11.2.13

MOTUC Grayskull


Photo by Nathan Baertsch
Masters of the Universe Castle Grayskull is finally here.
While pics leaked a few days ago, the official unveiling happened yesterday at the New York Toy Fair. I'm stealing pics taken by my friend Nate Baertsch (I'm pretty sure he won't mind) to take a moment and talk about this beauty.
In the past few months, the Four Horsemen have confronted the daunting task of recreating what is undoubtely one of the best toys ever created. The original seminal playset, designed by Masters of the Universe originator Mark Taylor and originally sculpted by Mark himself along with his assistant, was and probably still is a masterpiece of toy design, enginereeing and play values. And yet, something to keep in mind for later in this post, even Mark's castle suffered from alteration due the packaging size. That, fortunately, didn't take much from a toy many of us ejoyed a lot as children.

That said, I would have been extremely intimidated myself if I had to take on such an important job. Would have been possible to create something that could compare to the original one and update it as a product released 30 years later? Would a new castle live up to fans' expectation, still very unsitisfied by the subpar 2002 release? And last but not least, would it live up to what all of us have been waiting since 2000? A Castle Grayskull by the Four Horsemen?

Mark Taylor's prototype
My answer is yes, it would, and it did.
Let me say it right now: that thig IS big. Not as big as promised, but even if this morning I said the opposite, being still cranky for another Digital River's mess up, it isn't small.
It's big. Definitely big. Who saw it in person can tell you. We'll get back to the size issue, but is that really all there is to talk about Castle Grasykull? I don't think so.

The proportions. They are perfect. Being one that has spent hours drawing and analyzyng Graykull, I can definitely tell the Four Horsemen nailed them. The silhoutte alone seems to have jumped out from the Alcala minicomics, and the overall look is the perfect blend of the prototype proportions with the original toy. The mouth is definitely deeper than the original, but not as deep in Mark's prototype. I look at it and think "that's Grayskull". It didn't happen with the 2002 toy, it didn't happen with the 2002 cartoon. But here I feel it as Grayskull in my heart, and I know it is right.
And look, some beloved elements are back: the ledge on the right tower, meant to be a platform for the figures in the original prototype, is back at his place. The decoration at the top of the dome, cut from the original to fit it in the box is back too. Whenever I drew Grayskull I has that element there, and now I'm glad this is getting a physical representation.

Photo by Nathan Baertsch
Let's now enter the castle. Yeah, I feel at home.
Thanks also to art and photos rescued and restored by The Power and The Honor Foundation, reference were now available to recreate most of Mark's original vision for the castle interiors. The Bat Jetpack is back, the skull motives at the top of the elevator, a much more faithful translation of Mark's jousting training device and added textures and sculpting everywhere. True, the walls appears to be pretty smooth and bare bones (!) right now, but it has already been addressed that they are not completed yet.

Yes, not everything is there. The torture table, the training puppet are still missing, but I'm not disappointed by that. I've already got more than before. And most of the elements from the carboard cutouts are stil present (I have the feeling the final piece will include all three, seeing how there is a mace and a gun laying around...) They are more based on Mark's prototype versions of the stickers, but they are there. And guess what. We had little chance to get that throne room guarian/robot. According to Mattel rules an articualted figure there woud have been another SKU, and so they couldn't do it (why Mattel can't change their own rules it's beyond me, but I digress..). Still the Four Horsemen knew the guardian had to be there and they sculpted a full, unarticulated piece! Our Throne room won't be missing him!
And look, there is a place to hang the swords. I said Swords, plural. We can hang both the Sword of Power and the Sword of Protection. This is a BIG plus for me. Not just for the extra accessory, but because this is great way to aknowledge She-Ra as part of the world of Masters of the Universe. Grayskull is now and forever He-Man's and She-Ra's home.
We now have two draperies and the dome is now a separate chamber, in which the Elder's orb can be stored on a new pedestal. Not exactly Filmation accurate, but how cool is to have that space finally separated and used in a good way? Oh, and the Dungeon! The most hardcore fans and loyal followers of the Foundation know what the closed Dungeon is a nod to: not only it makes more sense to have a contained space in the prison area, but it was also designed to slighlty remind of the mini "Dungeon" playset concept by Ted Mayer.
It goes without saying that all this has been beautifully rendered by Eric, CB, Jim, Shane, Sherri and Owen plus everybody that lended an hand there (I'm not kissing anyone ass here, you guys know I mean it).

Of course, not all the details are exactly like I wanted them to be, (I'm surely not going to put the Wind Raider there, so that hole bothers me) but I'm a pretty obsessive guy when it comes to Castle Grayskull and I have a very specific idea of each single detail in my mind. At the same time, I totally accept not  all of those details can be as I dreamed as they have been sculpted by another individual pretty obsessed about Grayskull like me. And of course there are difference as it should be. Do they look less cool? Absolutely not.
Speaking of which, I've read some comments of people being disappointed by the lack of Filmation accents. I can understand the preferences (I'm a big Filmation's Grayskull fan myself), but I can't understand the disappointment: for everyone who was paying attention, since day one we had been told what we were going to get and what the Four Horsemen sculpting preferences were.

Then, the size. As I said, yes, it's smaller, 1 or 2 inches shorter then the original model. Is it disappoiting, Probably yes. Totally unexpected? Personally, not. We're far from the days of the USS Flagg, or even Eternia playset. I want to quote what my friend said:
Reality of toy making is also considering packaging dimensions on large items like this, shipping costs from the factory to the warehouse, cost of materials... Sadly at the end if the day, to make it at the original size pushed the cost to a level I think most fans wouldn't be willing to pay. I feel they went with a hard decision and I feel the right decision, to shrink it slightly, it still works great with the intended figures, and still keep the bulk of all the cool accessories that fans expect.

Being in the industry myself, I completely understand that. Mattel is to blame not for miscalculating it at the beginning, not for cutting the budget later. I think we're getting what we're paying for. It was what promised that was not right for the price advertised. Also, I can only think what a nightmare for the Four Horsemen that must have been if the size change happened so late in the game. Trying to still fit all the pieces, maybe adjusting parts already sculpted or fabricated. It was not a light effort for them, and I'm sure they had to pull all sort of resources to get it done. When thinking about that, and seeing how almost all the focus is now on the size change (something I was guilty too this morning), it's a bit depressing unfortunately.
At the end of the day, if Mattel will offer to opt out of the preorders, that will be the right thing to do on their side. And I won't blame anybody that will take advantage of that.
But, all the above considered, is this issue a deal breaker for me? Can most of us honestly say we wouldn't have puchased it if we where told these were the actual measures instead?
I don't think so.
Yes, we're a cranky buch of collectors pretty tired of dealing with Mattycollector and Digital River, but we waited 12 years for this castle. The Four Horsemen Castle Grayskull. I look at the pics on my monitor and I must say that the positives totally overcome the negatives here.
Yes, it isn't the perfetct castle. Yes, it did suffer from some production restrictions. But remember, so did Mark Taylor's castle. Thirty years later was impossible to do better? Maybe, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying the original castle for the last thirty years and surely won't stop me from enjoying this one for the next thirty.
By the way, Mark said: "looking good" ;)

10.2.13

Metroplex!

It's Toy Fair time! And I just saw a lot of very cool Transformers toys.
Some of which I had the pleasure to contribute too.
Just an year ago, I helped the awesome Chris Hicks at visualizing a huge project: a new Metroplex! The sketches (which I hope to be able to post soon) were very crude, as we focused most on the features and the transformations. Exactly a year later, Metroplex is a toy! And a lot of visual cues translated directly from my sketch!
Enjoy Hasbro official pics, I can't be more excited about him! (And already dreading custom fees once I'll order him!)




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