Fans of Masters of the Universe have eagerly awaited He-Man’s triumphant return to the small-screen. Their wait is over with a new series, Revelations, now showing on Netflix. With Kevin Smith as the showrunner, this is the latest chapter in a legacy that delves back to the 1980s: Inspired by the animated series, comic strips and Mattel’s beloved action figures. Like before, the story unfolds in the fantastic land of Eternia — a world of possibilities that took a team of nearly two-hundred artists and animators to bring to life.
The studio behind Revelations is Powerhouse Animation of Austin, Texas, which oversaw pre-production and post-production on the show. Working closely with Mattel, they rendered the classic MOTU characters inspired by classic designs from the extended universe of toys, comics and TV episodes. This is great news for die-hard fans of the franchise, who will find more than a couple of Easter eggs nestled in the new series, with Part 2 scheduled to arrive later this year.
We sat down with director, animator and storyboard artist, Patrick Stannard, who shared his insights from this process. Patrick describes the extensive research that his team put into the project to ensure they got the show’s classic style right. He also takes us through character design and boarding in Storyboard Pro, which took place before scenes were animated collaboratively between Powerhouse and DR Movie in Korea. Read our interview below to learn how artists and animators used Storyboard Pro and Harmony to bring your favourite classic series into the present.
He-Man last graced our TV screens in 1985. For readers who may be unfamiliar with the series, how would you describe Eternia and the world of Masters of the Universe?
It’s like Conan meets Star Wars: Hulking barbarians atop mechanical war machines battling necromancers and cyborg pirates from alternate universes. Eternia is a world of possibilities, where no character is too fantastical and no name too punny.
What was Powerhouse Animation’s approach to reinterpreting the designs of classic heroes and villains from the franchise?
We did our best to stay as true to the original toys as possible and the classic iterations of the characters; updating only minor elements to make it easier on our animators or to streamline the design. A good example of this are the outfits used as the classic versions of Evil-Lyn and Teela seen in Episode 1. The toys used the same exact body molds and incorporated a fair amount of detail in the torso accessories. We attempted to retain the spirit of the original designs while diversifying their outfits all the while cutting down on line-mileage — the time it takes to draw a single frame of an animated character.
Are there any new characters, villains, or surprises to look out for?
All I will say is there are plenty of surprises left. We haven’t finished exploring our full roster of characters just yet.
What references did your colleagues study to inspire the characters and environment of Eternia? How conscious were you of staying true to the look of the original series?
It’s important to note that Universal holds licensing of the 1980s Filmation show. As such, we referenced the mini-comics, Classics and Vintage toy lines to a far greater degree. This allowed for a fair amount of freedom when it came to the environmental designs. We were obviously cognizant of the impact the TV series had on fans; and so we attempted to balance retaining the spirit of the ’83 show while maintaining a visually distinct style in our approach to the various settings seen in our show.
Thankfully we were provided tons of reference books and behind-the-scenes material on the toy lines. Co-Director Adam Conarroe and I spent a good many hours researching not just the toys that made it onto store shelves, but also unreleased prototypes, obscure comics and the Netflix documentaries The Toys that Made us and Power of Grayskull. This allowed us to not only gain an appreciation for the characters and their story arcs, but also gave us opportunities to insert some remarkably deep-cuts and references into the series that we hope die-hard fans are able to spot. There’s a statue at the end of 103 that I’m particularly proud of.
Lastly, but not least, we can’t forget what a huge help Rob David at Mattel, Ted Biaselli and our very own Shane Minshew were to all of this. Each one rivals the next as the world’s biggest He-Man fan. Shane (complete with decades-old He-Man tattoos) was the most immediately available to us and provided a great sounding board for our board pitches and design sensibilities. Rob’s encyclopedic knowledge of MOTU was like having the Trollan library at our fingertips, and of course Teddy’s deep love for the toys and even the 1987 film, rounded out a nearly limitless well of knowledge for Adam and I to draw from.
Super thrilled to share with y’all my portion of the #HeMan #Henshin sequence! Boards done by the ever talented @UrbanCassie. We were adamant at @powerhouseanim about giving Adam this iconic moment.#Mattel #NetflixGeeked #MOTU #Animation pic.twitter.com/VutwBdmdOk— Patrick Stannard (@PatrickStannard) August 31, 2021
What was an average day like during the production of Masters of the Universe?
Because of the sheer density of this project, it’s difficult to nail down what a ‘typical’ day looked like. With all the assets to be created, animatics to send out, actors to record, etc, sometimes it felt like a blur. However we did have a process of approval that may give insight into how we crafted the world of MOTU:R.
Before any art was created, we would meet with Rob David and the execs at Mattel in a video conference. Characters, inspirations, motivations and questions were all discussed so that Adam and I would have a good idea of how to address each scenario. Adam and I would then discuss amongst ourselves the best plan of attack to complete a design, animatic or animation, and how it fit into our schedule, what resources we could allocate to it, how it paralleled with other story arcs, and if there were any references we could pull from past properties. After this our team of skilled artists would complete and present us with explorations which we would then curate into a presentation to Mattel.
After receiving approval, or any last notes, we would apply these corrections and begin settling the final versions to be sent to DR Movie, our outsource partner in Korea. DR would complete the majority of the animation and background illustrations, spare a select few that remained in-house to be tackled by our all-star animation crew. After receiving back the bulk of the animation and backgrounds from DR we would send a copy of the latest animatic to Mattel and then Powerhouse, Mattel and Netflix would compile revisions, suggestions and any edits that needed to be made in order to ensure the best product possible.
Powerhouse is unique in that we handle most of the post production process ourselves, but that has also allowed us great control to polish our episodes. Jude and our compositors see the project through to final and deliver it to Mattel and Netflix who then add final music and SFX. Shout out to Bear McCreary for his amazing score!
In Subternia, Teela was tested by Scareglow to fight He-Man and even herself. @willm_art showing off some more action-packed animation for Masters of the Universe: Revelation. @Mattel @NetflixGeeked #MOTU pic.twitter.com/U5nhEFqCef— Powerhouse Animation (@powerhouseanim) September 17, 2021
What were the most challenging action sequences for your team, from the first half of the debut season?
I know in episode 5 the Wild Hunt chase was particularly difficult. It’s similar to the pod race from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, but in 2D, meaning we didn’t have the benefit of a 3D environment that we could place cameras in. Moving backgrounds are difficult in 2D animation as it is. So to complete an entire sequence as one, including all the different mounts, foliage, vehicles and action beats, was considerably more challenging than we had initially anticipated.
Did your studio’s experience with Castlevania or Seis Manos inform any of the decisions made while working on Masters of the Universe?
Absolutely! Every new production we complete gives us insight in how we can better refine our pipelines, schedules and overall process. Even though our character designs are extremely different than that of Castlevania’s, we still brought over concepts such as describing the eye details on our model sheets, or how we chose which head and body angles to include.
The other half of the #transformation #Animation was handled by our ever talented @DFinitial. This show was definitely a crash course in volume control and complex muscle mechanics. https://t.co/sLWRtZhuRy— Patrick Stannard (@PatrickStannard) September 1, 2021
How many artists contributed to the new series?
I believe on average we used about 150-200 staff divided between Powerhouse and DR Movie, per episode.
Revelations ends on something of a cliff-hanger! Any final words to whet fan’s appetites until the next instalment of episodes?
Think of the first 5 episodes as an appetizer, the main course is yet to come. There’s a lot of exciting twists and turns in these next five. I don’t think it’s going to turn out how most people may expect, but I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised.
Do you have advice for aspiring storyboard artists interested in working at studios like Powerhouse Animation?
Powerhouse have made a name for themselves as a studio that handles action and complex character designs very well. Familiarize yourself with properties such as Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, Cowboy Bebop and other high-action animated films. See the camera choices used and how motion hookups between shots conveys a sense of urgency or excitement. Above all else, continue your studies in anatomy, perspective and draftsmanship.
Watch out now, #MOTUSpoilers incoming. In Masters of the Universe: Revelation, we catch up with our heroes as they navigate the changing world around them. How ’bout some more environments from Jessie Pyles, @markadamscraft @Learf11, & Ryan Brothers? @Mattel @NetflixGeeked #MOTU pic.twitter.com/raUfydLg0y— Powerhouse Animation (@powerhouseanim) August 3, 2021
Masters of the Universe: Revelation is currently available to stream on Netflix. Do you have the power to work with Powerhouse Animation? Stay up to date with future opportunities on the studio’s careers page.