In what has become an annual act of charity by the fantastic bunch of guys (and amazing artists), the Four Horsemen, Samuron and I were able to catch up with sculptor-extraordinaire Eric Treadaway for an in-depth Comic Conversation. We will be bringing you the view from where it all begins covering topics such as Masters of the Universe, DC, Fantastic Exclusive, sculpting and what it is like running a business that just happens to be a premier design studio. This is a multi-part conversation and to start it all off we will have some introduction, some Masters of the Universe and a “day in the life of Horseman”. C’mon in a check it out!
Fwoosh: Eric, we know that your Comic Con schedule is generally packed, so we appreciate the time you can take to talk with us.
Eric Treadaway: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
F: We are chatting of course, with Mr. Eric Treadaway, one of the primary sculptors from the Four Horsemen, but also designer, MOTU expert…
ET: Haha, yeah.
F: Are you still painting?
ET: A little bit, a little bit, not as much. We have a full time painter, now, and she makes my life a lot easier. We were getting so busy, trying to juggle the sculpting and the painting for me, it just became impossible.
F: You guys are doing so much.
ET: Because I was getting to the point where I was painting more than I was sculpting, which just wasn’t working with the flow of figures that we were supposed to be doing. That’s just one improvement that we have been able to do in the shop in the past couple of years, so it really helps.
F: I guess that’s kind of good for our lead in, how’s the workload for you guys right now? I mean, every year, I think we ask you this. Are you guys at maximum capacity now, can you possibly do anymore? You always say that you are still okay, but with some of the cryptic announcements made at the DC panel, with some of the stuff that is getting ready to go, how is your bandwidth feeling at this point?
ET: It’s always tight, but we have a lot of resources, and a lot of flexibility, so we’re always willing to take what comes our way. For example, we used to only have one guy doing molding and casting, we’ve got two guys full time molding and casting now. Now we have a full time painter, so that allows more time for me to sculpt. We have additional sculptors that we bring in and help us out with finishing pieces up, with matching and stuff like that. So, we can take whatever is thrown our way, they always such cool projects, we’re not going to turn our back on anything.
F: Right, so, I don’t know if you have a typical day, with what you do, but let’s say when you are starting a sculpt on something, or you’re doing research for it, what’s the creative process that you go through from the R&D part to finishing it up? Because I don’t think we’ve ever really had a chance to talk to you about your actual process as far as that goes. Do you have one?
ET: I suppose loosely, of course, but each project is different. You know when we are designing something ourselves it’s one type of a process. If it’s something that has existed for thirty years, it’s a different process. With Masters and with DC, it’s somewhat similar because they are things that have been around for a long time. Doing research is always the first part of it. With Masters, it’s a matter of going back and looking, for me, pulling the original figure out of my little suitcase of figures, smelling the old plastic smell, kinda getting in the zone with it. Also with Masters, we look for any old concept art that was available on the specific subject, the mini-comic art, what happened in Filmation, what was on the backs of the package, fronts of the package, just take a look at everything that was out there for it, even what we did in 2002; I just kind of look at the history of what has happened with that character. For the most part, the figures are based on the original toys, but that’s where we can get those little Easter eggs and extras that we find to put in there, and it gives it that little something extra that makes it more than just a reproduction of the original.
With DC, it’s a similar type of process except you are looking through old comics and 2D artwork, and of course, if it was a Superpowers figure or Mego figure or something like that, we always go back and take a look. We like to look and see what our favorite versions of the characters are, what the fan’s favorite versions of the character are. And also, if we’ve started a certain look, say with the Metal Men, we want to go consistent between all those, so we wouldn’t want to get to Lead and do a super-modern version of the character when the other ones are that more kind of retro look to them, just the way the faces are done and the details and things like that. So that’s always the first part, and that’s where a lot of the fun is, because if it’s a character you haven’t thought about in awhile, or even if you didn’t really know it that well in the first place, you can get acquainted with the character and get into it and it’s just a little fun process for each one. It also gets you excited about the character, so even if it was not one – because that is something that people have asked us before, obviously every character can’t be our favorite character. So how do you try to keep up the level even and that’s kind of where it comes from, by just reading the history and looking through all of it, you pick up what makes that character special and why that character is somebody’s favorite character out there. You go through that little process and that is how we can keep it as consistent as possible. Of course, there are certain characters that, if you’ve been thinking about that character for thirty years, you’re bound to have a few ideas of your own that you may not have on something else.
F: Haha, is there anything specific you’re alluding to that you can talk about as far as that goes?
ET: Well you know, with Masters of the Universe, there are certain characters that were my favorites, and I always talk about Mer-Man with the [card back] head…
F: He’s still my favorite figure in the line.
ET: Nice, thank you – he’s definitely one of mine too. So there was just that sort of experience of being disappointed as a kid and now, having the chance to correct it all this time later, something like that, there’s just no way to reproduce that in a short span of time, it’s just not possible.
ET: But, for the most part everything else we can keep at a pretty even level. It’s the same thing with DC. A lot of my love for the character, especially the New Gods, is from the SuperPowers days, and so with certain characters, there’s just no way they are going to top Darkseid for me or Kalibak or whatever, so that’s where the research part is and then after that it’s just literally sitting down with the clay and just diving into it. Just making sure that it works within the system of existing parts, again, making sure that I’ve found the right reference, I’m going with that specific look of character and really matching up what I’m looking for there. Just making it look as cool as possible, and also, in the sculpting phase it’s important to think about what’s going to happen with the paint too, you have to do a lot of that. Certain characters, like a lot of the Green Lanterns, the way they are drawn out, they have all the raised piping on the costumes and things like that, and so we have to think about things like if we’re using an existing smooth buck body, I can’t do a forearm with piping on it and have it stop on the elbow joint, and then go to nothing. Sometimes you have to think about clever ways to fade the newly sculpted pieces into the old. Sometimes it is just straight sculpting to make it look good, but then there are all those practical applications that we have to think about too. And then after that, it goes to the molding and casting phase and that’s Shane and Owen, and then to painting, Jim and our painter Sherry. Jim does a lot of the base coating and gets things started and then Sherry comes in at the end and she does all of the airbrushing and detailing and the portraits and things like that. And then it goes to photography, CB usually takes care of the photography, and also back more in the sculpting phase, any of the weapons, accessories, anything that’s mechanical, CB does all of that, Jim does some of that too, although again, the painting load has become so heavy, Jim has switched more and more to painting as the years have gone by. Then it’s back to CB, he does the photography and we have to send it off for approvals, and then you get into the more administrative end of it, which I guess a typical day for us also involves that.
So some days, it may be where you come to the studio in the morning and sit on the computer until lunchtime answering emails or billing, answer questions on the internet. CB does all of the Storehorsemen stuff, so when you are asking about workload, it’s not only the physical workload of making toys, but as the business has grown and the years have gone on, there’s more and more administrative things that we deal with, so to anybody out there that’s emailing us and we’re slow on getting answers back to you or answering phone calls, that is why.
F: Almost time for a business manager, yeah?
ET: It may have been time for that 5 years ago, haha.
F: So what was it like actually going a step further and creating a Masters character?
ET: It started off as one of the most stressful design projects that I had ever done.
F: Did the responsibility of an original Masters character come in on you?
ET: Heavily, heavily. Because I’ve been a fan since I was 9 years old, so that is a lot of thought about Masters of the Universe to pile up and then put into one singular figure. And, designing characters is something that I do all the time, it’s one of my favorite things to do, it comes somewhat naturally at this point because it’s just kind of the way I have trained my mind to think. This was just a complete roadblock, just a dead stop. And so, I had to think about the formula of what makes a good Masters of the Universe character, because one of the things was that I didn’t have a character in my back pocket from the time that I was a kid. I know a lot of people did, they had that drawing that they entered into the contest or that they had always wanted to see, I didn’t really have that. I guess Masters inspired a lot of things for me, but I was happy with the characters for the most part, so I wasn’t trying to make one up. So, I had to sit down and think about what I loved about the characters and why it was so special and what made it work. And at one point, I got very caught up in all the double entendre names and all of that.
F: It can almost be restricting basing the character off the name.
ET: Right, and that screwed me up a lot! Because I got too wrapped up in it, and then, I was thinking about the history of Masters and the era that I first discovered it and what I loved the most about Masters. The first eight figures didn’t have that stuff going on. In all of the early concept it was “Something”- Man. Like originally Stratos was Wing Man, Demo-Man, He-Man, Man at Arms, Mer-Man, Beast Man, then something clicked at that point. I just threw the whole catchy name thing to the side, and once that happened I was ready to go, it’s amazing how much that messed me up. I was thinking of two things at that point. One is that first series, it took a very iconic theme or creature or genre or whatever and dropped it into this universe, and that is part of what made Masters so cool and that original back of the package. You had Man-at-Arms as kind of a military guy, He-Man was a barbarian, Teela was a warrior goddess. You had a gorilla guy, a skeleton guy, a space guy, a fish man. It was all in one line, it was just too cool. Then I started going through what was iconic – REALLY iconic, not something decent, it had to be iconic.
F: Right, like Clawful is an awesome He-man character, but when you think of He-Man, maybe the first thing that would go along with it is not a crab when you are creating a character.
ET: Right, but a guy with a hooded skull as your bad guy, that is as, I mean, that is a symbol for evil, just straight up. That is tough to beat, maybe a devil head, and I don’t know that Mattel would have been too happy with a devil head. I don’t know, you know, it’s a collector line, so these days, maybe so. But then I finally came across a dragon and that kind of came about because one of the things that I wanted in Masters, as happy as I was with it, was every time a new series was coming out, I was waiting for it to have a guy with bat wings. Whether it be a gargoyle, a demon, dragon, whatever. It never happened, there wasn’t a flying bad guy, so that clicked in my head because, although I never drew anything up like that, that was the one thing that I kept waiting for, and then I realized there was never a dragon figure and then I was shocked, because how was there never a dragon figure in a fantasy based barbarian line. Then, at that point it just clicked, with the whole fire theme, we had to do the shared parts, and that part was really fun because I actually casted up a bunch of parts and I was mixing and matching. I think it’s like playing in a toy box and just figuring out what the best combination was, and then it all just came together. By the time I got to the sculpting phase, then it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever sculpted, I had a blast at that point, once the stress part was out of the way. It was a lot to think about and a lot of work but in the end it’s so rewarding and such a cool thing now.
F: Well, Scott let us know, because we just talked to him, that Draego Man is an evil warrior.
F: I mean, coming from you, was there ever any doubt that you were going to do an evil character for this?
E: No, absolutely not. There was no doubt that it would be a monster and there was no doubt that it would be evil. Absolutely, I had no question about it. So, it was cool because Scott, he set it up so that I got to name the character, I got to write the bio, I got to pick the affiliation. CB and I worked together on figuring out the whole weapons scheme for it, and how we were going to get all that stuff to work. So, it was just fun literally creating not only just the figure, but a character that can now be part of Masters of the Universe history.
ET: It’s pretty amazing. If you would have told me that when I was 9 or 10 years old, I don’t know if I would have believed you. I don’t think I would have realized the gravity of it at that point either, but yeah, nothing’s better.
F: Kind of speaking towards your love of the monstrous, evil characters, and obviously with guys like Whiplash, that comes out, just in spades, the love that goes in here. At the reveals, they showed a lot of female figures actually, do those present their own challenges or a different thought process when you jump in and make a shift from a guy like Draego Man then all the sudden boom, you are sculpting one of the Star Sisters or something like that?
ET: It is absolutely a shift in thinking. It’s almost a different process entirely. Sculpting a female for me at least, I find it harder than sculpting a male. I find a male human harder than sculpting a monster. Sculpting a monster is the easiest, you can get away with a lot. I had a book when I was a kid called “How to Draw Monsters”. They had a little introduction in the beginning of it. One of the things it said is that nobody can ever tell you that you are wrong when you are drawing a monster because it’s coming from your own imagination. And, to a certain degree, unless you are doing a reproduction of Alien or Predator or something like that, it’s true. You just have a lot more freedom, you can be looser with it, you can make very bold sculpting choices very easily because you can put in heavy textures and all that type of stuff. It’s also, just in general, the more you are familiar with something, the easier your eye recognizes that it’s wrong; so a human, if a face is asymmetrical or something is out of place, it’s much easier to pick up on that than if a scale is out of place on a dragon head or something like that.
F: They got knocked the head, or that is a feature.
ET: I can say, no, that is how it is on Eternia. So it is a different process and a female has more delicate features, it’s a lot more subtlety, usually a lot smoother. You know in Masters especially, the costumes, well especially Princess of Power, the with the costumes there’s a lot of, you know – it’s cleaner, it’s smoother, so it is a different process and you have to flex a different sculpting muscle to get that done. But as far as the reveals go, there was a huge gap where we were really not putting as many females in as we could. And it wasn’t really, a specifically planned thing, it just worked out that way. Also, there was a point where we were trying to redevelop the new buck for the female. Because there were, we had the best intentions with that original female body, but a few things didn’t work out, of course also, we learned along the way a lot of things that people would like to see.
F: Well, just on that original body, I have to say that after having Catra, which she is one of my favorite figures because she uses that original base body, but with some of the engineering changes and material changes that production made, that body does a lot that people were convinced that it couldn’t do when it’s wearing a rigid costume.
ET: Right, I mean it is closer to what the original concept for it was. The only real difference is that the joint on the inside on the original prototype, it was a full ball joint. So it could twist, it could move up and down, it could move side to side, so if it would have worked, in theory, it would have been more articulated than the male body was. So, the intention was there, the reality was not. We had to look at a way, and also the female costumes are very different from the male costumes, most of the males are shirtless or wearing an armor or showing a lot of skin. Since most of the females are Princess of Power a lot of them are wearing more like the…
F: More like a bodice type?
ET: Yeah, or like the full spandex uniform, whatever, so we had to think a little bit differently about it. And you know, you have to use it between all of the different characters, so there’s a lot to take in there. So, we had a list of all the things we knew that we needed to address, and so we were really excited to finally getting around to fixing that body. So we were so happy to bring it out here and show it off. And then, if I’m not mistaken, there were seven female reveals this year, and you know, some of them were biggies. You had the Sorceress, Shadow Weaver…
F: The Star Sisters had never been done before.
ET: The Star Sisters were huge, it’s cool that it’s a three pack, and it’s got Glory Bird with them. They are somewhat obscure, I think they were on one episode of the original cartoon, they were never made as a toy. So, a lot of cool stuff going on with that, and plus that one was fun for us too, because it’s so, feminine. They instantly bring something new to the line that was lacking before, not just that they are girls, but their costumes and palette were so geared towards a girl’s line, it was a fun experience bringing them into the fell of Classics. The colors were big, because when we were doing the paints, we were mixing clear lavender gems, we were mixing lavenders, we were mixing pinks, we were mixing powder blues, we were putting glitter into plastic. This is stuff that doesn’t come along often. And at the same time, we were doing Swiftwind, so again, we were painting all of these pinks and blues and golds. And so, it was fun, because girl toys are something that we have never done.
F: Well, amazingly, like I mentioned to you before, Jewelstar’s cape, with the iridescent thing, that effect is fantastic. But, you are right, you are taking these lavenders and light blues and pinks that are on winged horses and whatnot, but every bit of it now feels cohesive and completely natural to half naked He-Man and Whiplash standing right down the shelf. It’s kind of amazing how the idea of the line, being so all over the place, plus the design work that you guys put in it, it makes this hodgepodge of things that should not work together, just come together and stick.
ET: Well, that really speaks to the genius of Masters of the Universe. I mean, that is to me, probably the greatest thing about it is, again, it’s everything thrown in. There is no limitation, there is no limitation, so there are cute little guys like Orko and Imp and Kowl, you have got the girliest of girl figures, you’ve got bad ass warrior Amazon princesses, you’ve got…
F: Chicks with scorpion tales?
ET: Oh man, Scorpia. I promise you she will be a killer figure. You have got naked barbarians, you’ve got monsters, you’ve got military guys.
F: Super tech…
ET: Cowboys, ninjas and it all works and with this line, where you are even able to take it and merge it further because we can take those new Protectors characters which, they were always cool figures to me, they just weren’t Masters of the Universe. But you take those exact same designs and put them on the same body, all the sudden, they are perfect as Masters of the Universe characters.
*We want to extend our dearest thanks to Eric for being such a great sport and taking the time to talk shop with us. Come back soon for Part II where we will continue our Masters talk and foray into many Multiple-Earths!