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Let's make some funny pictures. -Tex Avery
And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? -Jesus
A man should never neglect his family for business. -Walt Disney
What's most important in animation is the emotions and the ideas being portrayed. -Ralph Bakshi
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There's been increasing chatter about the origin of He-Man.
I don't know what was happening at Mattel thirty years ago when the toy line was first created, but I do know what was happening at Filmation Studios when the cartoon was developed because I was there at the very beginning of it all.
Now that we're getting closer to the thirtieth anniversary of the TV show and interest is growing in how the popular series from the 1980s came to be, it's a good time to share my experiences and help set the record straight.
The He-Man series has its roots in an animated commercial produced by Filmation for Mattel in 1981. I looked for this commercial for a long time on YouTube and it was nowhere to be found.
That is, until now.
This past July 25, it was uploaded on YouTube from video that was captured at the San Diego Comic Con.
The audio is bad as the din of the crowd mingles with the sound of the commercial, but it's good enough to get an idea as to what it's about.
Here it is for the first time online...
I was a member of the original development team at Filmation when the series first got under way. I also worked on the show in the second season.
Before I tell the story of my experiences, I'd like to point out that there's another video that's been featured on Cartoonbrew dealing with the origin of the He-Man action figure doll at Mattel.
In it, Lou Scheimer, the head of Filmation, gives his comments as well as his daughter Erika Scheimer. In case you weren't aware of this, both Lou and Erika did quite a few of the voices overs for characters in the series. She did a lot of the kid voices whenever there were children in the cartoon, which is why they never sounded like kids. Lou was the voice of He-Man's (Prince Adam's) father among other characters that would come along depending on the script.
Tom Sito is also in this. He was working on the show in the first season, but he wasn't around when it was being developed, and as far as I know, had nothing to do with design.
Here's the video...
In addition to my story of what I experienced at part of the original development team at Filmation, I have a large amount of original production artwork from the three major animated series that the studio produced in the 1980s, along with some other odds and ends. That is He-Man, She-Ra and Bravestarr.
Filmation had no policy for holding on to original production art. From its beginnings in 1962 to the closing of the studio in 1989, they pretty much threw everything out. There's some animation cels floating around, a few drawings here and there that artists working at the studio at the time have held onto, but I have lots of stuff.
When I saw what Filmation was doing, I developed a policy early on of liberating artwork that was destined for destruction. Instead of letting it go, I insisted on the ownership of the drawings I produced and held onto them after they were used. As much as I could, I tried to salvage would I could.
Now all these years later, I have what is perhaps the most expansive collection of original art from that time.
I plan on showcasing it sometime next year, as the 30th anniversary of the He-Man series approaches.
There is a convention next month for Masters of the Universe and Thundercats at a hotel near LAX.
I've been asked to be a guest but I can't make it out there this year. Charles, you would be very welcome there, I'm sure.
Thanks for the lead there Rob. I'll follow up on that and see what happens.
I first learned about the He-Man line of toys in 1981 while living in Kansas city and working for Hallmark Cards. Can't recall if I saw the action figure first or the commercial I posted above. When I did see the toy, the thing that struck me was the lack of articulation. I remember the original GI Joe and Captain Action. Both were fully articulated and you could pose them just about any way you want. They were also twice the size of He-Man, which had very limited posing and was troublesome to even get the doll to stand on its feet.
It became wildly successful none the less, and I think the animated commercial and eventually the series of course really helped.
When I was hired at Filmation and the show got started, I remember meeting a guy who animated on the commercial. He was young, about my age at the time, and he was very proud of the work. He said it was the Filmation commercial that sold Mattel on a series. We look at it today and it doesn't seem like a big deal, but in 1981 it was. Animation like this was just not that available, and when it aired, it really stood out. It made a big impression back then.
When I first saw the original He-man commercial I was living in Kansas City ans working for Hallmark Cards. That year I read Ollie Johnston's and Frank Thomas' book "Disney Animation: the Illusion of Life". At the beginning of the book they mentioned that Ron Miller who was head of Disney at the time, was looking to rebuild the animation department but was having a difficult time finding artists who could animate in the Disney style.
I was heavily influenced by Disney, so I took some time to build up my portfolio a little more and sent it in to the studio. I found out later that I had made it into a training program there, but by the time I found out, I had only a week to get to Burbank. That was February 1982. There was a couple of feet of snow on the ground, I had no car, and my obligation to Hallmark kept me from leaving on such short notice. So arrangements were made for me to start in the summer. Boy was I excited about this. By the way, the person I was in communication with at Disney was Don Hahn.
By the summer of 1982, I was told that a strike was on the way and the training program would be delayed. I decided to go out west anyway and see what I could do. So in July of that year I gave my notice and by August 1, I was on the road in a little Honda Civic I bought used, along with my portfolio, some clothes, a pot to cook food in and a tent I borrowed from a friend. I stopped in camp grounds on the way to California, living a homeless lifestyle.
When I got to Burbank the strike was in full swing. It was the first week of August 1982. I had also been in touch with Don Bluth Studios and stopped by their place in Studio City on Ventura Boulevard to drop off a test.
The industry was dead. there was nothing going on, so I spent some time talking with striking animators on the picket lines at Disney, then after a while I headed south to San Diego. There was a lady there who I knew from Hallmark who was working on a project for a fellow named David Kirshner. He would later go on to produce American Tail, Cats Don't Dance among other films, and also become president of Hanna Barbera. That's how I got hooked up with him and started developing American Tail as a freelance job.
Before I did that, I was lucky enough to find work through this lady on a different project of his that was eventually called Rose Petal Place, his first project and was broadcast on TV in 1984. The lady who developed this property for him was Patricia Paris and she never received a word of credit. Same story with my work on American Tail. It really affected how I saw the animation business.
I was working for Ms. Paris for about a month and a couple of months when I heard that the strike was over. She was putting me up with a place to stay by the way while I was in San Diego. I left there to head back to LA and try to reconnect with Disney. It was October and the weather was changing. One night, my last night living out in the open, I found myself camping on the beach next to a complex that I found out later was the San Onofre nuclear power plant.
After being eaten alive by ants that night, I called an acquaintance I made and asked if I could spend a night at his place. He was Donald Towns, who was a background painter at Disney and eventually went on to head up background painting during the Little Mermaid period.
I still needed a place to stay, so I made my way to a home in Hollywood where I had some relatives. They were more than happy to let me use their place as a base to work from.
I tried and tried to reconnect with Don Hahn but there was a secretary or an assistant who answered his phone at the time, a lady by the name of Joanne, who wouldn't let me get through to him. I kept telling her I made it into the the training program, but I guess the strike changed things so this wall went up that I couldn't get around o matter how much I tried.
That's when I decided to give other studios a try. No place would even talk to me. I couldn't get anywhere with anyone. All I was asking was for someone to just look at my portfolio.
Finally I connected with Filmation. I talked till I was blue in the face, asking over and over again to just look at my portfolio. That's all I was asking to just look at my work, and finally the man I was speaking with agreed to meet with me the next day.
I'll continue with the rest of the story soon.
Taking a little detour in the telling of the story to mention that I'll be making an appearance at the He-Man She-Ra Thundercats Power-Con in LA on the afternoon of Saturday, September 24, 2011.
I contacted the Con thanks to the link provided by Rob Lamb a few posts above. I'll be participating in the He-Man Masters of the Universe cartoon panel from 1-2 PM with a signing from 2-3 PM.
My name isn't listed on the program yet but it will be soon.
Thanks for the lead Rob. Looks like it's going to pan out.
This will be my first appearance in anything associated withe He-Man or She-Ra. I plan on bringing along a few things that will make the event something special.
If you're interested in attending follow the link info.
That's great, Charles! Wish I could be there. Maybe next year.
I'll pass along your regrets and publicly acknowledge that if it wasn't for you I would not have known of the convention.
Say hello to James Eatock, Larry DiTillio, Tom Sito, Erika Scheimer and Emiliano Santalucia for me.
I will certainly do that Rob. Wish you could be there. As far as He-Man, She-Ra, even Bravestarr and Filmation in general, it's going to be a historic event. I don't think the organizers realize how significant this is going to be.
Picking up with the story.
The next day was a Friday morning. I drove to Reseda in the San Fernando Valley at the intersection of Sherman Way and Lindley to Filmation Studios.
I met with a man who originally came from Hungary. I can't recall his name, but he was a good guy. I remember him telling me about getting out of the country as it was ruled by communists. He escaped after the unsuccessful uprising of 1957. He mentioned that he never bought gas at a Texaco station because their symbol was a red star and it reminded him of communism.
He was impressed with my portfolio, so he took me to see somebody else who was above him. Then that person took me to see somebody else above him. Then the fourth person I met was Lou Scheimer himself, the head of Filmation.
There was a small crowd in his office reviewing my portfolio. He liked what he saw. I was really hitting it that day and spoke with a lot of confidence and enthusiasm. Lou asked if I was familiar with what Filmation does as far as their shows go. I told him I watched Blackstar all the time. It was one of the studio's Saturday morning cartoons that was airing back then.
He said okay, to hire me as an Apprentice Layout Artist. I was to start on the following Monday. I thanked him and everyone there very much.
The day was October 22, 1982. That afternoon I had an appointment in Burbank to look at an apartment. I got the place. A job in the morning, an apartment in the afternoon. I was employed and no longer homeless.
That weekend, I drew two layouts based upon sketches I did as a result of a meeting with David Kirshner in LA in early September the month before. He asked me to do a freelance job at that time and was waiting for me to deliver it. I had no furniture, so that weekend in my new apartment, stretched out on the floor on my elbows, and I drew two concept layouts for "An American Tail" which would become a Steven Speilberg / Don Bluth feature length animated five years later.
The following Monday morning, October 25, 1982, I started my career at Filmation.
More to follow.
Well, the Power-Con is on the way this month, so a goal I'm setting is to finish my account of the origin of the He-Man cartoon before the event takes place on September 24.
As I was saying, on Monday, October 25, 1982 I officially began my career in animation at Filmation Studios.
It was a very tough time in the biz at that point following the strike of 1982. At Filmation, about 80% of their crew was unemployed, which was even worse than what the industry as a whole was experiencing with around two thirds of all artists being out of work. I recall Lou Scheimer, the head of Filmation, when he stopped by to see what I was doing at one point, commenting to me and a few others around how he felt betrayed by the networks as they only ordered nine episodes of a cartoon the studio produced called "Gilligan's Planet" that season. A spinoff of the 1960s TV sitcom. It was a hard time for Filmation that year.
Anyhow, I had an office of my own, on the second floor of the two story building, with a window overlooking Sherman Way. It was a nice setup for the most part, but a far cry from what I experienced at Hallmark Cards. The working conditions at Hallmark were much better than what I experienced in animation. It was a bit of a shock when I started to learn just how difficult this business could be in many aspects.
The first person that kind of gravitated towards me was a fellow by the name of Mike Hazy. A great guy. Not an artist per se, but from what I recall, more of a production kind of person. A coordinator of sorts, but he knew his stuff and kind of mentored me as best as he could. Mike was about the only mentor I had in animation. Most of my career, in fact, all of my career I've been on my own, not getting much help from people. Mike made my early days at Filmation a little more comfortable. I didn't know anyone, I was pretty much alone in LA, and it was good to know that there was someone to turn to if I needed help or advice.
Mike would tell me some cool stories as well. He was at Disney during the last days of Walt's life, working on Jungle Book. From what he told me, he was there when Walt walked onto the studio for the last time. He crossed the street from Providence St. Joseph's in his hospital gown, wanting to see what was happening with the film. He was escorted back to St. Joe's and a little while later he passed away. That's what Mike Hazy told me. I'm passing along what he said.
The first thing I worked on was a project called "Return To Oz", I think that was the name of it. Lou was trying to come up with a presentation to sell to the networks. He was trying to come up with something to get work coming into the studio. This idea was based upon the Wizard of Oz. I don't remember much of what it was about but I still have the original art I did for this. The project never went anywhere by the way.
The guy I was working with, or under I should say, was a fellow by the name of John Grusd. He was Filmation's wonderboy at the time. He wasn't an artist. His claim to fame was a live action Saturday morning series that became a hit for the studio. It was called "Space Academy" and I remember watching it before I came our west. It was actually pretty good from what I recall at the time.
I don't know what John's involvement with the series was. I think he was the producer. I remember someone telling me that at Filmation, if you came up with an idea for a series that sold, you had a job at the studio for the rest of your life. That's the kind of person Lou Scheimer was. In any case, John Grusd was in real good standing at the studio by virtue of his involvement with and the success of Space Academy.
It was John Grusd who a few weeks into the limbo we were experiencing at Filmation, trying to come up with a project that would sell to the networks, who walked into my office on that fateful day, all happy with a box full of toys from Mattel, announcing that this was going to be our next series.
To be continued.
The He-Man She-ra Powercon is on this weekend...
Let's party like we're masters of the universe!
The big event is tomorrow at the He-Man She-Ra Powercon, where I'll be debuting some very rare items involving both series.
I'll be on the He-Man panel at 1:00 pm.
To get caught up with my account of the history of the He-Man series...
When the box of He-Man toys was brought in by John Grusd, three artists starting working on the series.
Carol Lundberg, who has since passed away, Herb Hazelton, who's dies as well, and myself. I'm the only one of the three original artists still alive.
There was a fourth artist who was there at the time as well, but I don't think he had very much to do with the main body of work. I don't recall his name offhand, he was originally from Macau and spoke Portuguese, although his English was very good besides the accent. I'm not entirely certain about this, but he may have been the one who designed Orco, that strange floating creature with the wizard hat that covered his face.
Again, not certian, but I bel;ieve that carol Lundberg did the good characters, Herb Hazelton got the bad guys, and I was handed the responsibility of doing the animation models for the vehicles.
I didn't realize what I was doing at the time, so I went above and beyond the call of duty on the models. Turns out, they were the most thorough vehicle models the studio had ever created for any series they produced in their history. Mike Hazy, my mentor at the time kind of, was very enthusiastic about this and it helped put a good word out about my performance on the project.
What happened as a result, was that I became labeled as the studio's vehicle designer, even though I had no experience whatsoever designing vehicles. At all. I was simply using the toys as reference for my drawings.
Afterwards, I began contributing to the creation of the show's stock scenes. Footage that would be show over and over again in each episode throughout the series. It was Filmation's way of ding things to meet their tight production budgets and keep work entirely in their studio. They were the only remaining animation studio in America at that time which produced animated entertainment for broadcast TV entirely at their facility.
The He-Man series was the first animated TV show ever produced with the intent of bypassing the networks and going straight to first-run syndication. It was unheard of at the time.
Will continue with more He-man history soon, including my original feelings about the series as I saw it developing, and when the studio started to staff up for production.
On my way to the Powercon in LA with a few surprises for He-Man and She-Ra fans.
Attended the Powercon in LA yesterday. A lot of fun. Participated in the He-man panel. Great turnout, great audience. Everyone was into it. Surprised by how many young people were there.
Hooked up with a group of individuals who are involved in archiving the history of the He-Man show, artwork involved in the development of the Mattel toy line, and also Filmation artwork.
There's a foundation that's been established for this, which I learned of at the Powercon.
They've accumulated almost all of the existing production artwork associated with the He-Man and She-Ra shows from the 1980s. They told me they had lots of my stuff from that time. There's production work, but almost no concept development artwork from Filmation.
I brought along some of the art I had and they were very much affected by it. They had no idea it existed. I also brought along the He-Man and Skeletor dolls that we used as models when we were designing the characters at the beginning of the TV series. Really hit home.
We'll be making arrangements to digitize the work I have and publish a book along with other art their foundation has. It will be the second book they publish on the subject. The first was artwork from the toyline. The upcoming one will be artwork from the animated series.
Very productive day, very productive meeting. The history of He-Man still continues nearly three decades later.
A very interesting history. He-Man and GI Joe's success was largely responsible for the show I worked on shortly thereafter, Galaxy Rangers. 65 episodes is a massive effort to build from the ground up!
Whatever happened to Flimation?
Filmation closed in February 1989. They were sold by their parent company Group W aka Westinghouse Broadcasting. The company that bought them acquired the library of films and closed the studio with something like a 24 hour notice to the employees. Very abrupt end. They were producing really poorly thought out features like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfelles (Happily Ever After), and Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. Huge box office disasters that did the studio in.
Great while it lasted from 1962 for 27 years. Its heyday was the 1970s and they peaked in the 1980s with the He-Man, She-Ra, and Bravestarr cartoons, but they also did Fat Albert, Blackstarr, Star Trek, Tarzan, Zorro, Superman, Flash Gordon, Quackula, Groovie Goolies, The Archies, several live action series. A very productive studio in its day.
It's funny how things work out. I started this topic early last month, and as it progressed, I wound up on a panel at a He-Man convention in LA.
I thought I'd take a photo of the audience at the Powercon panel I was a part of last Saturday, September 24. Here's the folks in attendance from my point of view looking out from the stage. Click on the picture for a better view.