Aside from HE-MAN's 30th birthday, it's also the 10 year anniversary of the Mike Young Productions He-Man cartoon which I was lucky enough to briefly draw story boards on.
MOTU aficionado Jukka Issakainen recently interviewed me about the experience.
1. Hello Mr. Bullock. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Well first off let me say "Thank you" for the opportunity to be involved with your anniversary celebration.
I turned 40 this year. After 18 years in SoCal I recently relocated to my "woodsy" home town in Southern New Jersey with my lovely girlfriend Kellie and our handsome lab Berkely.
I draw comics too, but I spend most days storyboarding for the coolest shows on TV. Currently I'm working on HASBRO's TRANSFORMERS: PRIME as well as a short BATMAN story for DC comics.
For the last 2 years, in my spare time I've been developing a couple of comic book characters of my own named "KING RONOK" and "THUNDA the BARBARIAN QUEEN". Theirs is a story of ancient evils, savage swordplay and sorcery. I plan to build a website for "KING RONOK" this year.
I hope MOTU fans will appreciate it. I think it's right up their alley.
2. How did you get into storyboarding?
I got started right out of college, and I can't believe it, but I've been involved with animation for almost 20 years now.
I studied animation and film at "The UNIVERSITY of the ARTS" in Philadelphia PA and then moved to LA to get into working on cartoons and comics.
The first series I worked on was "The AMAZING SPIDER-MAN" for Marvel Films Animation and FOX during the early 90's. I started out drawing character designs, but quickly realized that I wasn't drawing the heroes doing anything except standing around looking tough. Our storyboard department was short handed and asked if I could pitch in with some clean up work (tightening drawings of "comps" or thumbnails). It was challenging but a good fit. I still enjoy designing characters, but when given the flexibility and encouragement from producers, directing and story-boarding can be incredibly rewarding.
3. What does a storyboard-artist do?
HE-MAN fans know Bruce Timm from his work on the mini-comics, well he once told me "storyboards are the blue-print of the show".
As a SB artist it is your job to visualize a script and draw out the film in many little panels. It's a lot of work, but luckily we are generally supported by a design team which creates background sets, characters and props all for us and the animators to key off of. We are also supplied with a dialogue track recording for each episode.
The dial track is listened to repeatedly while drawing characters acting in an attempt to match the recorded performance to the acting performance.
Lighting is also a key tool used to add drama or mood to a scene. The mood really does motivate the film making.
For instance, a quiet talking scene will typically have slower camera moves and less shots as opposed to a action sequence which has crazy camera moves and a lot of shots.
I think I was finishing up on Batman Beyond at the time. A buddy mentioned that Mike Young Productions was getting it together to produce a new HE-MAN series.
The fact that MYP was a "mom and pop shop" indicated a lower budget production than what I had been used to at WB and DISNEY, but this was HE-MAN, and I had to at least check it out!
4A. Tell us about your experience on the MYP He-Man project?
Immediately after becoming aware of the new HM show ramping up, I spent a sunny afternoon, outside on my patio sketching HE-MAN characters. I then took them along with some storyboard samples to the MYP studio which was only 10 minutes from where I lived at the time in the San Fernando Valley.
When I arrived at the studio I was introduced to Cowboy Director Gary Hartle. I had seen Gary wearing his big cowboy hat around WB in previous years (I was working on Batman and I think he must have been on Johhny Bravo at the time) but we hadn't met or worked together prior. Gary is a helluva nice fella and talented to boot! I still remember how bad ass his BattleCat sketches were. On this instance he was overseeing a animatic (a quick time movie of story board panels) being edited of the first episode.
Although he was busy, he took a quick browse at my work and with Jay Oliva's recommendation agreed to bring me on board.
I was to storyboard one act (10 to 12 script pages) in 4 weeks.
Mike Young, his wife and staff were very friendly and passionate about making great cartoons. They would have regular "crew meetings" and seemed to really want to create a great work place. They even threw a "HE-MAN Bar-B-Q launch party". Another meeting ended with someone launching a evil keneival toy off a ramp in the conference room. The place roared with laughter.
It was evident that we were working with a tight nit "family" at MYP, and they did their best to welcome the new crew with open arms.
Though as they were a small "mom and pop" shop, I don't think they knew what to do with all of the extra staff. Their numbers easily doubled with the addition of the HM crew. We were literally packed into the place.
The HE-MAN production was primarily in one large room in the basement. The desks were thrashed. What initially started out as 6 or so of us quickly turned into at least a dozen bodies. It was very cozy and very loud thanks to Lynell Forestal's mouth! Boy could he talk. Talented and a nice fella, but he would openly and endlessly flirt with a gal on the production team in front of groups of artists. It was at times amusing, but mostly distracting.
I started asking to work from home a couple of days a week just to stay on target for the deadlines.
After a few weeks I was moved to a office with the Mighty Adam VanWyck and Ed Lee. Adam and I had been good pals. We were both sb artists and had worked together at WB on BATMAN/SUPERMAN ADVENTURES and loved HE-MAN. I had also worked with ED LEE at SONY tv animation previously, and we got along great. Good pal Vinton Heuck was also boarding on the show. These guys are some of the best in the business IMHO.
Once a show is given a green light it is almost always behind schedule before it begins, and this was no exception. A lot of work was freelanced out but altogether I'd say there were approximately 12 artists on staff.
As far as the direction of the the show we were initially told to make it "anime". The young talent on the staff wanted to go heavy in the direction of japanese anime in the vein of NINJA SCROLL, FATAL FURY with the action/sword play, but even though Cartoon Network, who was broadcasting the series, wanted a more aggressive show, Mattel was heavily involved and really made sure things were kid friendly, at least in the early episodes. For instance, a character could throw a punch, but instead of seeing a character take one on the chin you would get a white flash effect, then in the next shot, you would see the recipient of the punch fly thru the air. I know, I know that's how the Filmation He-Man did it, but we were going to make something more cinematic and badass. We didn't want this to be your dad's HE-MAN.
Having worked at WB during the SUPERMAN and BATMAN ADVENTURES where we were able to animate cute short skirts on Lois and brutal action when the story needed it, not all of us were into this old style of "censored" film. Turns out we were spoiled. This was due to the WB airing their own content on their own network and making their own set of rules. Around the time I was finishing work on "Courage of Adam" was when the MYP producers, the directory and Mattel really pushed to tone down the aggression.
As I recall the HE-MAN toon design initially had the iron cross logo on his chest until Gary pointed it out to the executives. They quickly had it changed to the letter "H".
Despite these more restrictive story devices and poor quality animation the show turned out great!
My favorite thing about the show is it's theme music, and my least favorite thing is Prince Adams voice acting.
5. Which episodes did you work on?
I storyboarded on two episodes of the MYP HE-MAN series.
Episode 4 "The COURAGE of ADAM" and episode 7 "Lessons".
6. Any favourite scenes from such episodes [that you did or didn't get to work on]?
My favorite scenes are the ones that got edited from my storyboard on "Courage of Adam". I was trying for Frazzeta comps and true anime film.
Specifically I miss a gag where a spinning axe flys thru the air slicing thru three 10 foot tall, horned "bone-reapers", before it is caught by and revealing HE-MAN.
The script for CoA had numerous issues, but after long brain storming sessions with the director and his apprentice, it was decided to
"fix", "punch up", or "re-write" what was needed at the SB stage.
Once my SB draft was finished, it was decided to move the big fight scene to the outside of Snake Mountain and "tone down" some of the aggression.
I recall a zerox of my storyboard for CoA coming back to me with red marker notes from producer Bill Shultz (as I was told). One shot had a angry HE-MAN lunging with his sword aimed directly at camera and the note exclaimed "This is not our show!" Bill may have been nervous about Mattels reaction to a aggressive shot like this, but he did have the great idea, and was incredibly proud to arrange and budget for the computer generated weapons used for the "sword wipes" and the cg DoomSeeker.
Early days of any production are tough. Everyone is trying to figure out what the show should be.
Even though we were being asked for "anime" the management of the show was completely unfamiliar with it.
To some degree it is common for SB's and stories to go thru several stages of development and animatic edits, however such a major "re-write" is not common on such a tight schedule.
7. What did you have for reference? Toy-sculpts from the Four Horsemen or something else?
No designs were approved when I joined the production so I mostly worked from the 4H figures and vehicles. Did they design those too?
They were great to draw from. In fact I was told by Filmation He-Man artist Charles Zembilist that that was how they worked at the beginning of the original show as well.
Charles said "Mattel just dumped a box of toys on the table and said..make a show!".
This was early days of the MY production for sure, and the fellas in charge were trying to figure out what the show should be.
Other than the toys I had very little to work with in the way of Backgrounds or designs.
8. Are you familiar with the original cartoon by Filmation studious and the vintage toys?
After all of these years, I'm a bigger fan of the FILMATION toon and HE-MAN than ever.
As a child of the 80's I spent many afternoons watching HE-MAN after school and still catch an episode every now and then for the feel good vibe it gives. The combination of swords, castles, monsters, magic and technology is unbeatable.
The music is iconic and wonderful. The backgrounds are vibrant and creative.
As a kid I only had HE-MAN, Skeletor and Beastman figures, but I've made up for it since.
My office is filled with MOTU cels, posters and, toys. I can't get enough of it, and would love to see another series produced.
The early oil paintings made a huge impact on me and are still some of my all time favorite art.
I remember being so disappointed that Man-E-Faces was turned into an actor on the series. He looked so bad ass in that oil painting where he's leveling his blaster at Skeletor, I thought for sure he was a space ranger of some sort. I still love him, but actors are not heroic.
Filmation vs MYP
I've been a Filmation enthusiast and as animation is my field and passion I've read up on whatever I could find about the Filmation production.
Having known and worked with some of the original crew and being aware of a lot of the factors involved I'd have to say that creatively the two productions were very different.
FM HeMan was all animated in the US, were MYP HM (except pre-production) was animated in Korea.
FM Heman had a vibrant painted color palette (using cel vinyl from Cartoon Color in Culver City, CA) where the MYP was "muddied" by digital brown shadow mattes. Most likely the monitors used by the art director and bg painters was not properly color corrected. Surely all of those brown shadows were a mistake!
Lou Sheimer also had much more control over his production with far less "hands on" involvement from Mattel, which no doubt helped them stay focused on making great shows. As I recall Gary was constantly in meetings with the Mattel fellas over seeing the production. He worked hard to make up for the production time lost.
Although it pales in comparison to the FM He-Man source material, the MYP went for a more cinematic approach and added some great story to the MOTU cannon.
Over the years I've been fortunate to have met and worked with several fellas from the original 80's toon.
Just this past year I met fellow He-MAN story artist Robert Lamb on line. Fans of the Filmation series should go nuts over his site , I sure did.
9. What are your recent projects?
Prior to TRANSFORMERS" PRime I have directed on the STAR WARS: The CLONE WARS movie and series as well as a DVD movie with Warner Bros animation titled JUSTICE LEAGUE: The NEW FRONTIER. JL:TNF takes a look at DC comics greatest heroes as they might have lived in the 1950's. It has everything from the nuclear arms race to glowing green lanterns to secret rocket silos. It is pretty cool direction for super jocks. "Mad Man: cool".
Last year I worked on a eight page black and white story of Will Eisners "The SPIRIT" with the multitalented Chip Kidd which will hopefully be published soon!
10. Where can people find your work or contact you?
Look me up to say "hi" on HE-MAN.org as SGT.ROCK, or check out my work, art books and past projects here:
Congratulations HE-MAN on your 30th anniversary!
I look forward to seeing the next incarnation of our favorite Eternian heroes!