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10 William Stout (& Moebius) Production Drawings for Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Skeletor art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)

William Stout has had a long and eventful career as an illustrator and production designer—you can read all about it in the biography on his official website. His work has run in numerous publications, including Heavy Metal (he did “Shmegeggi of the CaveMen” with Harvey Kurtzman in the sold-out October 1978 issue, and he illustrated Harlan Ellison’s “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin” from September 1990), and his filmography includes Buck Rogers, Conan, First Blood, Men in Black and Pan’s Labyrinth. And then there was Masters of the Universe. The 1987 movie seemed like a good idea, given the popularity of the toys, but the Cannon Films production, starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor, was a flop.

But these amazing drawings by production designer William Stout are surely blameless—hell, if these were all we’d seen, we’d guess that it might be a good movie. Or at least a good comic book. Thanks to MOTUmovie.com for collecting and preserving these. You can hear more about all this from the man himself in the comments below this story, where he has been kind enough to share his thoughts on the agony and ecstasy of trying to level up these cartoons and toys for a live-action film.

Blade and Saurod (both were my original designs; as I recall, director Gary Goddard came up with the new characters) were attempts to revitalize a toy line that was dying (if not already dead). Would you have preferred they were replaced with Stinkor? And the toys’ original candy colors made my teeth hurt.

–William Stout

In the images below, the He-Man design is a collaboration between Stout and his friend Moebius, who needs no introduction.

Say, whatever happened to ol’ Dolph Lundgren anyway? Still working! You might have seen him as King Nereus in Aquaman or Konstantin Kovar on the Arrow TV series. He’s also reprised his Ivan Drago role in Creed II and was in all three Expendables movies.

William Stout recently published a super-mega collection of his impressive work called Fantastic Worlds of William Stout.

Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Skeletor art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
He-Man art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Beast Man art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Blade art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Saurod art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Skeletor art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Man-at-Arms art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
She-Ra art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)
Masters of the Universe art by William Stout
Saurod art by William Stout for Masters of the Universe (1987)

22 thoughts on “10 William Stout (& Moebius) Production Drawings for Masters of the Universe

  1. there's admirable skill in these drawings but i hate the way he's tried to re-style these classic charecters. Man at Arms, beastman, skeletor and he-man all look lame in these pics. Should have retained the classic styling and colours. As for "blade" and "saurod" WTF? they should never have made it into the movie

  2. I did three collaborations with my friend Moebius in the re-design of He-man; He did one pen drawing; I did three re-drawings — the last two in a sad attempt (the first was the best) to satisfy the mucky-mucks at Mattel — and then inked and colored them. We also collaborated on the throne set.

    Sorry if you don't like my re-stylings here, Skele Slog — but had I followed your preferences, I fear you'd have been the only person in the movie theater. I emphasized to Moebius that He-man should not look like a member of ABBA, like he does in the toys and cartoons. Blade and Saurod (both were my original designs; as I recall, director Gary Goddard came up with the new characters) were attempts to revitalize a toy line that was dying (if not already dead). Would you have preferred they were replaced with Stinkor? And the toys' original candy colors made my teeth hurt.

    Different strokes for different folks…

    PS: These are nine designs out of over 100 that I painted for the film. My designs included more characters and costumes, as well as sets, vehicles, weapons, storyboards, etc. None of them got into the new book on the art of He-man and Masters of the Universe because Mattel informed me they would not include them in the book (for which I would not have been paid) unless I turned over all of my copyrights to them. For free. Really!

    1. Your 1987 He-man costume was not bad, but you could have retained the color scheme. Dolph Lundgren looked the part, but the film was a drastic deviation from the source material. No orko, The Sorceress looked like an old bag, oh….the travesty of this film, and I am not blaming you Mr stout, but whomever wrote that script, and the fool that ok’d it, needed to be put in front of a firing squad.

    2. The thing is, especially in rertospect, we would have rather had Stinkor. While the director made choice way before you, you certainly didn’t aid the process of bringing kids to ask their parents to take them to the movie.

      I remember how dissapointed I was that there was no Orko and that Frank was great and all, but he wasn’t the Skelator I grew up entertained by. And what the hell was with the gold god suit at the end?

      The whole film was a side show honestly. But a side show based on you and anothers concepts. You, as a grown man, you were simply out of touch with what an 8-10 year old boy would have wanted to see. You wanted to get some original work out there and get some toys made from your designs, I get it. You didnt like the colors and designs of the toys, in your opinion, so you figured you could fix all that you saw wrong and make it yours from that point forward. That’s bold, but risky. Yourself, like those before you and after working on projects like this, just tend to disregard source material and try to re-invent the wheel when they don’t have to. Some of which is handed down to you as a job, to feed and shelter yourself. Like I said, I get it, but that doesn’t make it right.

      It just sucks Hollywood feels it is neccessary to water down existing successfull intellectual property to attract non-demographics, at the expense of its core support. Seems very counterproductive and rarley works out, as history in cinema has shown us.

      No one is denying your talent. It is just sad a kid to not get what you expect. I think majority rules now among kids who played with these toys everyday and have grown up that He-Man did not satisfy or meet expectations, even in a cult status level. A portion of which you have to own forever. If you care to anyway.

  3. Agh, dude. You're a legend and I'm so in love with everything you do. The Mattel stuff sucks, but I'm really glad you worked on this. This is AMAZING stuff.

  4. I love these designs. I briefly discussed this movie with you last year at OzCon, and I really think it's an underrated (if also under-realized thanks to Cannon film's shenanigans) little scifi-epic. I really like seeing that image of Skeletor with the powers of Grayskull… He's kinda 40K-esc seeing him with a bit more definition than the actual costume allowed, I like it.

    There was a Star (Marvel) Comics Adaptation that oddly used the Filmation designs rather than yours, and it just didn't fit. I wonder if Skele Slog ever saw that.

    1. Keep him away from it. He is good, but we need someone that will honor the source material, and please, don’t tell me the cartoon version would look corny live action. They can tweek certain things on the costumes like they did in the 2003 He_man animated series, or take inspiration from Lord Of The Rings or even Thor….which believe it or not, I thought Thor borrowed heavily from Masters of The Universe 1987. Thor is the perfect example of what He-man should be like….with the bold colors and all. Unfortunately, Marvel’s Thor should’ve look more like Lord of the Rings.

  5. Love the “Abba” comment Mr Stout! He-man though I loved it as a kid was very camp. Conan was better and mattel ripped it off with he-man comics, toyline and movie.Love your designs! I had no idea you did these. New about your Conan stuff but not he-man. Man if the character designs seen in the TV show made it to the 1987 movie it would have been way crappier than it already was, thank god they didn’t make it! I have a few copies of your amazing dinosaur pics on my walls. Also used to have the toys of blade and zaurod and loved em! However,unlike other child he-man and star wars fans I have grown up and don’t fantasize about my childhood heroes anymore. Both are children’s films , if you like heman watch Conan the barbarian with Arnold its way better and made for adults?

  6. Anytime you deviate too far away from the source material, your endeavour needs to fail, and I do mean fail hard. I hated the look of 1987’s Masters of The Universe. Really hated that they showed the cartoon no respect. Skeletor, they got right to a certain extent, and Evil lyn, but no prince adam ? WTF ?! What makes matters worse is the majority of the film took place on Earth. WTF ? Sure, Adam’s mom was from Earth….but come on, let’s see Eternal !
    We need Peter Jackson on a reboot of this. With that said, the concept art here is good, but was all wrong for Masters of the Universe.

  7. I’m not against these pieces of art. I love the Beast-man design. 2nd Skeletor pose is wonky to my eye – kinda feminine, and I thought he was dancing since I didn’t see his leg initially…

    But She-Ra…I dunno. I think I’d have liked more coverage in the chest. Gold booby protectors but complete access to the heart is weird. This might have been a good Priestess design.

  8. Firstly, I enjoy these designs by Mr. Stout. Thanks for posting. I wish that all of the designs were available to the public, but it sounds like Mattel isn’t willing to be supportive of the artist to say the least.
    I was born in 1980, so I grew up with the Masters of the Universe property. If I’m being honest, as a child, when my mother took me to see the film during its original release in the theatre, I was disappointed. Some of that had to do with the lack of a large roster of characters that I was familiar with from the toy line and the Filmation series. Major characters like King Randor, Queen Marlena, Battle Cat, Orko, and She-Ra were missing. Aside from missing characters, the story seemed to have little to do with previous depictions, and in regard to the characters that were present onscreen, a few of them were unrecognizable. As a kid unfettered by what it took to bring a movie together or put a script together, I remember bluntly thinking, “Well … I guess that is Evil-Lyn?”
    In hindsight, now an artist myself, I actually love most of these designs and concepts. Over the years, from what I’ve read, Mattel seems like it was on the hellish side to work with in all aspects (referring to the script, being able to kill certain characters, changes to characters, etc). The toy maker isn’t necessarily going to make for the best storyteller or filmmaker. To this day, I feel that Mattel doesn’t really care what happens to the Masters of the Universe brand, so long as it turns a profit. That in and of itself doesn’t give He-Man much of a soul.
    The 1980s packaging artwork, Filmation, mini-comics, as well as art by Stout and Moebius help to give He-Man and company the most heart, whereas so many of the toys in retrospect are simply based around a gimmick or action feature. Alas, I digress. What I enjoy about Stout’s work here, that I didn’t really fully appreciate as a child, is that he and Moebius bring a fresh look to the table, something which was needed desperately back in 1987 when the toy line was fading in popularity. I’m glad that action figures are now available that are based upon a few of these concepts.
    I love the look of Skeletor with the yellowish, slightly diseased looking skin tone. That’s not what we saw in the movie itself, but I still take to it. The look reminds me of Ralph McQuarry’s design (not that the two are related, just that both versions of Skeletor share a more natural skin tone, as opposed to the blue of the toy design). With He-Man, I love the cape, and how it brings him forward and makes him pop. The hair is brilliant. His hair has more of a futuristic punk look to it, and I like the metallic grey and gold armor. Evil-Lyn ended up growing on me, it simply took a while. Man-at-Arms and Beast Man actually appear pretty close to their toy counterparts, albeit with much more subdued coloring, which works with the tone of the film. Saurod and Blade are also great additions. Along with Karg, they are obviously stand-ins for Mer-Man, Trap Jaw, and Tri-Klops, and while I would’ve preferred the villains that I was familiar with, I now know that these were created, via a published interview with director Gary Goddard, in order to skate around Mattel’s mandate that no main characters from the toy line be killed. Though they are unfamiliar characters, I actually quite like the designs, with Saurod being a favorite. The only design that I don’t care for to this day is Teela. Her design has always puzzled me a bit, but maybe Stout was trying to bring a soldier aspect to the character by having her be more in line with her father, Man-at-Arms. The design in and of itself is fine, it just doesn’t convey Teela to me. She-Ra on the other hand, had she appeared in the film (she was dropped early on I believe, though could be mistaken), this would’ve been a good direction to go in with her design. The gold and white are startling, and I like the new take on the tiara, with most of the intricate pattern-work being at the crown of the head as opposed to the sides.
    Lastly, again, so much work went into these designs. Maybe we will be able to see all of Mr. Stout’s work for this some day. I met him briefly once out in San Diego at one of the comic conventions and purchased one of his sketchbooks. His dinosaur drawings are really lovely too. If anyone else is interested in seeing more work by Mr. Stout, I suggest giving his dinosaur illustrations a go.
    In regard to the new Masters of the Universe film that is in development, I worry that with so many failed attempts, the number of attached writers, script woes, etc, that what finally ends up on screen will be a train wreck. I know that is a blunt way to put it, but I wish that Mattel would leave the film-making to the storytellers and artists. I keep hearing that it will be a Lord of the Rings type effort, but that worries me as well. We already have Lord of the Rings. We have Star Wars. We have Dune, Conan, and so forth. Let Masters of the Universe be its own unique thing.

  9. @AI:
    Most of the film took place on Earth for budgetary reasons. Prior to the decision to cut most of Eternia, I had executed a lot of Eternia designs, so I was disappointed (but not surprised; this is standard in films. Most movies I have worked on have cut abut a third of what was in the original script), too.

    Originally, Mattel had licensed the Conan characters as action figures. They were horrified when Conan the Barbarian (which I also worked on) came out as an “R” -rated film (as it should be; Conan that’s not “R” is not Conan). Mattel dropped their Conan franchise and created Masters of the Universe in response.

    Prior to working on the movie, I hated the fact that Mattel cheaped out with the Masters toys and used interchangeable body parts (with different colors) to save money. Would you really have preferred to see something so un-challenging, unimaginative and uninteresting? I wouldn’t. Neither did Todd MacFarlane who dramatically challenged Mattel’s thinking with his finely elaborate action figures, the ones that changed the industry forever — the ones that Mattel said would be impossible to produce and make a profit.

    As far as the choice of characters for the movie, I had no say in that. My job was to visualize the script and its characters based on the toys (plus a couple of new ones, which Mattel was very excited about). As in other similar films I’ve worked on, I wanted these characters to have as much depth as possible — even if it wan’t indicated in the script.

    I think I made the right choices, as evidenced by what the Marvel movies have done for their comic book characters and how popular they’ve become, extending their popularity far beyond their comic book readership. Apparently a lot of MOTU fans agree. Chelsea Field and I attended a MOTU screening about a year ago and after our Q & A the film was run on the huge Egyptian Theater screen in Hollywood. It was a packed house (the screening sold out in minutes). Everyone laughed at the humorous spots and cheered the action sequences. When He-Man lifted his sword and shouted “I HAVE THE POWER!”, I thought the roof was going to come off the joint. So, at least that crowd sure liked it. Sorry if you didn’t, my friend.

    1. I agree with you Mr. Stout. I think the Marvel movies are an excellent example of the changes you can make to source material and still be popular with the crowds. To be honest, your designs of Skeletor have been very inspiring and exciting to me since I first saw a sneak peek in I think a Fangoria back before the movie released. I appreciate your take on Eternia and its cast of characters and overall, I think most of the designs are very well done.

      The issue with Masters of the Universe is that they didn’t or couldn’t take the risk to go big and make the movie set entirely on Eternia and give the script aimed at all ages like Star Wars instead of the kid friendly aspects (like Gordo, the musical key, the coming to earth, and so on). Masters of the Universe would benefit from giving it a more serious brush over while staying fun. Thundercats handled this style of storytelling better than He-man did.

      I think a fully realized Eternia with a solid hero’s journey, the armies of skeletor fighting He-man and his rebel allies as they attempt to free the sorceress and reclaim Greyskull before the world is brought into a an age of ruin by a Skeletor with the power of a god, would have been pretty awesome and kicked ass at the box office, as well as launch a new line of more serious toys.

      Unfortunately, that was rarely the case back then. If He-man was made into more Conan style (keeping it pg-13), with brisk Marvel style action and storytelling and had your designs or something close to them (maybe some minor tweaks to tone down the 80’s vibe) it would take the Box Office by storm for sure.

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