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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Interviews

Errol McCarthy: Cardback Legend

Errol McCarthy at the CARtoons art show at LACMA (LA County Museum of Art) in 2016

I recently got the chance to interview Errol McCarthy, one of the most prolific artists ever to work on Masters of the Universe. Errol started out providing illustrations for Mattel’s first licensing kit in 1982, and moved on to illustrate the majority of the cardback artwork scenes for vintage MOTU figures. He worked on other license kit and style guide illustration projects, and he illustrated a number of scenes for apparel for Bates Nightwear

To begin with, Errol sent me the following bio detailing some of his life history:

Errol McCarthy was born in Los Angeles long long ago, but grew up in Billings, Montana. As a teen, he developed an interest in anything with an engine. This included airplanes, sports cars and motorcycles. His high school buddies had real hot rods and many, many evenings were spent cruising and occasionally actually picking up girls. “American Graffiti” was right on!

The closest thing to a real rod that he had was a bored out ’48 Chevy coupe with a split manifold. While writing a ticket, a cop said:”It was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard”! Plans to install a ’50 Olds V-8 with a Lincoln Zephyr tranny remained just plans. Drawing was a different thing,since, if you can draw, he reasoned, you can create anything. Errol became the school cartoonist and study hall was all about drawing cars and airplanes.

A short stint in the Air Force as an Aviation Cadet convinced Errol that he was not the military type; art school would be a better fit. He went back to Los Angeles to attend Art Center school and to meet his future wife, Mitzi, who was also an artist. Their first date was a hot rod show and a trip to a comic book stand; she passed the “test” and they were married. They both found that it was possible to make a living in art.

Errol’s first freelance comic book job came from answering a want ad in the paper. It was a one shot entitled “CarNuts” published by Quentin Miller. That job,plus an Underground comic story led to Petersen Publishing which had 3 comic books at the time: CAR Toons, Hot Rod Cartoons and Cycletoons. He soon had work in all 3, plus a full time job as an illustrator at McDonnell-Douglas. There were a few jobs for underground comics, Road and Track and Hustler magazines. A Master’s degree followed with a thesis on the influence of underground “comix” on art. Teaching art followed and then a stay at Mattel doing action figures like He-Man and Big Jim. There was also Hot Wheels work, where, he says, the high point of his art career was the design of the “Toilet Mobile”. There was other free lance toy work including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

To pay the bills, both he and Mitzi have done tech drawings for Clymer Publications motorcycle magazines for over 30 years, continue to this day and love it.

And now on to the interview!

Battle Ram: How did you come to be involved in Masters of the Universe?

Errol McCarthy: I started to do free lance work for Mattel about ’79. [My] old Art Center pal Mark Taylor hired me.

BR: Would your first project for MOTU have been the 1982 Licensing Kit? What can you remember about it?

EM: That was sooo long ago, I have no idea what the first MOTU work was about. I do remember doing lots figure and playset concepts, but I don’t remember if they were all produced.

BR: You went on to illustrate the action scenes on the cardbacks for most of the figures. Can you talk about how that started and what you were trying to achieve with your illustrations?

EM: I think it was just to illustrate what the figure was about & what it did like Mekaneck with his telescoping neck.

BR: Were the landscapes and scenery of the cardback illustrations created totally from your imagination, or did Mattel give you some direction for the look of Eternia (for example, the sinister-looking swamp for Evil-Lyn, the sweeping plains for He-Man)?

EM: All of that stuff was pretty much from my imagination. It’s fun to draw creepy creatures and landscapes.

BR: You illustrated cardbacks for characters like Skeletor, Mer-Man, He-Man, Teela, Faker, Fisto, Trap Jaw and many others. Which ones are your favorites and why? Any interesting stories associated with any of them?

EM: I liked all of them but particularly the main ones like Teela, Stratos and Mekaneck. I think there were about 100 or so characters in the line. It was great fun to draw all of them.

BR: It looks like your License Kit Castle Grayskull shows up in the background of your Skeletor illustration, and other illustrations as well. Did you commonly reuse your art where you could?

Image source: He-Man.org

EM: Drawings of things as complex as Castle Grayskull and other things like that are used over and over again and why not? The trick is to try to make it look fresh.

BR: You continued to do additional license kit artwork, as well as artwork for a MOTU style guide. Any stories or memories about either project?

EM: Not really-I think the Style Guide was meant to indicate what colors were to be used for each of the parts of characters or machines.

BR: You did some work for Bates Nightwear to create licensed MOTU artwork for T-shirts or pajama shirts, correct? Can you talk about that project?

EM: I think I did about 100 drawings for Bates Nightwear.It was great fun!

Image via He-Man.org

BR: Sometimes you signed your art EM, and other times you signed your full name. Was that based on your own preference, or did Mattel sometimes dictate how you were to sign your art?

EM: The signing sort of depended on the space available. Mattel or Petersen Pub. didn’t care about signing.

BR: Are there any other projects you worked on for the original Masters of the Universe toyline?

EM: I really can’t think of any other than the ones done recently for Super 7 which was for the collector’s market; they were done as card back art, the same as the original line back in the ’80’s. I think that Mattel has taken back the rights now.* We’ll see if they continue the line.

BR: You illustrated two comic books for the “New Adventures” He-Man reboot. Can you talk about how you got involved in that project? What did you think of the new futuristic He-Man concept?

EM: I wish that I could’ve done more with the comic books, but was too busy at the time with other free lance work, but they had a pool of great talent to do the books. A few years ago, Dark Horse reprinted the comics in a hard cover single volume and doubled the size of the art. They did an excellent job of it!

BR: You also illustrated some “New Adventures” futuristic He-Man concept art as well. Can you talk about how that came about? Do you remember anything about the idea behind the concepts you drew? Were these your character designs?

EM: These were all someone else’s concepts. I don’t know who was involved in it, but it was well done.

BR: Did you work on any other non-MOTU projects at Mattel?

EM: Yes, I contributed occasionally to Hot Wheels. My proudest project was doing the art for the Toiletmobile on the Real Monsters line and doing a lot of art on Big Jim packaging. There were others as well like Mighty Max.

BR: Were you always a contractor at Mattel, or did you ever join as a permanent employee?

EM: I freelanced for Mattel from about 1978 to ’89. I was a Mattel employee from ’89 to 1995, then back to freelancing again for Mattel and other toy companies. I think Mark [Taylor] did bring me in specifically to work in house on MOTU in 1989. Mark left after I did in 1995 and went on to work at other toy companies. We collaborated occasionally on projects.

BR: Recently you’ve done some new cardback illustrations for some of the vintage style Super7 MOTU figures. How did that come about? How did it feel to work on Masters of the Universe again?

EM: I guess they knew I was still alive and drawing stuff so I got to do the card backs. One of the biggest perks for me was to be able to work with Emiliano Santalucia over the internet. He lives in Sicily and I live in Long Beach, but the internet makes it possible to work together.

BR: As I understand it, you’ve done illustration work for a number of different toy lines, including Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Can you summarize some of the major work you’ve done outside of MOTU?

EM: Yes, I worked on both of those lines doing mostly concept art which may or may not become a toy. My biggest accomplishment was doing the TMNT blimp!

BR: What do you think made MOTU such a success?

EM: I understand that Mattel wanted to do a Conan the Barbarian line but couldn’t get the rights, so did their own version.Little boys love that sort of thing, plus there was no limit to the imagination when it came to weird characters and odd scenarios; it was also the time of Star Wars, etc.

BR: Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

EM: The most exciting thing for me now is to be able to still work on He-Man and that it still exists!

Image via The Art of He-Man.

Many thanks to Errol McCarthy for taking the time to answer my questions!

*Note: according to a recent Roast Gooble Dinner interview with Brian Flynn, the status of future 5.5″ figures is somewhat uncertain because of the upcoming Masters of the Universe Movie. The strategy for how Super7 and Mattel release MOTU figures ahead of that film is still to be determined.

Interviews

David Wolfram answers fan questions

After I interviewed retired Mattel designer David Wolfram a few weeks ago, he graciously agreed to answer some fan questions. Many thanks to David and to all the readers who submitted questions!

Blaine H.:  I have a general question for Mr. Wolfram. If he can give us any details or secrets in the Eternia Playset. Like why did Mattel produce such a large playset at the end of the line when interest was waning. Also does he remember any parts or ideas that were scrapped during production? Why did they use such brittle plastic for the original tracks that break all the time? I have the repro tracks, but sometimes my support arms pop off the towers when the tram is traveling on them and it falls off. No toy is perfect I guess.

David Wolfram: Eternia was already well in the works, so I guess they decided to go ahead with it. It was actually produced in very low numbers, so I am pretty sure that Mattel lost a bundle on it; mostly because of the huge tooling bill, but also because of the extensive D&D (design and development) on it. One of the best engineers, Mike McKittrick, was the engineer on it. He was also the engineer that made Spydor work. Regarding the brittle plastic, all plastic will break down with age, which might account for some of your issues. I’m also guessing the vehicle ended up being heavier than originally planned for as well, after having to pass drop tests, etc.

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Eternia playset

John A: [David] mentioned that he worked on the movie toys. Could you ask him sometime if he worked on any movie toys beyond Blade, Saurod and Gwildor? I know they went and took photos of Karg in costume. Would be nice to know what else was planned with the movie.

DW: Thanks, the only other movie toy that I can recall was a child-size role play Cosmic Key. I can’t remember if it was actually produced, or not. Martin Arriola worked on it. My recollections are very vague, but I think it had some electronics in it.

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Unproduced Cosmic Key role play toy, from Mattel’s 1987 dealer catalog. Image source: Orange Slime.

Mark L: Awesome read. A great insight into the thought & design process. How proud you must feel to see your design on the shelves as a toy! I’d just like to thank David for his amazing creativity that led to awesome toys. I am truly inspired.

DW: Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. It’s a funny thing, but at least for me, there was so much time as a designer between when the toy is out of your hands, and when it finally hits the shelves, that it feels like ancient history. I do remember on the T-Rex and Bionatops that by the time they hit the shelves they were at Pick & Save (a discount store), priced at less than the original “A” price. I think I bought four T-Rex’s and gave three of them away to my family. The fourth I sold a few years ago on eBay in a slightly damaged package, when I was trying to make some room in my garage and storage areas, for over $900. Made me wish in retrospect that I had bought all that I could find!

When I left Mattel, I had a pile of toys in boxes that was at least six feet tall, six feet wide, and eight feet long. The need for space in my garage quickly overtook my sentimentality, except for a few rare exceptions.

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Bionatops, Tyrantisaurus Rex, Turbodactyl

Dejan D: What was inspiration for Clamp Champ?

DW: I think that there were calls for a little more diversity in Eternia. As I mentioned in the interview, the concepts on the four re-themed figures had already been sold in before I started working on them, but that would be a logical conclusion. On the girl’s side they had done black Barbies, and other dolls for years. I don’t remember the background story very well, but I seem to recall he was some kind of guard or soldier.

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Clamp Champ cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez.

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