Today’s post is rather special to me. I’ve often expressed my fondness for the amazing artwork that is featured on 1980′s toy packaging. Looking back at the years ever since there is no doubt in my mind that toy packaging from the 1980′s was the coolest ever created! One of my absolute favourites of the era are those that were created for Galoob’s Blackstar toy line in 1983. I managed to track down the talented artist who was responsible for the amazing Blackstar artwork. His name is David B. Mattingly and it turns out he’s a really nice guy! He was so kind to grant me the honour of doing a short interview, which I will proudly share with you today.
“The Job of the Artist Is Always to Deepen the Mystery.”
The quote above is by artist Francis Bacon. It is a quote that is part of David’s email signature and I guess there are several ways you could interpret that quote. I cannot help but notice that this is exactly what the artwork on the Blackstar packaging does for me. It evokes a feeling of wonder and mystery within me that I find fascinating. It fleshes out the mysterious and mythical world of Blackstar and leaves enough room for your imagination to fill in the gaps. There is an almost magical quality to it.
Trobbit Wind Machine artwork – David B. Mattingly
I had wondered for a while who had done the amazing artwork on the Ice Castle and Blackstar Space Ship, because there was no signature anywhere on the packaging. However when I finally recently acquired a mint-in-box Trobbit Wind Machine for my collection I spotted David’s signature on the packaging and that’s when I finally had a name! After a quick Google search I had managed to get in touch with David. We had a pleasant email conversation and shortly after that he agreed to do a small interview! Here it is:
20TC: Your mentor was the talented Jack Leynnwood. How did you meet him and what was it like to work with him?
David: I wouldn’t describe Jack as my mentor–he was an excellent teacher at Art Center College of Design, and I had one class with him. I don’t remember exactly what the class was, but he was famous for his facility with gouache paint, and that is what he painted all of his model box covers with. He had an amazing ability to paint clouds in gauche, and I remember his demonstrations were mind blowing–everyone was trying to copy what he did, but with mixed results. I still like to paint in gouache when I do physical painting. Most people aren’t familiar with the medium, but it is a finely ground tempera, and can be handled both opaquely, and like watercolor.For the record, the man I consider to be my “mentor” is Harrison Ellenshaw, my boss at Walt Disney studios. He probably did more than anyone else to mold me as an artist.
Blackstar Space Ship artwork – David B. Mattingly
20TC: For which Blackstar toys did you do the art work?
David: I did the flyers, the balloon (The Trobbit Wind Machine -20TC), the castle (The Ice Castle -20TC) and the main logo that was used for the action figures. (David also did the Blackstar Space Ship -20TC)
20TC: How were you approached to do the art work for Galoob’s Blackstar toy line?
David: It’s kind of a funny story. I was called out of the blue by them, and I went in to talk to them. Sadly, the names of the designers I met with are lost in the mists of my memory. They had a short deadline on the project, and asked if I could paint like Boris Vallejo. I love Boris’s work, but I don’t think my work resembles it much. I had Boris’s telephone number, so I gave it to them, and suggested they call him. I went away, and figured I had talked myself out of the job. A day later, they called me back and said they wanted me to do it, in my style. I guess Boris was too busy, or couldn’t make the short deadline, so I agreed to do it. I worked really hard to meet their deadline, and that’s about all I can remember about the project.
Ice Castle artwork – David B. Mattingly
20TC: Can you tell us a little bit about the actual process of creating the various art works? E.g. what did you have to go by when creating the artwork? Was it the actual toys themselves and did the cartoon influence you at all? And how long did it take you to create the various works?
David: I was unfamiliar with the cartoon when I got the job, and I think I did see a couple of the shows. This was before I owned a VCR if memory serves. I got print outs of the animation, and they also gave me 2 resin maquettes of the dwarfs to use as reference, and I have kept them over the years. I’ll attach a photo of them in a follow up e-mail. I figured they must be valuable, since they are one of a kind. I think this is what the designers got from the manufacturer for approval, and they are unpainted.
Blackstar Trobbits – preproduction maquettes
20TC: What happened to the original paintings? Do you own them or does (the current owner of) Galoob?
David: To be frank, I don’t know what happened to the paintings. I think Galoob bought them, but I don’t own them any more.
The Digital Matte Painting Handbook – David B. Mattingly
20TC: What are you up to these days and what plans do you have for the future?
David: I continue to do book covers–I’ve now done several thousand covers over the course of my career. I also teach digital matte painting at School of Visual Arts and Pratt Institute in Manhattan, New York. I am the author of a how to book on digital matte painting, called “The Digital Matte Painting Handbook”, available on Amazon, or through the web site for the book:
I also do training videos on Lynda.com on digital matte painting. I have a new series that just went up, called “The Essentials of Digital Matte Painting”. Here is a link to it.
You can look at the first couple of them for free.
Thanks for your interest! It was a fun project.
I hope you enjoyed this short interview with David as it has given us some nice little insights into how his work for Galoob came to be. I can heartily recommend checking out The Digital Matte Painting Handbook if you are even remotely interested in the art of matte paintings, and while you’re at it check out the first free chapters at Lynda.com of his “The Essentials of Digital Matte Painting” !!
My sincerest thanks to David for the opportunity and his time to do this interview!
I will be doing an article on the Trobbit Wind Machine in the near future. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in reading about the wonderful Ice Castle (and see some more photos of David’s artwork for the Ice Castle packaging) you can check out post number 97. Have a great weekend!