Monday, 27 April 2015

Interview - Mattel's Sr Art Supervisor Gabriel De La Torre

The man behind many new redesigns for He-Man The Eternity War comic series!

This interview was done originally for Check it out here!
Hello Gabriel! Thanks for doing this interview. :)

We've seen your name come up in our previous interviews, as well as in the DC Comics He-Man comic trade volumes recently. You are credited for new costume designs. What does that mean exactly?

Hi Jukka, first let me say thank you for the opportunity to do this interview.  I have been very fortunate to be a part of the MOTU brand for many years now and it’s great to be able to discuss the art side of my favorite universe.  I am the Senior Art Supervisor in Mattel’s Entertainment studio, Playground Productions, led by Dave Voss

My job is to manage and develop all artwork generated for MOTU entertainment which includes the current comic book from DC.  A big part of that is getting the pleasure of working with amazing talent such as Pop Mhan, who does phenomenal pencils, and Mark Roberts with his awesome colors. I‘ve had the privilege of designing a few of the characters myself, particularly primary characters that are essential elements to the larger story and to the brand beyond the comic.   

How did you land a job at Mattel? What is your history with Masters of the Universe?

Graduating with a BA in fine art-Toy Design, I first got into Mattel as a, you guessed it, toy designer.  I got to work on a ton of brands such as Max Steel, Batman, Pixar Cars and others both big and small--  some designing toys, others designing and creating new characters and worlds which led me to Playground Productions and Masters of the Universe.

My history with the brand started during my childhood.  I think I was about 10 years of age when the Evil Horde abducted me to the Fright Zone.  Not a complaint.  

Around that time I got my first He-Man and Skeletor action figure but after some years of begging, was finally elevated through the ranks of the Evil Horde when I was given the ultimate Masters of the Universe toy: The Eternia playset.  The three-tower one.  At the time it was taller than me, and nothing was ever the same after that. By the way, I still have that playset, mint, safely guarded.

The MOTU toys were amazing, of course, but it was also the box art that captivated me and catapulted my affinity for the brand.  I used the art as the epic background for all my adventures with the He-Man toys. Both the box art and the toy inspired me to become a toy designer and an artist. 

Who decides which characters will get a redesign? And is that only for comic book or other media as well?

There are a few strategic points that inform which characters will get a redesign and aside from marketing needs, it’s really a story driven decision, especially in the comics, that is managed by Rob David our head writer in Playground Productions.

Rob has been involved in the comic’s story from the beginning, and starting with issue #13, the King Grayskull issue and through the Eternity War, he has been doing a great job writing outlines for each issue, laying out the story scene by scene, beat by beat, and inspiring new designs and even new characters when the story demands it.  We have a great collaborative dynamic with the comics and discuss in depth what new designs will best bring the story to life. Rob has really propelled the MOTU story forward for fans like me.  

Each medium for the MOTU property, be it publishing, entertainment content, toys, licensing, has its own criteria and strategic plans so it definitely varies project to project which always determines the choice for new designs and characters.  

Are there any restrictions when redesigning characters?

Yes, for the most part we always maintain source material with our characters (not really a restriction), which is very important for both Mattel as an intellectual property but also for horde-core fans (yes, horde-core). With the extensive history of the brand I know that there are key elements each character needs to retain, such as blonde hair, power sword, armor and muscles for He-Man, despite how far the story can take them.  

Can you tell us more about the direction and style that Mattel (or you) wanted to accomplish with the comic redesigns?

Mattel intends to keep the brand fresh for new audiences but also never forget the fans, who keep it alive.  That means honoring the past but not being confined by it.  Marketing set up a great point of being ‘Nostalgic but not retro’ when it comes to new expressions of MOTU.  I like the idea of He-Man and the Masters being timeless.  For the designs, I wanted to really key in part of the history for each characters’ variations.


He-Man for example has had a handful of outfits not only from the 80’s toys but also through his later version from the 200X series.  In all the interpretations he has always retained key attributes and looked awesome being the most powerful man in the universe.

Transformation is part of He-Man’s DNA; he literally calls upon the power of Grayskull to change himself drastically, so he is not meant to stay in one form forever.  Also, technology is ever advancing, even on Eternia, so knowing that our brand is comprised of barbarian, magic and technology elements, it’s fascinating to explore many different ways those three elements can mash together.

He-Man has now had three different designs in the comics so far. Are you always trying to find ways to improve the designs one after another?

I’m always exploring limits on how far He-Man’s design can be pushed without losing the identity of the character.  For the last two versions of He-Man I was inspired by his design heritage.  I looked at Battle Armor He-Man (the iconic ‘H’ on his chest), Thunder Punch He-Man (his all-tech vest), Snake-Armor He-Man (tech armored leg), his boots, armored bracelets, key color palette and of course the fur.  All the elements that kept the barbarian, magic and tech motif alive but showed us variations of the same theme, knowing full well that it’s never the armor that makes the man, it’s the He-Man that makes the armor.

One main thing that we wanted to achieve was giving He-Man a symbol that was not only iconic, like his iron cross, but would be something that was ownable and carried a heavy story element.  Rob developed a mythology around Zoar and in our discussions wanted an icon that would represent not only Zoar, but the power of Grayskull and tie into the legacy of the brand.  With that, I was inspired by the ‘H’ symbol on one He-Man’s first variants, which I combined to also resemble the Zoar falcon and ultimately represent He-Man’s power.

Beyond He-Man I extended the icon to my She-Ra and BattleCat redesigns and we carried it over to Swiftwind so that for the first time, they were truly twins of power and united visually in one common mythology. 

The big question.... Will we see He-Man using his original armor at some point? Or is it stored somewhere in Castle Grayskull?


Should we expect a new armor for He-Man or She-Ra in the future?

We will have to wait and see what other secret weapons the Fires of Eternity hold. Wait until you see He-Skeletor … or Son of She-Ra … ;) kidding.  

Who is your favorite character?

Even though I was raised by Hordak, King Hssss has been my favorite--The Evil in disguise.  He is unique to the MOTU world and with the new story twists for this character, he is that much more of a monster.  He can be anyone, even you.  

Were there any elements in the original designs that you felt were lacking?

The designs have always been awesome and unique to each character.  I liked how He-Man and Skeletor had many variations but they were all great (Terror Claw Skeletor was particularly amazing).  It’s important to know that all the Masters are iconic and legacy, otherwise none of us would be here talking or even reading about this.  We always have to honor that.

Which is your favorite redesign so far and what character would you like to tackle?

I am most proud of my Despara design.  Not only because it’s She-Ra under the Evil Horde theme (so I’m partial), but because it tells a larger story just with the design of the character and I hope fans like it too.

I enjoyed working on new designs for the rest of the characters, like Snake Sorceress, Captain of the Guard Teela and Horokoth Hordak for the same reasons, and seeing how all the artists interpreted and added their artistic touch to them was great.

Any character redesign is always a fun challenge, but getting a chance to redesign Multi-bot, Webstor, Spikor or even the Evil Horde Slime Pit would be great!

What character has been the most challenging?

Each character design posed its own unique challenge. Especially He-Man.  He represents the brand and is the true Master of the Universe. We know how precious each Masters character is to fans and to me as well, so retaining key elements, color palette and telling a visual story was critical.  

Hordak's new redesign was recently shown. And he is now sporting a helmet. Can you tell more about the choices in regards to that?

For Hordak, or Horokoth Hordak as Rob calls him, I wanted a dark sinister Medieval look to him.  Gothic Medieval like his Fright Zone.  We needed the equivalent of He-Man to Hordak when he calls upon the power of Grayskull, which meant he needed to transform.   I not only took his signature grey, red, black color palette and story as guidelines, but also the history of Hordak with other related characters such as Horde Prime.

The helmet makes him look more powerful and menacing, evocative of his father Horde Prime, in this comic storyline, who represents majesty and the highest order of the Evil Horde.  Also, Hordak’s iconic bat symbol on his chest was evolved to also become part of his signature cowl silhouette. 

In the cover of He-Man The Eternity War #6 we see He-Man as an older King character. With what looks to be Teela by his side, in outfits known to us from the Masters of the Universe Classics line. How much are the designs in MOTUC at effect for the DC version of He-Man? Since the DC story clearly is its own canon.

I am definitely mindful of and trying to bring in existing looks from our Masters while also pushing redesigns for others, depending on story but also adhere to the fact that this is a multiverse.  There’s past, present and future colliding together—there’s Barbarian, magic and technology coexisting at the same time. Different versions of MOTU can stand side-by-side with parallel dimensions, alternate realities and crossed futures … each honoring the other.  
Thank you very much!

Thank you again for the opportunity, this has been a blast.  We all have the Power.

Special Thanks to Sebastian Vogl, Rene Chavez, Joseph Rodriguez and Danielle Gelehrter for additional questions. 

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