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.
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:
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.
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
A: As you know, Mattel had some success with Captain Power and Bravestarr. At the time, we were adding lasers to just about everything.
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.
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.
Although I missed most of the 1987 wave of Masters of the Universe figures, I did happen to catch Tyrantisaurus Rex. A remember being at a friend’s house, and he showed me his new purple cyborg dinosaur that could shoot a green drone from its belly. At the time I had moved on to G.I. Joe, but I thought it was a pretty cool looking toy. I actually happened upon the figure again, years later at a university reptile show intended for kids. There was a table full of dinosaur toys, and there in the heap was Tyrantisaurus.
Design & Development
The earliest design artwork for a MOTU T-Rex comes from Alan Tyler. His take on the concept is quite different from what followed. The design below doesn’t have any external cybernetic parts. Aside from the pop out opening in the back, it looks like a fairly realistic tyrannosaurus. The “drone” is actually an organic creature instead of a mechanical one.
At some point the concept was turned over to David Wolfram. This was actually David’s first project for Masters of the Universe. As he explained in my interview with him:
I was in my last term at Art Center College of Design, and had a fairly light schedule, so I checked into freelance opportunities offered through the job placement department at AC (I can’t remember exactly what they were called), and saw an opportunity to work on a project for Mattel.
I went to Mattel, and met with Martin Arriola to discuss the project, which happened to be a dinosaur project for MOTU. Coincidentally, at my drawing board I had a small black and white TV, and as I was working on my school projects, I would always watch the afternoon MOTU cartoons, so I knew the property, plus I had a lifelong interest in dinosaurs, so I jumped at the opportunity. I worked on this project on a freelance basis until graduation, then I started working in-house at Mattel as a temp, which is the back door way that many people end up working there.
Here is my concept drawing for Tyrantisaurus Rex. It originally started out as a heroic vehicle, but marketing begrudgingly made the decision that it would be better suited for Skeletor.David Wolfram
The above illustration by David Wolfram, dated November 21, 1985, is very close to the look of the actual production toy. The only obvious difference is the color of the gun, which is gray in the concept art.
We can see the translation of the concept design into mass-produced toy below, first in the cross sell artwork (a nearly photo-realistic drawing of the figure) and in the mass produced toy below.
A hatch on the back of the figure opens up to allow an action figure to sit. A hatch on the stomach stores the “Dyna-Drone” (a wind-up spinning toy), which can be launched from the figure’s belly. There is a removable blue gun that attaches to the dinosaur’s right shoulder, and the mouth is articulated.
The box art on the front of the packaging was illustrated by Warren Hile, who also worked on the Bionatops and Turbodactyl packaging:
I don’t know who did the artwork on the back of the packaging, but I’ve transcribed the backstory:
Travel back in time through a secret time portal-and discover the ORIGIN of THE POWERS OF GRAYSKULL! Learn how He-Man became so strong! And explore the magical world of Preternia – home of HE-RO, the Most Powerful WIZARD in the Universe!
Monstrous dinosaurs and fierce giants – both good and evil – struggle violently for control of this strange & hostile land! The dinosaurs in the time of HE-RO – Tyrantisaurus Rex, Bionatops and Turbodactyl – each posess a fantastic mechanical power. Can HE-RO master all the good magic of the Ancient Wizards and protect future Eternia from forever falling into the claws of evil?
Look for He-Ro and the Powers of Grayskull coming your way in 1987!
He-Ro was never released of course, although a replica of the unproduced figure will be available in 2019 from Super7. The giants mentioned in the text were Tytus and Megator, which ended up being offered for sale in Europe in 1988, but not in the US. Tyrantisaurus is depicted on the back and front of the box as being ridden by King Hiss, which was also the case in the minicomics, as we will see later.
There is also this profile of Tyrantisaurus Rex on the back:
Profile: Most Terrifying Dinosaur in the land of Preternia
Special weapon: Hidden Dyna-Drone bursts out of Belly! Bowls Over Enemies!
Origin: Related to the Ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex from Pre-Historic Earth!
The 1987 Style Guide had a similar description of the character
Comics & Stories
The Powers of Grayskull: The Legend Begins was to be the first of a “3 part saga.” Unfortunately with the cancellation of the line, the next two parts were never published. In the story, Skeletor followed He-Man and Sorceress back in time to ancient Preternia, where he allies with King Hiss and causes trouble. A battle ensues, with a disguised He-Man riding Bionatops and King Hiss on Tyrantisaurus.
In Journey To Preternia, in the 1987 Spring issue of MOTU Magazine, Skeletor and He-Man accidentally travel through a time portal, and end up allying with their respective dinosaurs and hashing things out in a predictable way. In this story, there are multiple Tyrantisauruses.
The Summer 1987 MOTU Magazine also had a story featuring multiple Tyrantisauruses:
Tyrantisaurus is colored green and presented as belonging to the Evil Horde in the He-Man newspaper comic series (thanks to Dušan M. and Øyvind Meisfjord for the heads up!). Once again we see multiples of the fearsome cyborg T-Rex:
The creature is also green in issue 3 of the 1987 UK MOTU comic series, again with a green color scheme. In the story, Tung Lashor refers to it as a “Warsaur”, which might be an early working name for the creature (thanks to Petteri H. for the tip).
Tyrantisaurus was featured on two covers of the US Masters of the Universe Magazine, which were illustrated by Earl Norem:
William George also illustrated the dinosaur in his Preternia poster:
Errol McCarthy illustrated the figure for a T-shirt design (again in green, like the newspaper comic):
Tyrantisaurus is one of the cooler looking beasts of tail end of the line. Because he was produced in limited quantities, he’s quite pricey these days, but a must-have for any aspiring Preternia collector.
Tyrantisaurus in Action
Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared the following image and videos of the Tyrantisaurus Rex in action:
Disks of Doom Skeletor is the first Skeletor variant in the “New Adventures” of He-Man toyline, after the original 1989 release. It’s got quite a striking design, with a costume that looks like something like a cross between H.R. Giger and the heavy industrial art deco aesthetic of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Design & Development
Disks of Doom Skeletor was designed by David Wolfram, who worked on figures like Laser Light Skeletor and Snake Face in the original MOTU line. The concept originated with an abandoned space pirate idea. In my interview with David, he explained:
The skull armor was something that came out of brainstorms of new MOTU segments. One one my proposals was mutant space pirates, with many of them wearing variants of skull armor. Once we started working on the new line, I adopted that for the Skeletors that I designed.David Wolfram
The above design has the general Disks of Doom theme down, with the skull face on the chest armor and the bulky helmet. The legs of this costume design would eventually go to Optikk. David developed the following more finalized design for Skeletor in the drawing below, which appears to be a black and white photocopy of a color original:
The figure was to have a cocking spring waist feature, allowing it to fling disks from a hand-held launcher. It would also have LISA (light transmitting plastic) eyes, so that light from behind the figure would pipe through the back of the head and make the eyes appear to glow red. A similar feature was used on the Inhumanoids line.
[Disks of Doom Skeletor] was one of my favorite figures in that line. Mattel was very gun-shy (no pun intended) about using projectiles. By using the discs, we got around all the safety concerns. I also liked that a child could cock the figure, and then launch the disc using the trigger. It also gave me the opportunity to use the styling that I had been playing around with, and as a twofer I also got the LISA glowing eyes.David Wolfram
In the image below, included in the 2009 Mattel art book, we see an illustration of Disks of Doom Skeletor battling against his 1990 counterpart, Battle Punch He-Man (whose shield in this illustration is quite different from the actual toy design). Unfortunately no information is provided about the provenance of this illustration. The design for Skeletor’s costume matches pretty well with the final figure, but all the metallic elements are gold, or perhaps somewhere between gold and copper:
The cross sell artwork (below) as well as the illustrations on the packaging show Disks of Doom Skeletor again with a differently colored costume compared to what was used on the final toy – he has copper helmet and chest armor, rather than silver.
We can see the hand-painted final prototype in Mattel’s 1990 dealer catalog, with revised metallic colors:
The production figure came with a copper colored “Psychotronic Disk Launcher”, two “Disks of Doom”, and a wrist clip. He has the familiar pale blue skin, which is bristling with technological implants. His boots and gloves are a dark bronze, with copper skulls at the knees. The boots are tall and architectural, almost like he’s walking around wearing 1930s-era skyscrapers. The iron skull design on his chest looks very heavy industrial. Unlike the 1989 Skeletor, Disks of Doom variant returns to the classic Skeletor face coloring of yellow and green.
The mask closes and highlights Skeletor’s glowing eyes. Unfortunately the hinges on the mask are just a thin plastic crease, meaning the plastic will often become stressed with repeated closing and opening over the years, causing it to tear.
The front of the packaging for the figure features artwork by William George (or at least I think it’s his work):
The back of the card features some information on the background and abilities of Disks of Doom Skeletor:
The ultimate evil lord of destruction! While hiding on the dark moon of Denebria, Skeletor discovers the secret entrance to the long forgotton space base, Skuldor. There in the heart of the ancient underground caverns he finds The Disks of Doom, psychotronic weapons so powerful that they could turn He-Man into a mindless slave!
Mission: To destroy He-Man’s will with the mind-bending power of the Disks of Doom. With He-Man in his power, there will be no stopping his Mutant star-legions from conquering the peaceful people of Primus and spreading his evil empire throughout the galaxy.
Battle Equipment: Psychotronic Disk Launcher, 2 Disks of Doom
In the packaging description, somehow Skeletor can use the Disks of Doom to make He-Man a mindless slave. That doesn’t really make much sense – I would have thought Skeletor’s glowing eyes (which strangely aren’t mentioned on the package) would have more to do with that ability. “Skuldor” may be an early working name for the Nordor moon base.
Phantasy Star III
Curiously, an almost identical design is present in the principle villain (illustrated version) in Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (thanks to Stradlemonkey for pointing this out). The game was released in 1990, the same year as Disks of Doom Skeletor. Disks of Doom Skeletor’s trademark was filed on November 16, 1989, and I’m certain the artwork is based on Mattel’s design rather than vice versa. Perhaps it was originally commissioned for He-Man, but never used. The artist might have reworked the face and repurposed it for the Sega Genesis game instead.
Skeletor acquires his Disks of Doom costume quite early on in the animated series. In episode 6, “Sword & Staff”, Skeletor discovers a crystal that temporarily magnifies Quakke’s power. Skeletor later uses the crystal, which originated on Primus and was responsible for the creation of Nordor, to become more powerful himself. His costume is altered in the process.
Disks of Doom Skeletor shows up of course in Mattel’s catalogs. I haven’t found an example of the figure in a retailer’s catalog so far. If I come across anything, I’ll be sure to update the article.
Petteri Höglund helpfully pointed out that Disks of Doom Skeletor appears in the box art for several New Adventures oversized items, as well as on the cover of this promotional VHS tape:
I’ve mentioned before, I think that all of the Skeletor designs from the New Adventures line stand out as unique little pieces of pop culture modern art. Even if you don’t collect the 1989 He-Man line, the Skeletor figures are certainly worth owning.