Friday, December 31, 2010

By the Power of Grayskull!!!

-By Dan dos Santos

Between 1983 and 1984, an amazing thing happened to U.S. television. Programs such as Transformers, Thundercats, Dungeons & Dragons, and Voltron were all released within 18 months of one another, forever changing the way a whole generation would think of cartoons.

Being a child at the time, these cartoons had a major influence on me, and I have no doubt that they helped spawn my interest in Fantasy Art.

All of the above mentioned titles were amazing.... but the king of them all had to be He-Man.

With 130 episodes, and an extensive line of toys that held as much importance as the cartoon itself, it's not surprising that this icon has lived on to spawn numerous movie remakes, and countless amounts of fan art.

Robert Lamb, who served as a writer and storyboard artist for the He-Man cartoon, has recently posted some wonderful scans of the original concept art for the show on his website. Now, as far as I know, these scans are not of Robert's work. He did storyboards. These images are scans of preliminary layouts that he found in the DUMPSTER behind Filmation Studios!!! Thank God someone had the sense to save these beautiful drawings.

Take a look at the numbers in the corner. The MU (Master of the Universe) stands for the episode in which the painted background would appear. The BG (background), denotes the number of the painting. By episode 24 (boarded out of sequence), they had already painted 241 different backgrounds! That's an amazing amount of work, especially since He-Man was one of the first cartoons to be produced directly for syndication, and required 65 completed episodes before even airing.

Being a Father of two boys, I still watch a lot of children's programming. I would conservatively estimate that about 75% of cartoons today aimed at children younger than 7 years old, are produced entirely digitally. Obviously, this has it's own merits, most notably efficiency. But it does instill in me a longing for hand-drawn animation, and new found appreciation for the massive amount of work that went into those old cartoons I loved so much.

You can see these pictures, and a bunch of others, including Robert's storyboard work at:

For those interested, all 33 episodes of Season 1 can be viewed for free on both YouTube and Hulu.


  1. Nostalgia slowly creeps in

  2. Great post! Totally agree on all points. I'm wary of echoing my dad and his dad before him by effectively uttering those immortal words 'Things were better in my day' but to hell with it... : ) - I think 80's cartoons (with a few exceptions) are absolutely hands down without question the best cartoons in the whole world ever! He-Man would totally kick a teletubbies ass and then tell you at the end why it was the morally right thing to do. I mean - 'Spongebob squarepants' whats that all about : ).

  3. Maaaan, these are fantastic. :) I had to go look at the rest of them and they brought back so many memories.

    Thanks for pointing out these gems!

  4. Word. Not only that, but as a dudette watching these in the 80s, I remember wanting to be as awesome and have that sort of control the heroines did during those shows as well. They were just as cool as the heroes instead of sparkly fashionably aware cut-outs.

  5. Oh Sh!T I loved this show back in the day. This brought back sooo many great memories. Even the he-man toy commercials were awesome. I was always a fan of the art on these shows. The backgrounds, design aesthetics and the color pallets always appealed to me.

  6. Not to be an asshole (can one possibly be a negative space? note to self: future post) Are you serious!? Better than Transformers, Thunder Cats, Silver Hawks, G.I. Joe, and ......ahem...Smurfs???? I'll have to politely disagree.

    However, these drawings are fantastic. What a great find Dan. Thanks for sharing.

    I remember the toys as well....AMAZING!!!! I totally miss being a kid. My internal clock was set to 8am on Saturday mornings.

    Does anyone remember "Dark Water"? so friggin gooooooood!!! If you haven't seen this 80's Cartoon intro Overloads's mandatory

  7. David,
    Awesome link! A few things I noticed. Man At Arms eyebrows are black and his mustache is red. Also aren't He-Man and She-Ra supposed to be siblings? What's up with their range in skin tones? Damn you Milk-Man, Master of Infidelity!!!!

  8. @Eric

    I never said it was BETTER... I am a hardcore Thundercats fan to the end!
    But I did call He-Man the 'King' of them all, simply because of his overall popularity (Both US and abroad) and longevity.
    I think it's pretty safe to say that at the show's peak, the He-Man franchise was worth more than all the other shows put together.

  9. I can neither confirm nor deny how safe that statement may be. Especially considering the longevity and resurgence of the Transformers franchise.

    Small factoid: While traveling in Bangkok, Thailand I discovered an animated series called "She-Man" I found quite interesting...but not overly priced.

  10. I also grew up watching He-Man and had plenty of the toys. Seriously, it was good fantasy AND science fiction. It's a shame that some animation scholars and even illustrators nowadays have slammed Filmation as putting out crappy work. Apparently they didn't see amazing talent like Mr. Lamb's efforts put into the show.

  11. @Max:

    I do think the quality of Filmation's work wasn't quite as good as it could have been, but that's understandable. Filmation's He-Man was the only big 80's cartoon produced entirely in the USA. Most of the others were outsourced to Asia, meaning a massive savings in time and money. To stay competitive, Filmation was forced to cut a lot of corners, including the use of stock animation for some of the sequences. Considering the workload and the tight budget, I think they did a pretty good job!

  12. @Eric:

    Given all the new Transformers films, I'm sure the franchise has out grossed He-Man by now.
    But if you relegate it's value to just the 1980's, I think He-Man has it beat.

    I can't find any info on what the Transformers Franchise was worth back then...
    But He-Man supposedly made over $1.2 Billion worldwide during it's six year run.

  13. I cannot believe these were found in a DUMPSTER!! D:

    What is wrong with people? Thanks for sharing this story, Dan. I remember having He-Man toys growing up and how all other cartoons followed in kind. It was a truly great era for shows for kids. I myself was a TMNT buff and very vividly remember drawing them most of the time in my younger years (with way too many extra muscles of course). I often wonder if shows from the 80's would be deemed too violent for today's children. Makes me sad, we turned out just fine. ...right? .......anybody? ::cricket::

  14. @Eric Braddock:

    Actually, now that I've re-watched those old cartoons,
    I really don't think they were very violent at all.
    Most of it is implied.

    The most violent cartoons in my opinion...
    Looney Tunes.
    Yosemite Sam used to shoot everyone in the face, repeatedly.

  15. Think I just OD'd on those Cartoon overload link(s) :) They've definitely just become a permanent part of my personal cheer-up rainy day strategy (along with watching First Blood, Big Trub, Predator, and eating lots of Pancakes). The sheer driving 'Spirit' behind those cartoons is incredible, I'm well psyched - Really great stuff!

    P.S - E.F's got a point about the Smurfs.

    He-Man was a close number 2 though.
    Great find Dan!

    Also, I live in Nashville and I've never heard of Robert Lamb, but by looking at his Client list (most are Nashville based) I feel compelled to reach out to him and talk about story boarding as that is a career path I'd like to try my hand at a bit. It's too bad he has no contact info on his site. Just makes me have to work a bit harder contacting him. lol

    double thanks for the heads up on both fronts.

  17. Hey Eric...I remember Pirates of Dark Water. It was an amazie serialized cartoon, that had characters that even used their own languages. They had a series of "curse" words they would let fly... "Chungo Longo" "Je-taten Foul!" That along raised the bar. The plot was incredible and I felt like I was along for the journey. That show lasted a season and a half... why? why!!!!

    I am one of the biggest GI JOE fans ever and had I written this article I would have claimed GI JOE was the best, and had the biggest line of toys. I totally see what Dan is saying, its a matter of opinion is all. He Man was great, and I enjoyed the 2000 version even better and bought lots of those toys. Skeletor is one of my favorite cartoon baddies too!

  18. Glad everybody likes the art. I don't know why these were tossed either. After that discovery I checked the old dumpster frequently, but never found such a treasure as that folder of layouts.

    ThinkBaker, I revamped my website some months ago and didn't realize I dropped my contact info. Thanks for the heads up. Drop me a note at

    Rob Lamb