Interviews

Mark DiCamillo on the abandoned live-action He-Man TV show

Interview by Danielle Gelehrter and Adam McCombs

Mark DiCamillo was formerly Director of Marketing at Mattel. Mark started out as an engineer, working on lines such as Intellivision, Hot Wheels and BraveStarr. From there Mark was promoted to Male Action Design Manager, where he worked on the “New Adventures” He-Man line, among many others in his career at Mattel. One of Mark’s most successful designs was the role play Power Sword for the New Adventures line. The sword was an instant commercial hit.

Artwork by Mark DiCamillo

Danielle Gelehrter initially contacted Mark about an interesting project he worked on that never saw the light of day – a live-action He-Man TV series, similar in concept to the eventual Captain Power TV series. Unfortunately the live-action He-Man series was never produced, but it’s a fascinating piece of He-Man lore that hasn’t received much attention.

From there Danielle looped me in, and we brainstormed on some additional questions for Mark, which he was gracious enough to answer:

Q: Many fans don’t know that a live-action He-Man TV series was in the works at one time. Can you talk about that?

A: Based on the success (sort of) of the live-action He-Man movie in 1987, Mattel immediately began to discuss the possibility of developing a weekly live-action TV show based on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Obviously, the more fanciful animated characters had to be adapted to be done with live actors. In addition, to keep the production budget for a weekly TV series in check, the costuming had to be relatively simple. At the time there was also a move to update the look to be a bit more futuristic vs. the original barbarian look that He-Man launched with. We did numerous design studies on everything from character looks to vehicles and weapons. Sadly the TV series was never green-lighted, but some of the design concepts were adapted to the New Adventures of He-Man in 1989.

Here is… one of the sketches for a live-action TV Man-At-Arms for your reference:

Artwork by Mark DiCamillo

Q: I can’t help but notice the resemblance to Captain Power. Did Captain Power start as this live-action He-Man show?

Mark: Captain Power was its own concept. Certainly born out of the rise of male action toy play (which began with G.I. Joe, moved on to Star Wars and then Masters). One of the keys to Captain Power was some new technology that allowed the shows to be encoded with information that could be picked up by a receiver in the toys. Basically there were flashes of light that were interwoven between the scan lines of the TV signal. Similar to the old concept of subliminal advertising. The toys could detect the flashes, but the human eye could not. The flashes allowed the toys to know if characters or ships on the screen were firing toward the viewer. If they were, then the toys would react (for example, a handheld weapon buzzing, or a pilot ejecting).

This same technology was also used for BraveStarr (western-themed male action). and even Wheel of Fortune. Mattel made a Wheel of Fortune game that let you play along at home. You could guess your own letters and try to solve the puzzle at home. When Vanna turned over a letter on TV, it would actually reveal itself on your home game as well.

Q: Can you remember what existing characters from the original Masters of the Universe line would have been redesigned for the live action TV show? 

Mostly the original core characters, He-Man, Man-at-Arms, and Skeletor.

Q: What was your specific involvement in the project? How did you feel about the direction it was going?

I was running one of the male-action design groups.  The story and project direction came mostly from outside producers and marketing.  Our design team was focused on ideation, churning out ideas and design styles.

Q: Can you recall what new characters would have been introduced for the show?

We had a number of character concepts, many without specific names, but with more human look and higher tech weapons.  For example we had a bulked up evil character with a shaved head that carried a laser battle ax.

Q: You mentioned “the more fanciful animated characters had to be adapted to be done with live actors.” Does this mean characters like Orko and such were going to be in the show as performed by live actors?

A: Orko did not make it into any of the character concepts my team did for the live action show.

Q: What kinds of vehicles were planned for the show?

A: As I mentioned earlier, we tried to create vehicles that you could actually build and operate in live video shoots.  We had motorcycles and off-road vehicles.  We did have a hover sled, but that could be shot by holding the sled up off camera like was done with Luke’s scooter in the original Star Wars.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation. Note that we see characters that somewhat resemble Laser Power He-Man and Laser Light Skeletor figures with the “Harm Arm” This one is called out as a TV interactive accessory.
A possible TV redesign for He-Man (although not labeled as such), riding a futuristic vehicle. Thanks to Dušan M. for the image and for his analysis. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation catalog
A possible TV redesign for Skeletor (although not labeled as such). Thanks to Dušan M. for the image and for his analysis. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation catalog

Q: Who worked on the character and vehicle designs for the show?

A: Our team was comprised of myself, Martin Arriola, Dave Wolfram, Dave McElroy, Terry Choy, Michael Collins and others.  I had spent some time on Hot Wheels, so the vehicles fell mostly to myself, Michael Collins and Dave McElroy. Terry Choy pitched in as well.

Q: Were any scripts or story treatments written? What was the premise of the show?

A: We only had some basic story premises to work from.  The main thing the design team had to work with was that the show would be set on Earth

Q: Was Castle Grayskull going to be in it? Or if not, were there new locations designed for the show?

A: We did not do any sketches of Grayskull for the live action show.

Q: Was this going to be a prime-time show or a daytime kids’ show?

A: It was designed to be a prime time show.  It is the only way that a show of this type and budget would make economic sense.

Q: Which designs for the TV show ended up as New Adventures figures?

A: Really the only live action concepts that made it into New Adventures was the style for Skeletor.  The New Adventures was a bit more futuristic than the look we were working on for the live action TV series

New Adventures Skeletor Concept by Mark DiCamillo, drawn for presentation by David Wolfram

Q: Laser Power He-Man and Laser Light Skeletor, as I recall, also came out of designs intended for the live action show, correct?  Can you talk about those concepts?

A: As you know, Mattel had some success with Captain Power and Bravestarr.  At the time, we were adding lasers to just about everything.

Laser Power He-Man. Concept design by Martin Arriola, artwork by David Wolfram. Image source: Dark Horse/The Power and the Honor Foundation
Laser Light Skeletor concept. Artwork by David Wolfram.

Q: An early prototype of Laser Power He-Man featured a green crystal in his backpack, and we’ve heard that the crystals would have been kind of a McGuffin for the show, something each side was trying to get to power their vehicles and weapons. Is that accurate, and can you tell us anything more about it?

A: I really don’t recall that as a story premise, but I would not refute it either.

Laser Power He-Man prototype

Q: Do you remember a 1988 story bible for a He-Ro: Son of He-Man cartoon that combined animation and live-action? Was that related to this at all? There was a “son of Skeletor” character named Skeleteen in it, and a lot of the other elements from this bible ended up in New Adventures of He-Man.

A: Mattel Entertainment was always working on new story treatments for toy-based entertainment.  The main story concept and setting for the New Adventures was conceived by Dave Wolfram and myself.  (I’ve attached a sketch that Dave did of our New Adventures universe.)

Q: What’s the relationship between the abandoned live action He-Man show and Captain Power?

A: None really.  Captain Power was all about technology, include the interactive TV technology, which Mattel used in the Wheel of Fortune game as well.

Q: Why do you think the show never happened?

A: Like most things in entertainment and toys for that matter, very little that is created actually sees the light of day.  I’m sure it was hard to make the economics work.  When you add a lot of costumes, effects and makeup to a show, the costs rise rapidly.

Q: New Adventures of He-Man had some really well-produced live action TV commercials. Would the live action He-Man show have had a similar look?

A: It is hard to say.  The live action TV show concept came before the New Adventures toy line and commercials, so there is very little relation between the two.

Q: Were any specific actors considered for the live action TV show?

A: None really.  It never got that far, but many of us at the office had a soft spot for Deron McBee who did numerous toy fairs and mall tours and was Malibu on the American Gladiators.

While the live-action He-Man TV series never saw the light of day, it’s fascinating to imagine what might have been. The few glimpses we have into the show seem to reveal a very different take on Masters of the Universe, particularly given the apparent lack of Castle Grayskull in the series. Perhaps some of the story premises for the show will turn up someday to help paint a more complete picture of this mysterious, unproduced version of He-Man.

Special thanks to Mark DiCamillo for his willingness to answer our questions, and also to Danielle Gelehrter for including me on the interview.

To learn more about Mark’s design, management, engineering and product management experience, please check out his website.

Danielle Gelehrter has been a contributor to a number of Dark Horse books about He-Man and She-Ra, and she is also a co-writer of the Masters of the Universe Classics Collector’s Choice Bios. You can read more about her work here.

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Heroic Warriors

Roboto: Heroic mechanical warrior (1985)

My first exposure to Roboto came on the playground in third grade. I had gone to the same elementary school during kindergarten and first grade. But in second grade, we moved away for a year to a smaller town, which turned out to be something of a He-Man vacuum. All of the kids there seemed to be into either Voltron or Thundercats. But when I returned to my old school in the third grade, I found He-Man was still going strong there.

One fall day on the playground, one of my friends brought out his Roboto and Two Bad figures. I never had either of these figures myself, but I was pretty impressed with both of them. Roboto had all kinds of bells and whistles – a transparent chest that showed moving gears as you twisted his waist, with an automatically-moving jaw. And you could change out three attachments on his right arm, like Trap Jaw.

The next year I had lost most of my interest in MOTU, but I begged my mom for a G.I. Joe B.A.T.S. Figure. It seemed to have been Hasbro’s answer to Roboto, albeit with a hologram sticker that only simulated a transparent chest.

Design & Development

Roboto’s genesis seems to lie in a concept illustrated by Ted Mayer, called Transparent Man. In the sketch you can see that this concept was meant to be an almost completely transparent figure, covered with mechanical bits.

From Tomart’s Action Figure Digest. Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.
From the Power and the Honor Foundation catalog. Per the book, the image was dated July 7, 1984.

We can get a bead on what a more fully developed Roboto looked like from his minicomic depiction. First minicomic appearances are often based on unfinished concept artwork or prototypes for toys:

At this point in his development, Roboto has a red and orange color scheme, rather than the red, purple and blue colors of the final toy. In the comic we see that there is a very literal “heart” in Roboto’s chest, but no indication of the rotating gears of the toy:

Production Figure

The final Roboto toy is very similar to the minicomics design, albeit with a change in color scheme and simplified design on the chest. I would suspect the external sculpted chest detail in the illustration would have made it harder to see through the chest into the figure’s working gears, which may be why it was not used on the final figure. By turning the figure’s waist, the mouth would open and close as the gears spun around. The figure’s heart was partially obscured behind the central red gear:

Roboto cross sell artwork

Roboto included three removable arm attachments. Aside from the laser canon (shown above), he also had a robotic claw and an axe:

From behind you can also make out his central “heart” inside his chest:

As seen in most of the above figure shots, over time the legs of vintage Roboto figures have started to leech a purple residue. This can be cleaned off with a magic sponge, but it will eventually return.

Speaking of his legs, they are reused from Man-E-Faces. His arms are based off of Trap Jaw’s, but with some additional sculpted mechanical detail added.

Packaging

Roboto was released on the standard blister card, with artwork on the reverse by Errol McCarthy. The artwork feature’s Roboto’s prototype orange and red color scheme:

Scan by Starcrusader

Roboto was also released in a few giftsets as well – one with Hordak and Sy-Klone, one with Thunder Punch He-Man, and another with Mekaneck. Photos are available at Grayskull Museum.

Minicomics

The Battle of Roboto establishes Roboto’s origin as the creation of Man-At-Arms. The story works to explain Roboto’s features, as well as the idea behind the heart in his chest:

Image source: Dark Horse
Image source: Dark Horse

In the story, Skeletor is able to take control of Roboto by removing his heart. Roboto becomes a very dangerous weapon due to his great strength:

Image source: Dark Horse
Image source: Dark Horse

In the end the heroes are able to restore Roboto to normal by returning his heart to his chest. However, Roboto worries that he is too dangerous a weapon should he ever be compromised again. In response, the Sorceress casts a spell of protection on him to prevent Skeletor from taking control of him again.

Image source: Dark Horse
Image source: Dark Horse

Animation

Roboto’s origin story in the Filmation He-Man cartoon is quite different. Roboto crash landed onto Eternia. As revealed in the episode, “Happy Birthday Roboto”, originally he had come from the planet Robotica, which was filled with mechanical beings like himself. As with the minicomic characterization, Roboto was immensely powerful in the Filmation cartoon.

Design-wise, the animated Roboto generally followed the design of the action figure, albeit simplified for animation. The most obvious difference is the mouth plate area, which has less of a steep slope to it compared to the figure.

Roboto model sheet. Vectorized and colored by Jukka Issakainen
Roboto model sheet with alternative concept colors. Vectorized and colored by Jukka Issakainen.
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Other Media

Roboto appeared in quite a number of different stories and activities in comics and magazines over the years. He was the subject of a word search in the Spring 1985 issue of Masters of the Universe Magazine:

Image source: He-Man.org

That same issue also includes a brilliant poster by Earl Norem, depicting Roboto battling against flying Roton vehicles:

In issue 34 of the 1987 run of the UK MOTU Magazine, Roboto and Man-At-Arms are attacked on their Jet Sleds by Dragstor, who is piloting the Fright Fighter. The two heroes’ remaining Jet Sled is damaged, but they are able to repair it using some parts from Roboto:

Image source: He-Man.org
Image source: He-Man.org

In issue 12 of the 1989 run of the UK MOTU Magazine, we see He-Man and Roboto in Viper Tower (which for some reason is identified as the headquarters of the Heroic Warriors). From there they enter a dimensional portal to travel to a distant planet, where they battle alien robots:

Image source: He-Man.org
Image source: He-Man.org

In the He-Man newspaper comic story, “Day of the Comet”, we see a Filmation-like Roboto assembled with the heroic warriors:

Image source: Dark Horse

In the Golden Book story He-Man Smells Trouble, Roboto accidentally causes some damage to a stage when he mistake’s Orko’s magic for a real threat. Orko in turn hurts Roboto’s feelings, and he wanders away. Roboto ends up briefly teaming up with Stinkor, who also had his feelings hurt by the evil warriors. Together they encounter some other robots who actually resemble some of Ted Mayer’s concept art for the figure:

Roboto appears in a couple of MOTU posters by William George:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen
Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Roboto appears as an extra in the box art for both Monstroid (artist unknown) and Fright Fighter (art by William George):

Roboto (in his concept colors) was featured in a series of Fuzzy Iron-Ons included in boxes of Rice Krispies

Image source: He-Man.org

Roboto in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has graciously shared the following image and video of Roboto in action!

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