adventures were going to take off!

So needless to say, I was thrilled with the idea of adding Hordak to the MOTUC line, even if it meant he would be the last figure. If we truly were only going to get to nine figures, this felt like a nice way to go out. Hordak was also the very first Staction figure in the 200X line and I remember paying big bucks for one at SDCC a few years back. He was cool, but I just hated the fact that the Staction figure could not be posed. Yes, I know that was the point, but, man, as an action figure collector, the idea of a statue in scale with my figures did not fly. Now was payback and a chance to get out a new fully articulated, highly detailed Hordak action figure.

In the beginning of MOTUC there was still a lot of confusion among the fan base as to whether there would be “200X” variants of figures. We tried to use Hordak to settle this by including both his vintage crossbow and his 200X staff with the figure. Even after doing this, fans still asked for a 200X version. We finally had to settle this (and I know disappoint some fans) by explaining that no, this was the one and only version of original vintage Hordak in the Classics line.

Classics was an all new interpretation of the vintage line, much as 200X was an interpretation of the vintage line. Both lines took the original vintage toys and reimagined them in a new style. For 200X, this style included elements such as some characters being larger (i.e. Beast Man, Whiplash and Grayskull), as well as what I had been calling “hyper anime detail” (you know those elongated spikes and extra details McFarland had been known for). The idea behind Classics was an all new style and all new interpretation of the vintage line. We would do characters or weapons (i.e. Hordak’s staff) that were first introduced in the 200X line, but all would be in the Classics style.

While the news that the 200X style was “retired” did not go over well with all our fans, it seems that most have now gotten aboard this train. We had a few early slips with Marzo’s hair and Whiplash’s second head, but otherwise we have stuck to this direction very well. Sure, it won’t please everyone and as a fan myself I totally get it, but as a marketing manager, I 100% understand management’s desire to retire the old 200X interpretation and start up an all new interpretation/style, if for no other reason than to sell more toys (again, are you really shocked that this is what it is all about?)

Okay, I am on a tangent again. Back to Hordak.

So sculpting and tooling-wise, he really wasn’t too many new parts. New head, new collar, new cape, weapons, boots and gloves. The gloves and boots (and removable arm band) actually worked out great and wound up being pieces we could reuse over and over for a lot of characters. Getting new parts tooled is much easier to get approved when we know they are not one-time use (which is what has held up characters like Ram Man for so long). Other 100% tooled figures like Teela have given us reusable parts so it is easier to get approval on those.

One of the most controversial new parts on Hordak was his lower torso. The original direction I asked from the Horsemen was to do Hordak’s armor as one snap-on piece like the vintage figure. But (and in retrospect, I 100% agree with their change) they felt strongly that this would limit his articulation and they wanted to develop a new “armor” lower torso that could be used on armored figures purely to preserve and maintain full articulation.

A lot of fans looked at this “flat tummy” piece and the “half upper armor” and felt Hordak was wearing a sports bra for armor. I totally get where this is coming from, but honestly, I think for this you have to change the way you look at him. It is kinda like that old optical illusion pic that is both an old lady and a young woman wearing a hat, depending on your perspective. Obi Wan was right when he said it all depends on “a certain point of view.”

If you look at Hordak’s armor as only being the top piece of his chest, then, yes, he looks like he has a sports bra on. BUT, if you change your perspective and look at the flat tummy part as PART of the armor and what allows the armor to be articulated, you’ll see him as the Horsemen envisioned. The flat lower torso piece is not his skin; it is part of the armor. Yes, the top part of the armor is removable and the bottom part is his actual body. But what the Horsemen intended (and in hindsight I totally agree with them on) is that the top of the armor and the lower part aren’t separate -- together they make up the armor as one which is sculpted in a brilliant way to allow for articulation. If it had been done in any other way, the articulation would have been lost.

So yes, from one POV he does look like he has a sports bra half armor, but from another he is in full armor that is articulated. We could have gone either way and while I was against this at first, the Horsemen won me over and I think they were right.

There have been many times throughout the line where we really thought we were going the extra mile for fans (like making She-Ra’s mask attachable in both right side up and upside down modes) and sometimes that vision backfired completely. For Hordak however, despite some fans being against this artistic choice, maintaining the articulation level really won me over. Had the armor been done as one piece, we would have lost the ab crunch and not had a fully articulated figure.

Another controversy on Hordak was the color of the crossbow. On the vintage figure it was white, for Classics the Horsemen went with black. Basically, 100% a deco call on their end, but also one that I really think worked. We wound up releasing a silver version of the cross bow in a weapon pak, but even still, fans have asked for an all-white version and I see no reason we can’t get to this one day. Perhaps with a future variant.

Hordak’s bat pet (from the vintage toy) was also reimagined as much more of a creature. At the time we did not have access to Filmation, which meant Imp was out of the question. So we tend to think of this little red bat as the Preternia version of Imp. Perhaps it gets killed off in battle and centuries later Etheria Hordak replaces his long lost red bat with Imp or something like that. I guess that story has yet to be told. But it was really cool to get this little extra accessory for Hordak that snaps (with what I always felt was too much difficulty) onto his arm.

A final little anecdote on Hordak is an error on packaging that was 100% my fault. When we were writing the bios, I was hand typing all of the vintage licensor kits and the single “bio” line from the vintage toys by hand into a master sheet to use for the bios. I also copied the “title” line from the front of package (which often differed from the line on the cross-sell) so we could use that. To say this was a labor of love is an understatement. It took hours and hours to type all this out. When I got to Hordak, I clearly messed up as I wrote his title line down as “The Evil Leader of the Evil Horde” vs. the correct line of “Ruthless Leader of the Evil Horde.”.

I really hate when mistakes show up in the line, especially when they are MY fault and this was one of the more obvious ones. We were able to correct this on Hordak’s second release and on the online bio, but man, what a dumb mistake. You think I would have noticed that. But with all the other balls in the air, and at the time assuming this was the final figure in MOTUC ever, it completely slipped my net. Not a life-changing mistake, but a mistake nonetheless, and it wouldn’t be my only one (Roboto’s shoulders anyone?). Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all!

But it was really cool to get Hordak out. And since the previous six (seven) figures were all chosen based on being part of the original 1982 releases, getting to help decide on the eight figure was a huge thrill. This really was the first figure I got to help choose.
One last subject to hit on Hordak is his “real name.” Ah, this would cause controversy for every figure in the line that we added a new name to. Hordak was no exception.

When deciding on who would get real names vs. who has their real name as their figure name (i.e. Stratos), Hordak definitely stood out as needing a real name. The standard we tried to use was “what would this character’s mother use?” Did Hordak’s mother name him Hordak? Likely not. This felt more like a war name for the field commander of the Horde Empire.
The standard being applied (much as Mer-Man’s mom did not name him “Mer-Man” or Buzz Off’s mom name him “Buzz Off”), we needed to come up with a real name for him. Hordak being one of the only A-list characters that fell into this “needing a real name category,” we knew we had a challenge.
In the end we went with Hec-tor Kur.

Many of the characters in MOTU (and locations) use Greek and Latin roots. Hector in Greek means “cowardly bully” and Kur is a dog. So really the name means he is a Cowardly Bully Dog. This really worked for Hordak. Oh, and totally unofficially, he was also named after Captain Barbosa from POTC. We thought it was really funny for a mean badass character to be named Hector! Ha. Somehow it just worked.

Until next time!
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MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Ven 6 Avr - 11:25

#11 Tri-klops and his fun glowing ring of fun

My first introduction to MOTU was getting a boat load of figures for my fourth or fifth birthday. This included Castle Grayskull, He-Man with Battle Cat, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor and Ram Man from my parents. I also received Teela with Zoar from a friend at my party a few weeks later.
I didn’t have too many of the bad guys from the first or second year (Beast Man, Mer-Man, Zodac, Evil-Lyn) but I did get both Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw for Hanukah a month or so later (my birthday is in November). So that really helped flesh out the conflict play, giving me more of an even number of players on both sides.

One of the really cool things about MOTU is you can often tell a good guy or a bad guy based on the visuals of the figure. You look at He-Man and you instantly know he is the hero. Skeletor, clearly the bad guy. This doesn’t always work, but the general archetypes have always been there. And while it will change from fan to fan, for me the bad guys were always way cooler.

Trap Jaw was definitely way cooler to me vs. Tri-Klops. He had swappable arm attachments, a moveable jaw and removable belt. But best of all, he had that little loop thing on his helmet so you could run a piece of string through it for him to slide down on. I think this showed up in a TV spot eventually, but I was really proud of myself for coming up with a feature (what I thought) all on my own! Yeah sure, millions of kids came to the same conclusion, but hey, I thought I was a genius.

When it came time to expand MOTUC beyond the first six and then eight figures, Trap Jaw was who I wanted to do most. But… we had a very tiny budget for tooling and after Hordak we were tasked by management to work out an entire year of monthly figures. We knew we wanted to get females into the line and that meant a new 100% tooled figure at some point (this would eventually be Teela). It is much easier to get a 100% tool’d figure approved and through the system when we know the parts are reusable (which is why Teela is an easier sell vs. Ram Man, who is also 100% but has little reuse outside of a few obscure Filmation monsters that might use a larger buck).

Anyway. So with so much tooling saved for our only 100% tool figure for the year (2009) we knew a character like Trap Jaw, who needed a lot of tooling (even if it could be reused later) needed to wait. And while that was initially disappointing, it did give us a really strong character for the start of Year 2, which would get a new budget (assuming the line would get that far!).

With Trap Jaw clearly off the table for Year 1, Tri-Klops became the obvious choice for the next figure after Hordak. He was a vintage toy, a main Skeletor villain in the animation and toy line, and had very few new parts.

Tri-Klops to me was always just “okay.” I liked the whole spinning visor thing, but only liked the red eye (on the vintage toy). I thought the blue eye and the green eye was just not “villain” enough and didn’t look evil. But the sword and armor was very cool and gave him a cool Samurai vibe.
So with a plan in place, Tri-Klops was slotted in as our next figure. He was basically Man-At-Arms with a new head, armor and accessory. To plus him up a bit more, we wanted to provide some additional accessories. The Doom seeker from the 200X series (with stand) was an obvious choice. The Horsemen also came up with the idea to add the old Grayskull decoder ring as a bonus accessory.

From a marketing standpoint we decided to make this a “mystery accessory,” which almost remained a mystery all the way to release. Some fans in Europe got a hold of a stolen sample from our factory and put it up online, spoiling all the fun for the rest of us.

Many times, fans and customers write in asking if we will change plans after a spoiler has been revealed. Usually 99% of the time we simply can’t do this without affecting schedule. The bottom line is you just can’t have it both ways. If you don’t want things spoiled for you, don’t read spoilers! That is all I can say.

Originally, I had assumed the Doomseeker would be done in 200X colors with silver, but it was the Horsemen who went in a different (and I think better) direction to do the Seeker in a green Tri-Klops color. This really made it pop and I applaud them for the change.

The sword was also done in green but I also really wanted the cross-sell color sword. Luckily, a year or so later we were able to deliver this in our first weapon pak with a simple redeco. The sword would also go on to get (correctly) reused on Fisto in 2012 (much as the vintage toy used this same accessory between both figures).

The Horsemen also added a neat sculpted feature where if you pulled the headpiece up a bit you can see the eye mechanism that attaches the helmet to his human eyes – a great example of the kind of detail we don’t ask for, but the Horsemen just do. I remember early on fans and customers asked if the helmet was moveable and I thought they meant can you take it off to see this feature. I answered “no” and that sent off a firestorm because what the fans were really asking was could the helmet turn and we had said there would be no action features.

I quickly corrected this and confirmed that yes, of course the headpiece will turn 360 degrees. When we said “no action features” what we meant was no features that would break up the sculpt, like a lever or switch like many of the 200X figures had. If a feature was just added articulation, like making the visor rotate, that was a no-brainer. But yet another lesson for me that everything I say had the potential to be misinterpreted. I really had to remember to watch what I say and be as specific as possible, leaving very little room for interpretation.
Tri-Klops was also one of those figures who fell into the “did his mom give him that name” category and clearly she did not. So we wanted to give him a real name. Fortunately, he is also one of those figures that had a “real name” in some of the early stories.

In early, early MOTU stories (I believe the Halprin bible used to construct Filmation and the 1983-1984 lines) Tri-Klops was cast as one of the other astronauts that goes with Marlena to Eternia from Earth (the others being Beast Man and Evil-Lyn). In this storyline, he was called T.E. Scope (as an inside joke for “telescope” since his power involved the eyes). As a nod to this storyline (which is what Classics is all about), we decided to expand on this using the initials T.E. as part of his “real name” and, for the first time, revealing what the T. E. stood for.
Although this part of the cannon was essentially dropped early on, one of our designers actually had an old black and white coloring book/story book that was based on this concept and it had a few illustrations of the human form of “Biff Beastman,” “T.E. Scope,” and “Evilyn Powers.” For the life of me, I can’t seem to locate this now, but if anyone out there has this book, it is a really neat part of MOTU lore since I believe this was the one and only time these characters were shown as they looked on “Earth” before the magics of Eternia made them evil and transformed them into Beast Man, Tri-Klops and Evil-Lyn (or whatever cockamamie rationale was used in the day to explain this.)

Beyond this, that was pretty much Tri-Klops. He was a great seller like the figures before him and helped pave the way for the longevity of the brand. Although not one of my favorites as a kid, I did own the vintage counterpart, so that always made the Classics versions a lot more special for me, especially since we had just done Beast Man, Mer-Man and Zodac, who were three characters I did not own as a child.

Until next time!
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Messages : 305
Date d'inscription : 29/03/2008
Localisation : Eternia

MessageSujet: Re: MOTUC Director's Commentary   Mer 11 Avr - 11:31

#12 He-Ro - Spell stones and not afraid to use em!

It’s San Diego Comic-Con time!

Wow, how time flew. By the time we got to He-Ro, I couldn’t believe it had been a year since we launched MOTUC with King Grayskull at SDCC in 2008. Now here we were in 2009 and it was beyond obvious that we wanted another SDCC item to help promote the brand and launch us into a full second year of product in 2010.

The first eight or nine characters (through Tri-Klops) were chosen based on both shared tooling and their overall recognition as known MOTU characters. Now that we had SDCC coming around, it was the perfect time to go “all the way” and do a character that no one was expecting and would really push the brand forward.

Well, okay, we did show He-Ro on the NYCC fan panel slide of “what to expect in time” with characters as the line grew but, really, doing He-Ro was meant to be a clear sign to the fans and customers that MOTUC was here to stay, and really pushing the limits of character selection and going where no MOTU line had gone before.

So a little background. Who the heck is He-Ro?

If the 1987 MOTU line (which I was collecting as a kid, not working on professionally!) is anything like current Mattel toy lines, that means it was being worked on and designed in 1985, about two years prior to launch (the toy industry has about a 12-16 month lead time, which is why it is so hard to make changes quickly).

In 1985, vintage MOTU was at the height of its popularity. So it totally makes sense that the brand managers at the time (Tim Kilpin, our current General Manager!) would want to expand the toy line. The proposal he put together (which Tim was nice enough to locate and give to me when we were planning out MOTUC in 2008!) was designed to take MOTU to the next level and introduce new worlds and new challenges for He-Man.

The main thrust of the proposed 1987 line called “The Powers of Grayskull” (working title “The Rangers of Grayskull”) took He-Man back in time to “Preternia,” thousands of years before he was born where He-Man would meet up with He-Ro – the most powerful Wizard in the Universe. Together He-Man and He-Ro would battle the Snake Men and in doing so, He-Man would learn the Snake Men’s hidden weakness and use this knowledge to return to his own time and defeat Hssss and his army.

Sadly, by the time 1987 actually came around, MOTU was on its way out. A variety of things lead to the vintage line’s demise, but in the end, there just was not enough retailer interest to get to the proposed Powers of Grayskull line.

But that didn’t stop a few things from sneaking out.

Chiefly was the very last mini-comic, “The Powers of Grayskull Part 1, The Legend Begins!” This was meant to be the first of three issues that would set up the He-Ro “Powers of Grayskull” line and even introduced He-Ro in shadow on the last page. The issue did make it to market, shipping with several tail-end figures. But the promise of issues 2 and 3 never came to be. Most of the story laid out above was set up in this issue, but there was no payoff. At least not in 1987.

In addition to this single issue (of a 3 part saga!), the Powers of Grayskull line was also set to introduce new ride-on beasts (i.e., Battle Cat) in the form of robotic techno dinosaurs. Three of these dinos did make it to market as did the giant playset Eternia (the Three Towers), which was intended to be the Ultimate Battleground and a location that existed in both He-Man’s time and He-Ro’s time, linking the two heroes (the Towers were conveniently buried underground in the millennia between both hero’s times).
He-Ro appeared on the box art for Turbodactyle (one of the robo dino toys) and, most prominently, he and his mentor Eldor appeared in the Mattel 1987 catalogue as near-final product. This image has haunted collectors for years, making He-Ro and Eldor the “next” figures in the MOTU line… and toys that never came to be.

Well, to say this was what MOTUC was all about is an understatement!

Getting to unproduced prototype figures was high on my priority list and I jumped at the chance to get to He-Ro as quickly as possible. He was hand-picked by me to be the second SDCC figure for the line and to really show how deep we wanted to get (Keep in mind, this is long before we introduced Gygor, Vikor, Star Sisters or other concept figures.)

Another challenge with He-Ro was how was he going to fit into the storyline? At the onset of Classics, when I wrote the original bio brief, I did specifically call this out. The idea for Classics was to create a MOTU continuity separate from previous storylines, but one that would include the maximum number of characters to justify the maximum number of toys.

In the proposed 1987 line, He-Ro was going to be revealed to be He-Man’s ancestor (this is why He-Man had to wear a mask in the first mini-comic, so his ancestor would not recognized him, although all the Sorceress said in Issue 1 was “the reason for the mask would be revealed in time.”) But according to Kilpin’s notes and outline (published in our 2009 SDCC art book), this was the rationale and would have been revealed in issue 2 of the 3 part story..

Trouble was, the 200X series had introduced a definitive ancestor to He-Man in King Grayskull.

And we already did King Grayskull as the premier figure for MOTUC. Now we could have certainly kept them both as ancestors and had He-Ro predate King Grayskull or visa-versa, but honestly, it felt repetitive to have multiple ancestor figures. Instead, this was a great example of ye olde retro-conn’ing, where we wanted to take the best elements from all previous cannons to create this new MOTUC world.

In the bio outline document, it was noted that (when and if) we got to a He-Ro figure, we would make him the origin of the Power Sword, leaving King Grayskull the origin of the bloodline and securing them both as important contributors to He-Man’s origin and important characters who could not only co-exist, but actually had fought side by side. This was a perfect example of what MOTUC was all about. We made sure the new cannon incorporated roles for both characters, if for no other reason than to justify doing both toys!

So with his background set, now was time to tackle the actual new toy.

This would be the first ever actual He-Ro action figure, arguably a toy many fans had waiting 25 years for. So we knew we had to do him right.

There were a few accessory choices for He-Ro. He had a staff with a magic jewel in the prototype, but in the mini-comic and in some early art he had a completely different magic staff. In the end, we went with the toy accessory and also threw in a new version of the Power Sword. Because we only had card backs and actual toys to tell any “story,” including a translucent blue version of the Power Sword with He-Ro was a way of “telling the story though toys.” We wanted to visually show that He-Ro was the one who brought the sword to Eternia and made the sword in clear blue with a star field deco to show that this was the sword at full power, before the “Power of the Universe” was transferred from the blade to the orb. Using the toys to “tell the story” was key for MOTUC since the figures represented permanence on collector’s shelves and, in the absence of any animated or live action (or even comic book) content, we needed to maximize every opportunity we could to tell stories. Bio and figure accessories became it.

We specifically wanted He-Ro’s sword to be blue because that was the color of the power orb in the 200X series and we wanted to create a visual link between the orb and the sword to show where the power originally came from. The Horsemen’s prototype made the sword black/gray with stars, which did not match the orb and, due to early photo needs, this version of the sword wound up on the package, leading many fans to ask for it.

But in the end, this black version is not correct.

In order to link the sword as the source of the Orb’s power, it was important to visually link the orb and the sword, which is why it was changed to blue.

The magic staff was also a fun accessory to tackle and let us do our first (and only) chase figure for SDCC (or even in the line). While the vintage toy came with a green jewel in the staff (which I renamed a “spell stone” and is one of my favorite MOTU words to date!), we decided to add a little SDCC fun to the figure by having three different versions of the spell stone – green, red and purple. By packing the staff in closed position, fans would not know which stone color they had until opening the figure. This also ensured that MOC collectors could still get a He-Ro and not worry about the variant.

Of course, it wasn’t long before clever fans figured out (unbeknownst to us) that you could shine a flashlight through the package and it would reflect off of the small crack in the staff clamps and show which color spell stone your He-Ro had. Oh well!

Further, we also differentiated the SDCC version of He-Ro by tampo-stamping the SDCC logo under his armor. Again, this was a way of doing a legit variant for SDCC without affecting MOC collectors. No matter how you got your He-Ro figure, if you kept it mint-in-box, ideally all versions would look the same.

The three stone colors wound up being a huge hit. The green version, having been on the vintage toy, was produced in the highest quota. This was the stone of protection, letting He-Ro cast green bubbles around himself or allies as a force field. The red stone of defense would let He-Ro shoot red blasts at enemies. This was produced more than the green, but less than the purple. The very rare and least produced purple stone of healing would cast healing spells. We chose the colors because green was the vintage color, red really popped and looked nice, and purple, well, purple is my favorite color and I like using it whenever I can (see Mighty Spector’s outfit!).

Another issue with He-Ro was his vac metal.

The original prototype from 1987 had vac metal armor. This is a toy-making process where we apply reflective coating to a toy (see Hurricane Hordak for an example). We did explore this, but due to the way the armor snapped on and was attached to the cape, it just wasn’t working. Applying vac metal (or flocking) to a highly articulated figure is extremely difficult. While we strive to be authentic, it can wind up not only being difficult, but can look really bad.

So after a few discussions with the Horsemen, we dropped doing vac metal and went with a painted chest armor instead. This was definitely one of those issues where fans were split, but hey, maybe one day we can revisit it and do the cape as a separate piece, letting us having a better shot at doing vac metal. He-Ro has become quite a popular figure after all.

As I wrap up, a few last words about He-Ro’s bio.

Noted above, we knew early on that we wanted to create a world to justify both King Grayskull and He-Ro, if for no other reason than to justify toys of them both. Yes, without a doubt, there are many ways we could have done this. The one we settled on was making He-Ro a member of the Cosmic Enforcers and bringing the Sword of He to Eternia. This single concept, while new to the brand, helped usher in a lot of the retro conning we wanted to do for MOTUC to create the world we needed. It raised the importance of Orko (as a member of the Trollan Overlords of the Timeless Dimension whom He-Ro “worked for”), as well as helped craft a world that would support back stories for other “He-Men” like Vikor, Oo-Lar, Wundar and others. Our goal wasn’t to explain EVERYTHING, but calling the Power Sword the “Sword of He” (“he” being the Trollan word for “power”) in one step, could we now explore many of these new stories’ roads.

We knew the sword was going to become “The Sword of He” from Day 1 of the bios, but we purposely waited for He-Ro’s bio to reveal this, very consciously spreading out all of the new elements and retro conn’ing elements over time. We needed to really solidify this new cannon with core elements first before trickling in the new elements, even if they were set from the beginning.

Honestly, of all the “new” elements we introduced through MOTUC figures and bios, I was surprised calling the sword “He” received as little flack as it did. But I guess if you think about it, it kinda made sense. It helped justify both He-Man and He-Ro’s names, and it set up the existence of other “He-Men” throughout time as guardians of the sword until the one true He-Man (Adam) came along to claim the sword. (and this was of course done to justify, you guessed it – even more figures we could sell! Shocker!)

And yes, many fans will point out that He-Ro’s original real name was “Gray.”

This was because in the 1987 story (before 200X and MOTUC introduced King Grayskull), He-Ro was going to be He-Man’s ancestor. Now that He-Ro was the origin of the sword and not the bloodline, it just didn’t feel right having a King Grayskull and a “Gray”. We wanted to separate them more.

BUT: we know having He-Ro use the name Gray was still very important to fans and we have worked that into the story as well. More on this will be revealed in time. Keep reading the bios!

A final big change from the vintage concept for He-Ro was the character being a Cosmic Warrior and not just “the most Powerful Wizard in the Universe.” For the record, although he is ALSO a Cosmic Warrior, the fact that he comes with a magic staff with Spell Stones was intended as an indicator that he was also this powerful Wizard. One role was not intended to cancel out the other. It just expanded his importance and helped link He-Ro to the sword’s origin (and Orko’s expanded background for his people and his role). There is actually a lot more about He-Ro to be revealed, both through the new 2012 mini-comics and in future bios. In the end, we think fans and customers will jive with where we are going.

So that was about it on He-Ro. He sold very well at SDCC and succeeded in not only getting this figure to market, but as a figure, he physically represented how deep we wanted MOTUC to go. No longer were we just doing figures from the original line, but here for the first time was a step towards a larger world. He also introduced some great new shared parts, like the boots (used on various future characters like Zodak and Draego-Man) and his new loin cloth (also used on Zodak and perhaps others…). He was a success on multiple fronts and, as a figure I personally got to pick as Mattel’s MOTUC SDCC figure, a very personal project, too. Many toy fans dream of picking an SDCC figure (let along MOTU ones) and I knew I was truly living the dream. To this day, I remain extremely grateful for the opportunities working on this line has provided.

(AKA Toy Guru)
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