Yes, this one is a cheat, but I had to get some concept art from my favorite artist, the late Ralph McQuarrie. Back in the 80s they made a movie based on the cartoon and toy series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Simply called Masters of the Universe (1987), It was not great, but had a lot of potential.
One of the artists they approached to work on the film was Ralph McQuarrie (Star Wars, Cocoon, Battlestar Galactica). Frankly, I can only imagine how cool this movie would have been if they'd used his designs.
Here are some of his sketches (click on the thumbnails to see them larger).
The CEO of the Goddard Group, Gary Goddard, talked about what it was like working with McQuarrie and the ideas he developed.
“When I was directing MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and we were just starting on the conceptual ideas, John DeCuir (CLEOPATRA, KING & I, HELLO DOLLY, GHOSTBUSTERS) was the first person that signed on to initiate conceptual work. I had hoped to involve Ralph but he was signed on to Ron Howard’s production of COCOON at the time and was not available. Then about three weeks into MASTERS, Ralph called and said “Cocoon has been put on hold. Might be a week, might be a month, might not resume at all. Do you still want me to work on Masters as I am available, but if I get called back on Cocoon, I’ll have to honor that contract.” So I said yes, come on board. So Ralph joined us but as it turned out only for about three weeks as Cocoon went back into active pre-production and he had to return. But in these three weeks, Ralph did some interesting design work. With his passing last week, I went and dug into my old MASTERS file and found these. I thought fans might like to see them as they have never appeared anywhere before, at least not to my knowledge.
SKETCHES - Masters of the Universe “Ralph generally did thumbnails first, to get a feeling for the world and the characters. These are some initial sketches for the “world” of Eternia and some of the denizens there in. We talked early on about “robotic sentries” because Mattel had stated early on that He-Man “could never harm people” so that drove the idea of creating an army of “robot sentries” that would spark and explode when hit, rather than “die”. The female shown was a first sketch idea of Evil-Lyn. There was an idea early on for a “cute robot” which I killed as there were tons of cute robots in TV and films then and I didn’t want to have yet another one.
VEHICLES - Masters of the Universe “In the first version of the script, and per Mattel, they had hoped to see a number of designs with “toyetic” possibilities. Ralph started sketching some ideas based upon some existing Mattel designs for toys, and then started to veer more into an approach that based the flying jets more on bird-like shapes as evidenced in the center of this set of sketches.
PLACES - Masters of the Universe “These are more thumbnails showing the early ideas for the opening sequence. We were to be on Eternia and I had wanted originally to give the sense of a true “world”. Various shots were going to show different aspects and “lands” within Eternia, all leading ultimately to GRAYSKULL CASTLE. In my mind, the idea of bringing the Eternians to Earth was a given due to budget and this was the script that I had signed on to make. But I had hoped in a sequel that we would go to Eternia, and my thought was that the world of Eternia should be every bit as interesting as anything in LORD OF THE RINGS (meaning the books of course), or in the world of the Star Wars movies. But to be different, I was pushing more towards a Tolkien-esque world for Eternia.
BAD GUYS - Masters of the Universe “Once the Thumbnails were roughed out, Ralph and I would talk and he would take things to the next level. Here we have a look at Evil-Lyn (and several variations) and one of Skeletor. In this one, I was playing with the idea that SKELETOR might actually have a SKULL MASK that was fashioned to instill fear in people. Underneath, as with The Phantom of the Opera, and with Doctor Doom and later, Darth Vader, is a scarred human being whose face had been severely disfigured and scarred in some long-ago accident or battle. So this was a SKULL MASK with a helmet. Ultimately we decided this was too “Darth Vader” and also Mattel was of the opinion, probably rightly so, that Skeletor had to be SKELETOR –which is to say a SKULL with speaking abilities on an otherwise perfectly healthy male human body.
GOOD GUYS - Masters of the Universe “Early character designs for He-Man, Man At Arms, Teela, and what would become GWILDOR, the character I created to take the place of ORKO. In the days before digital animation, the idea of bringing either ORKO or BATTLE CAT to life in a live action world would have meant stop motion animation, and a great deal of painstaking effects work. As this was being done on a limited budget ($17,000,000) the idea of having BATTLE CAT or ORKO was out of the question. But of course, by bringing them to Earth, we avoided any accusations that we had taken them out of the mythology – they just didn’t make the jump to Earth. In retrospect it would have been very cool to have Battle Cat in that opening confrontation in the Throne Room, and to have brought him back into it for the scene where our Earthling teenagers say goodbye and return home. Ralph was still working on that little cute robot which I kept telling him was a no-go. And these initial studies were based largely on the Toy designs, and I was pushing Ralph to move away from that and to begin inventing our own designs for the movie. “As we continued development on the project Ralph worked on some initial sketches for Castle Grayskull. In this case, I wanted the castle to be based on the iconic version from the animated show, but I wanted it grounded in reality as well. His initial thumbnails were very good.
Vehicle “He also was working on vehicle ideas- though these initial ideas — as you can tell — were based on the toys. I told Ralph that we needed to veer away from any toy-like vehicles. I wanted to create our own look and feel. Again, we were in a world where sword and sorcery fantasy mixed freely with high-tech futuristic technology. There were swords and blasters, and there were medieval castles side-by-side with high-tech vehicles. With this, we decided to take liberties, and yet find something new that would be based upon the world we were creating for the film and not on the pre-existing toys. We came up with a mix of unique flying warships and air discs.
“The entire finale sequence, when we brought Skeletor to Earth, was to be a massive “Air Chase” through the skies of our suburban city. Key to this sequence, is the idea I had come up with for the flying discs, and the “Air Centurions” that would be chasing He-Man though the streets, and over and around the rooftops. At this point I was still selling this idea to the producers and to the studio – it wasn’t yet in the script. But Ralph got what I wanted right away. Even in his earliest pen-and-ink thumbnails, there was a grace to the figures — he really had a great sense of staging and design. Air Centurions were an elite part of Skeletor’s Army, and they needed to have a military feel about them. Ralph and I met a few times and talked the idea over, and at one point, Ralph was going to do some color renderings of the Air Centurions in attack mode over a suburban town. But then he got the call to return to Cocoon, and we never got those color renderings, much to my disappointment. But we did get these very cool thumbnails and preliminary designs (see Post 2 of Ralph McQuarrie and MoTU), and later Bill Stout would use these for the basis of the final version in the film. The interesting thing about MASTERS is that we had John DeCuir, Sr. on initially, but then another movie, which he had signed on for, started up. And we had a break in our schedule from the time we started (in 1984) through the time we actually made the movie (1986) — when the project moved from Warner Brothers (where Howard Kazanjian was going to be the producer) to Cannon. Once we were fully funded, Bill Stout came on as the key concept designer, moving up to become the Production Designer early on. Bill brought in Moebius for some concepts of key elements and costumes, and Claudio Mazzoli contributed a great deal of conceptual art as well.
But Ralph was in there at the very beginning. Working with Ralph, though brief, was a pleasure. Thoroughly professional and easy to work with, it was always a positive experience when we met to discuss sketches and conceptual ideas. In the three weeks that we had together on Masters, we were able to just scratch the surface of things. But there’s no doubt his sketches, as simple as they were, helped me to sell the entire idea of the “sky chase” between the Air Centurions and He-Man. And it’s hard to imagine the movie without this exciting chase sequence that provides the climax to the second act.
This last pencil drawing by Ralph is my favorite – a lone Air Centurion, on a sleek aero-dynamic disc, ready for battle.
Here's the trailer for the released film. You can see his designs did influence the production.
Via http://www.thegoddardgroup.com/blog/ Thanks to Nigel for the tip!
You can see more of Ralph McQuarrie's work at http://www.ralphmcquarrie.com/
Official Masters of the Universe Synopsis
"Planet Eternia and the Castle of Greyskull are under threat from the evil Skeletor (Frank Langella) who wants to take over the planet. A group of freedom fighters, led by the heroic He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) are accidentally transported to Earth by a mysterious Cosmic Key which holds the power to make Skeletor all-powerful. Once on Earth, He-Man joins alliances with two teenagers as they attempt to find the key and return home."
Directed by Gary Goddard
Cinematography by Hanania Baer
Production Design by William Stout
Starring Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, Courteney Cox
Release Date: August 7, 1987
© Copyright Cannon Films, Warner Bros. Pictures. All rights reserved
How much cooler would Masters of the Universe have been with McQuarrie's designs? What do you think of the illustrations?