“When I was directing MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and we were just getting started with the conceptual ideas, John DeCuir (CLEOPATRA, KING & I, HELLO DOLLY, GHOSTBUSTERS) was the first person to apply to start conceptual work. I had hoped to get Ralph involved, but he was signed up for Ron Howard’s production of COCOON at the time and was unavailable. After about three weeks of MASTERS, Ralph called and said, “Cocoon has been put on hold. Maybe a week, maybe a month, maybe not resume at all. You still want me to work on Masters when I’m available, but if I’m recalled to Cocoon, I’ll have to honor that contract.” So I said yes, come aboard. So Ralph joined us, but it turned out it was only for about three weeks when 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 dug into my old MASTERS file and found it. I thought fans would love to see them because they’ve never appeared anywhere before, at least not as far as I know.
SKETCHING – Masters of the Universe “Ralph usually made thumbnails first, to get a feel for the world and the characters. These are some first sketches for the ‘world’ of Eternia and some of the inhabitants within it. We talked about “robotic sentries” early on because Mattel had stated early on that He-Man “could never harm humans,” so that propelled the idea of creating an army of “robot sentries” that would spark and explode when they get hit, rather than “die”. The female shown was a first sketch idea from Evil-Lyn. There was an idea early on for a “cute robot” that I killed because there were tons of cute robots on TV and in movies at the time and I didn’t want another one.
VEHICLES – Masters of the Universe “In the first draft of the script, and per Mattel, they had hoped for some designs with “toy” capabilities. Ralph began sketching out some ideas based on some of Mattel’s existing toy designs, then leaned more towards an approach that based the flying jets more on bird-like shapes, as shown in the middle of this series of sketches.
PLACES – Masters of the Universe “These are more miniatures showing the early ideas for the opening scene. We were supposed to be on Eternia and I originally wanted to give the feeling of a real “world”. Different shots would show different aspects and “lands” within Eternia, all of which eventually led to GRAYSKULL CASTLE. In my mind the idea of bringing the Eternians to Earth was a given because of the budget and this was the script I signed up to make. But I had hoped in a sequel that we would go to Eternia, and my thought was that the world of Eternia would be as interesting as anything in LORD OF THE RINGS (which of course means the books), 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 miniatures worked out, Ralph and I would talk and he would take things to the next level. Here we take a look at Evil-Lyn (and several variations) and one of Skeletor. In this one, I toyed with the idea that SKELETOR might actually have a SKULL MASK made to instill fear in people. Below that, as in The Phantom of the Opera, and in Doctor Doom and later, Darth Vader, is a scarred human whose face was severely disfigured and scarred during a long-ago accident or battle. So this was a SKULL MASK with a helmet. In the end we decided this was too “Darth Vader” and Mattel also believed, probably rightly so, that Skeletor should be SKELETOR – ie a SKULL with speaking ability 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 later become GWILDOR, the character I created to take ORKO’s place. In the days before digital animation, the idea of bringing ORKO or BATTLE CAT to life in a world of live-action stop-motion animation would have meant, and a host of painstaking effects work. Because this was done on a limited budget ($17 million) the idea of BATTLE CAT or ORKO was out of the question. But of course, bringing them to Earth avoided any accusations that we took them out of mythology — they just didn’t make the jump to Earth. In hindsight, it would have been really cool to have Battle Cat in that opening showdown in the Throne Room and bring him back in for the scene where our Earth teenagers say goodbye and return home. Ralph was still working on that cute little robot I kept telling him not to. And these early studies were largely based on the Toy designs, and I urged Ralph to get away from that and come up with our own designs for the film. “As we continued to develop 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 of the animated show, but I also wanted it to be based on reality. His first thumbnails were very good.
Vehicle “He also worked on vehicle ideas, although these initial ideas – as you can see – were based on the toys. I told Ralph to get away from toy vehicles. I wanted to create our own look and feel. Again, we were in a world where the fantasy of swords and sorcery freely mixed 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 still find something new that would be based on the world we created for the movie 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, would be a massive “Air Chase” through the skies of our suburban city. The key to this sequence is the idea I had come up with for the flying discs and the ” Air Centurions” that would chase He-Man through the streets, and over and around the rooftops. At the time, I was still selling this idea to the producers and the studio—it wasn’t scripted yet. But Ralph got what I wanted right away Even in his earliest pen and ink miniatures there was a grace to the figures – he had a really great sense of staging and design Air Centurions were an elite part of Skeletor’s Army, and they had to have a military feel Ralph and I met a few times and discussed the idea, and at one point Ralph went on to do some color renderings of the Air Centurions in attack mode over a suburban city, but then he got the call to turn back nasty Cocoon, and to my disappointment we never got those color renderings. But we did get these very cool thumbnails and preliminary drafts (see Post 2 from Ralph McQuarrie and MoTU), and later Bill Stout would use these as the basis of the final draft in the film. The interesting thing about MASTERS is that we initially saw John DeCuir, Sr. but when another movie started that he had signed for. And we had a break in our schedule from the time we started (in 1984) until the time we made the movie (1986) – when the project moved from Warner Brothers (where Howard Kazanjian would become the producer) to Cannon. Once we were fully funded, Bill Stout emerged as the principal concept designer, becoming the production designer early on. Bill brought in Moebius for some concepts of key elements and costumes, and Claudio Mazzoli contributed a lot of conceptual art as well.
But Ralph was there from the start. Working with Ralph, although brief, was a pleasure. Very 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 we had together at Masters, we could just scratch things on the surface. But there’s no doubt that his sketches, as simple as they were, helped me sell the whole idea of the “air chase” between the Air Centurions and He-Man. And it’s hard to imagine the movie without this thrilling chase sequence that climaxes the second act.
This latest pencil drawing of Ralph is my favorite – a lone Air Centurion, on a sleek aerodynamic disc, ready for battle.