Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Q & A With Production Designer
William Stout

Redesigning the entire He-Man franchise for a live-action film debut would seem a daunting task to just about anyone. A designer would have to somehow maintain the eclectic mix of sci-fi and fantasy elements under budgetary constraints and still try to give the film a level of believability. That was the task set before Bill Stout for the 1987 live action film version of "Masters of the Universe". A true visionary in the field, Stout's designs supplied a fresh take on the heroes, villains, and locations while still maintaining the flavor of the original concepts. Mr. Stout took some time out of his schedule to sit down and answer a few questions about his design work and the finished film.

1) Let's start at the beginning... What was your job title on the film?

Initially I was hired to do storyboards. I began to create concept art as well, almost right from the start. When production designer Geoffrey Kirkland left the film, he recommended me to take his place as the film’s production designer. Production Designer was my ultimate credit on the picture.


2) What segment of the production were you responsible for?

As production designer I was responsible for everything you saw on the screen except for the performances of the actors.

3) How did you first get approached for the project?

I was very in-demand as a film designer at the time. I had also just worked for Cannon Films on the remake of Invaders From Mars. As I recall, it was just another phone call and job that came my way. I typically got about five or six film offers every January back then. I’d just choose the ones that seemed the most interesting.


4) So were you responsible for the full designs on all the new characters featured in the film (Gwildor, Saurod, Blade, & Karg)?

Although I designed the others you mentioned (and re-designed the old characters), Gwildor was mostly designed by Claudio Mazzoli.

5) Can you tell us more about the process in designing and bringing these characters to life?

It all starts with the script, then early consultations with the director. I try to create mini-histories of each character to make them real in my mind. If I’m not convinced they’re real, how can I expect to convince our audience? I try to imagine the culture of each creature or character and what would be important to them within the context of their culture and habitat.


6) Were there any of these new characters that differed greatly in the film from your original concept, or were they all pretty close to your designs?

I insisted that my designs be followed to the letter. The only ones that differed greatly were Skeletor’s Stormtroopers. I fought hard not to have them look like Star Wars Stormtroopers painted glossy black but I sadly lost that battle.


7) As you stated, you also had to go back and redesign many of the established characters, such as Skeletor and He-Man. How did you approach that task and what sort of restrictions (if any) did Mattel place on this process?

I knew I had to do some pretty major re-designs of the established characters for a number of reasons. Mattel had so many of those stupid, interchangeable limbs and bodies. You can’t repeat costuming like that in a film. It will make your movie look ridiculously cheap if you do. He-man’s appearance and haircut were quite dated and, frankly, lame. I couldn't wait to get rid of his silly bangs. I wanted this film to kick ass, enchant and appeal to everyone --- not just the little kids who owned the toys.

Mattel fought me on my re-design of He-man and I fought right back. I hired Jean (“Moebius”) Giraud to do a re-design of He-man. Jean came up with a brilliant concept, that He-man’s armor was improvised and made from high tech metal trash left on the battlefield. Mattel didn’t get it. Sadly, despite my best efforts, I had to compromise and create a design that was halfway between the old He-man and what Moebius had drawn. Idiots! Mattel’s management at that time was pretty clueless and fearful. They were quite adept at regularly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

8) So both Moebius and Caludio Mazzoli were part of the design team pretty early on then?

Yes. Claudio was already there when I was hired. He was hired by the director who had previously worked with Mazzoli on a number of theme park attractions. I brought my friend Jean (Moebius) Giraud on board after I became the Production Designer.

9) What was their part in the process and how much interaction did you have with them?

Because he is such a spectacularly creative guy, I threw a few specific very difficult problems at Moebius. I mainly had him do his takes on the Throne Room, on the re-design of He-man and had him create ideas in regards to the appearance of the Sorceress. Moebius lived in nearby Santa Monica. My assistant would drive over there and pick up his work each day.

Claudio was right there in the production offices, so I saw him every day. He was a very funny guy. It blew my mind to meet an Italian who didn’t care much about food! At the behest of the director, Claudio designed those very Star Wars-ian Stormtroopers. He also designed most of Gwildor. I loved Claudio but I had a lot of problems with his color sense and design sense. In some ways he was very Italian…


10) When designing the characters, were you aware of who would be portraying He-Man and Skeletor?

Yes; I worked over photographs of the actors.

11) Did the actors have any input on their designs?

Dolph Lundgren tried to and Frank Langella did. We had several fittings with Frank. His input was valuable. During the fittings with Dolph I talked him out of what he wanted to do, costume-wise.

12) Oh really? What was it Dolph wanted to do?

Julie Weiss, my costume designer, called me in a panic from a fitting with Dolph. He was insisting on wearing these kick boxing boots that were cut mid-lower leg. I immediately drove over to the fitting. I looked at Dolph in the short boots (Julie and I both wanted him in long boots). I told him they looked just terrific, except for the fact that they made him look rather effeminate.

Whoosh! Off came the short boots; on went the tall boots. The boots were never an issue again.

13) Funny to hear the opposite ends of the spectrum there. How do you feel about the translation of your designs into the film?

By the time I was making Masters, I had logged plenty of film design experience. I knew how to get the best from people. If, after my best efforts, people didn’t execute things the way I wanted, I either fired them or gave their particular design job to someone else. I knew feelings would be hurt but I also knew that in ten years the public wouldn’t give a damn about whether some one’s ego got bruised during the making of our movie. Pain is temporary; the film is forever.

That’s my way of saying that I think overall the film looks damn good, considering.

14) So I guess it's fair to say you were pleased with how everything turned out?

I was and am. I’m especially proud of the Throne Room. For a while that was the number one Photo-Op in Los Angeles if you were lucky enough to visit the set.


15) I wish I could have seen that in person! Looking back, do you feel any particular characters or themes were handled better than others?

Yes; most people on the film were really disappointed that Saurod met such an early demise. He looked great --- very distinctive. And Pons Maar moved incredibly well in that costume. He really brought Saurod to life. We should have had Skeletor kill some of the other henchmen instead of Saurod prior to Saurod’s death.

Frank Langella’s performance as Skeletor, despite having to wear a mask that hid his expressive face, was stunning. What a talented actor! The way he moved!


16) We know that the Snakemen and She-Ra were featured in some early drafts of the film. Did you do any conceptual work on these characters or any others that didn’t make it into the film?

I didn’t do any Snakemen designs (Claudio might have) but I did design a new costume for She-Ra, which the director approved.

17) Were there any existing characters from the cartoons or toys that you wanted to take a crack at redesigning that weren’t part of the film, like Trap Jaw or Tri-Klops?

I know that no one wanted to do Stinkor…

I was disappointed when She-Ra was cut. Unless they were already in the script, there really wasn’t much time available to spend lamenting about which toys didn’t make it into the film. We were busy... we had to make a movie!


18) Set design was also one of your duties, including everything from the enormous Castle Grayskull to the Robby's Ribs restaurant...

Creepy) Masters Trivia: The front parking lot of Robby’s Ribs ‘n’ Chicken in reality is where Rodney King was beaten years later.

19) Yikes! I did not know that... Can you take us behind the process of designing something as epic as Grayskull, both interior and exterior?

I knew the Grayskull exterior was going to be a matte painting, so that freed me to design whatever I wanted. I was mostly inspired by Xanadu in Citizen Kane and Skull Island in Disney’s Peter Pan. Coincidentally, we were shooting at Culver City’s Laird Studios, originally the old RKO Studios, where King Kong and Citizen Kane were made. I spent one morning I rummaging around in their old prop house, hoping to find another Rosebud.

My designs for the Grayskull interior were sparked by what Moebius had drawn. I took his ideas and expanded upon them. This was the seat of power for the entire universe. I reasoned that power is neither good nor bad --- it’s what you make of it and how you use it. So, above floor level were what I called the Space Gods, giant bronze statues of those who had used the power based in that room for good. Below floor level was the dark side, demonic creatures that represented power used for bad or evil.

Once I had a design I was happy with my job became a matter of finding the right painters, builders and sculptors to execute it --- and then to make sure that it was lit properly.


20) I truly believe that the Grayskull throne room set is one of the most impressive physical sets ever created for film. It's so enormous! How did you pull that off?

For the Throne Room I used the two largest adjoining sound stages then had the wall knocked out between them to make one gigantic sound stage. It was the largest set Hollywood had seen in about forty years. Everyone in the business came to see it.


21) What was it like walking onto this set after having designed it?

Quite frankly, I felt like God.

22) I'll bet! Were there any parts in the design that particularly jumped out at you in finished form?

It still blows my mind that in just a few minutes my set painters could make plywood look so much like marble that you had to get mere inches away from it to see that it wasn’t.


23) The counterpart to Castle Grayskull in the He-Man mythos is Skeletor’s lair- Snake Mountain. Were you aware of this part of the lore and if so were you disappointed this location didn’t make it into the film?

Yes, I was aware of its lore. The creator of the Masters of the Universe world, Don Glut, is an old friend of mine. I drew a lot of Snake Mountain exteriors and interiors. It was disappointing that so little of that work or those designs ended up getting used.

24) I'm sure the fans are just as disappointed as you are that it didn't make it. Were there any set designs that were deemed too cost-prohibitive to produce or that simply didn’t make the final cut of the movie?

About a third of them, which is typical for almost every movie I’ve ever worked on (I’ve done 45 feature films). The biggest sets cut were the Eternia Royal Palace and Skeletor’s Palace. The Eternia Royal Palace looked like grand, cosmic, Cirque du Soleil Art Nouveau. Skeletor’s Palace had a series of byways throughout its floor plan with small rivers of lava flowing around his throne.


25) How do you feel about the final film overall?

I was pleased and amazed we got a coherent movie out of the whole thing. For a while it looked as if that wasn’t going to happen.

26) So were you pleased with how it turned out then?

Very pleased for the most part. I thought the performances of Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Pons Maar and Jon Cypher were especially great.


27) Mattel manufactured 3 figures based off of the film- Gwildor, Blade, and Saurod. What was it like seeing your designs produced as action figures and did Mattel work with you at all on the design of the toys?

I delivered the designs and Mattel built them pretty close to what I had done. It was really cool to see my designs as toys. Unfortunately, Masters of the Universe had long ago seen its peak; none of the figures sold the way Mattel (and all of us) had hoped.

28) If you had to do it all over again, with no budget or studio constraints, is there anything in particular you would change?

The first thing would be to re-design the Stormtroopers so that they didn’t look like rip-offs of the Star Wars Stormtroopers. That’s an irritant every time I watch the film. I’d like a different score, one that didn’t sound exactly like the score to Superman. I would also push harder for better, more spectacular special effects. And, I’d have liked to have visually explored more of Eternia.


29) Rumors are constantly swirling about a new “Masters of the Universe” film. If you could give one piece of advice to whatever team ends up doing it, what would it be?

Simple: Hire me as Production Designer (or even Director) and then stand back and let me do what I do best. I guarantee I’ll deliver a film that is so visually stunning it will make you scream for more. Honest.

That's a movie I'd like to see! Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to do this William! It's a real treat getting to hear you take on the film and see some of the great art you're sharing with us!

For more information on William Stout, please visit: WWW.WILLIAMSTOUT.COM


Monday, June 28, 2010

The Evil-Lyn Costume

Another item recently sold by www.screenused.com- The Evil-Lyn costume! I never picked up on the snake designs sprinkled throughout her costume while viewing the film. It's especially intriguing in light of the fact that the Snakemen were going to appear in the film until they were dropped for budgetary reasons. Perhaps Evil-Lyn controlled the Snakemen at one point?











Blade's Dagger

Blade's dagger from the film. The blade of this prop is made of a thick rubber, and was probably the one worn by the actor for much of the filming (so as not to cause accidental injury). One of the 3 props in my personal collection, this one was purchased from www.screenused.com.






The Skeletor "God" Costume

Trying to play a little catch up on all the various costume pictures I've saved lately. Firs up- Skeletor's "God" costume recently sold at www.screenused.com. Check out the great detailing in the helmet, staff, and the tips of the gloves!
















Monday, June 21, 2010

Q & A With Richard Szponder (Pigboy)!

My buddy John Atkin brings us another great cast interview segment... This time with Richard Szponder, who portrayed Pigboy in the film!


In 1986, Mattel announced a contest in which one lucky fan would get the chance to win a cameo in the live-action Masters of the Universe film. The winner of that contest was a young boy from Illinois named Richard Szponder. Instead of just receiving a walk-on roll, Richard was cast in a very memorable cameo as the gruesome Pigboy (evil servant of Skeletor!)

I recently had the chance to chat with Richard about the film, and he shared with me some of his favorite memories from his time spent on the set of Masters of the Universe!


20 Questions: Richard Szponder

1 - How did you find out about the movie contest? How old were you, and where were you living at the time?

Mattel advertised the contest through television commercials, and I remember seeing the “win an appearance in the MOTU live action movie” ads. At the time, I was eight years old, living in the Chicago suburbs. My mother took me to Toys R Us to get an entry form, and I remember telling her that I wanted to send in a whole bunch of forms. She told me she would give me one stamp to send in one form. And that was all I sent in.

2 - What was your reaction when you first found out that you won? What did your friends and family think at the time?

Before I ever officially won the contest, there was a lot of communication back-and-forth between my parents and the people at Mattel. They first contacted us to inform us that I had been selected as a finalist in the contest. Whether or not there were other finalists, I did not know. I assume it was precautionary to get all of the necessary permissions and paperwork signed before announcing me as the winner. It was an exciting time as we waited for phone calls and FedEx packages with documents that required my parents’ signatures.

When I finally did hear back that I had in fact won the contest, I was overwhelmed with excitement. My family and friends were very supportive, as were my teachers and local community.


3 - How long was the wait time for you between winning the contest and actually appearing in the film?

Months went by between winning the contest and the actual trip to California to complete the shooting. Several times, we would receive notification that the trip had been scheduled, only to find out later that filming had been postponed. I remember the disappointment each time the trip was pushed back. When the trip was eventually finalized, we arrived at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, and found out that our flight to Los Angeles had been cancelled. My father ran around the terminals, exchanging our tickets on United for tickets on American, and we finally departed.

4 - Before arriving on set, did you know that you were playing the role of Pigboy? Was the costume design already done for you?

Prior to arriving in California, I had no idea how they would fit me into the film. During one of our first visits to the studio, we were taken on a tour where I was shown concept drawings of the Pigboy character. The costume design was done prior to arriving on set. The concept drawings had detailed the outfit and the mask. I did have to go for costume fittings as the designers gathered the materials and manufactured the costume (I still have the costume today. It was sent to me in a package months after filming was over.) A mold of my face was taken to create a mask of the exact size and proportions.


5 - What was the process of getting into make-up and costume like for you? How long did it take?

I remember the make-up and costume process as grueling. It took hours for the make-up artist to attach the mask and complete the make-up. My family sat with me in the trailer while the artists worked on me. During that time, Billy Barty, who played “Gwildor” in the film, came into the trailer, and we talked about how he would have to spend four hours each day getting his mask and makeup done.

Putting the costume on was also cumbersome and time-consuming. It was made up of so many layers, from material that looked like an old burlapsack to the cape and the helmet. Far worse than getting into make-up and costume though, was getting out of it. I remember the skin on my face burning horribly after they took the mask off. Whatever adhesive they had used to attach the mask left my face feeling like it was on fire for days.

6 - What was it like for you as a kid being on the set of Castle Grayskull?

When I first saw the film sets, I was in awe, but I also remember thinking, “This doesn’t look like Castle Grayskull!” To this day, I still think that the sets and characters should have been more traditional to the toy line and cartoon, rather than the more interpretive sci-fi characters they were. Being on the set was still fascinating, and I remember the network of wires, cables, cameras, and props all over the place. It’s amazing to watch the film and see none of that on camera. If you’ve never been on the set of a film, you have no idea how many people are working behind-the-scenes.


7 - You have some wonderful pictures of yourself with many of the actors from the film. Did you get the chance to meet all of the principal cast? What was it like seeing Dolph Lundgren (He-Man), Frank Langella (Skeletor), Meg Foster (Evil-Lyn), and the other cast members in costume?

Meeting the actors and actresses was probably the most exciting part of the entire process. Dolph Lundgren was one of the first actors I met on the set. He was out of costume, and we met in an office building. Of everyone we met, he was always one of the most gracious. He took the time to say hello, talk with me and my family, and take plenty of pictures. He was incredibly kind. Frank Langella was also amazing, and I remember being intimidated by him. I only met him while he was in costume and makeup, so I had no idea what he looked like in reality. It wasn’t until years later, when I saw the film “Dave” that I found out what he really looked like. One of my favorite pictures from the whole experience is the photo where I’m sitting on Skeletor’s lap with Evil-Lyn standing in the background.

Meg Foster was probably the kindest of all the principal cast. Evil-Lyn was always my favorite character, and I remember being in awe of her costume. It was one of the most elaborate in the film. She spent so much time with me and my family, and I remember those moments very clearly.

People often ask me about meeting Courteney Cox. Yes, I did meet her. Unfortunately, I do not really remember meeting her. But I have the pictures to prove it! I think as an 8-year old kid, I was more enamored by He-Man and Skeletor and all the “bad guys” than by the human girl in the movie.That said, the guys who played the villains were a lot of fun. I met all of them on the set, and we took some fantastic photos together.


8 - In one fantastic photo, you are sitting on the castle throne surrounded by Skeletor’s bounty hunters, holding a rather large sword. What was it like being surrounded by such “monstrous creatures”?

I’ve always loved the villains, the bad guys, and the nasty creatures. From an early age, my father and I always watched scary movies together. Being in the company of Skeletor’s minions was awesome, and I remember some of those moments as my favorites. I remember the guys who played the villains laughing and joking with me and my family, and the pictures that resulted from those meetings are some of my favorites.

9 - In your big scene, you share the screen with Frank Langella’s imposing Skeletor. How did it feel being on stage with him, and being in front of the cameras for the first time? Also, what was it like getting the chance to hold the Havoc Staff?

Being in full makeup and costume probably made the whole experience easier, but I remember seeing through the mask was a bit challenging. We filmed at night, and I remember Mr. Langella giving me bits of advice along the way. It took a few shots to get the scene just right. I don’t recall being particularly nervous, and I do remember that everyone on set seemed excited to have me there. They were all very encouraging and helpful and treated me like a professional.

Is it called the Havoc Staff? I didn’t know that! I remember struggling a little with the staff; having trouble holding it upright and walking with it.

10 - How many days did you spend on the set, and how much time was spent filming the scene you were in?

My family and I were in California for a total of nine days. Much of the time was spent on the set. During the days I was on set, I worked with a tutor. He looked just like John Ritter. It was a legal requirement that I continue to do my schoolwork while on the set of the film. We had lunch in the studio cafeteria and mingled with the cast and crew of the film. As far as filming goes, we only filmed for the one evening.

While in California, Mattel also sent my family on a number of sightseeing trips. They paid for us to visit Disneyland and Universal Studios,and we even toured the Queen Mary. This was especially meaningful because my father traveled as an infant aboard the Queen Mary from England, where he was born, to the United States. We visited Hollywood, Santa Monica, and toured all around the LA area in a limousine that was available at our disposal.


11 - What memories do you have of the Director, Gary Goddard? It is said that after you won the contest, he struggled to find a role for you in the film. Is that true?

I remember spending a good amount of time with Mr. Goddard. He talked with me and my family about filmmaking and about the MOTU movie in particular. He walked around with us, showing us the sets and explaining many aspects of how the special effects would be added into the film.

Apparently he did have some trouble finding a spot for me in the film. I was not aware of this at the time of filming. In fact, I did not find out about that until the film was released on DVD. One of the bonus features on the disc included the ability to watch the film with Mr.Goddard’s commentary. When my scene approached, he talked extensively about the contest and the difficulty placing me in the film. It was fascinating, and the DVD release allowed me to relive the whole experience.

12 - What did you think of the film when you finally saw it in the theater? Were you excited to see your name in the credits at the end?

When the film was first released, Mattel paid for a release party for me, my family, and friends. They purchased an entire block of tickets from one of the local theaters so that I could have my own little premiere. I enjoyed the film, and I remember thinking how impressive the special effects were. I laugh at them now, but I do still think the special effects were some of the best at the time. The film had been so hyped and so promoted that I was glad to finally see it beginning to end. I remember “Good Morning America” doing multiple segments about the film, watching them, and waiting for when I could finally get to see the film.

Seeing my name in the credits was very exciting. I never thought that would be such a big deal. But simply because my name appears in the credits, all kinds of search results return when my name is ‘googled.’ My name is the last one that appears in the cast list, which is also kind of cool. It sort of lingers there as it crawls up the screen, last in line.


13 - I’ve heard that the scene you shot with Skeletor was originally longer, and that he actually spoke to you. Were you disappointed that parts of the scene were cut?

Yes, when the scene was filmed, Skeletor grabbed the staff from me, turned to look at me, and shouted, “Now leave!” I then scurried off. When I first saw the film in the theater, I actually missed my scene. I was expecting something much more significant than what ended up in the film. Of course seeing the film the first time was disappointing. What was even more disappointing, though, was when the film was first aired on television. The portion of the scene where I appeared was completely cut altogether!

14 - What are some of the things you remember most from being in the film?

I remember how kind everyone was; the actors, the Director, the film crew. It seemed that everyone enjoyed having a kid around the set, and I always felt very welcomed. The entire experience was memorable. I can’t believe it was 24 years ago because some of the memories are still crystal clear.

15 - In the credits, your character is simply referred to as “Pigboy.” Do you know if your character was ever given an actual name for the film?

At the time, they had given him the name Mata-Shai. I’m not sure if I’m spelling that correctly, but the drawings looked very much like the final Pigboy costume. Actually, it wasn’t until I watched the film in the theater and waited for my name to appear in the credits that I first saw the “Pigboy” name. You can imagine how thrilled I was at that.

16 - Did you get to keep any cool stuff from the film?

I do still have my costume. One of the coolest moments of the whole experience was when Mattel people showed up on set with boxes full of MOTU action figures. They had asked me for a list of all the action figures I already had. One day, they showed up with boxes of all the figures I didn’t already own. It was amazing! There were figures that had not even been released yet, including the new action figures based on characters from the movie. It was heaven for a kid my age!

17 - After the movie was released, did kids on the playground ask for your autograph?

No, nobody ever asked for the autograph. But it was an experience that got me a lot of attention.


18 - Are you surprised today by all the attention that your cameo as Pigboy has attracted over the years?

Yes, actually I’m very surprised. With the internet, it’s possible to find just about anyone out there. I never would have thought that an obscure character who appears in a movie for literally three seconds would cause people to be knocking on my Facebook door. It’s funny, but I enjoy it. At the Wizard World Chicago booth a few years ago, I introduced myself to the folks at the He-Man.org booth, and all of a sudden people wanted to take their pictures with me. It was pretty bizarre, but kind of neat at the same time. I’m still a fan of MOTU, and I’ve enjoyed watching as Mattel tries to recreate the line for a new generation. I thought the new cartoon series was brilliantly animated and told an amazing story, and I’m really disappointed that it didn’t take off.

19 - With the successful relaunch of the new “Masters of the Universe: Classics” toyline, do you think it’s time that Mattel finally released an action figure of Pigboy?

That would be amazing! MOTU is so unique in that so many collectors, now in their twenties and thirties, who were fans of the cartoon and the toyline are still fans today. The Classics line, more for the adult collector, is perfect for those of us who still feel passionately about the toys we grew up with. Watching the old cartoons now available on DVD, reading the comic books, and collecting the high-end statues and mini busts has been my favorite way of staying in touch with the kid in me.

20 - If asked by the powers that be, would you ever work on another MOTU project again?

Absolutely! As someone who was there in the early 80’s for the launch of the first toyline, and who has stuck by the brand for 30 years or so, I would love to put my two cents worth into a project.

A VERY big thank you to Richard for his kindness, and for taking the time to answer questions for the fans!

Richard has a personal website, which can be seen at