Ralph McQuarrie (June 13, 1929 – March 3, 2012)

Ralph McQuarrie - Hoth

One of Sci-Fi Arts true legends Ralph McQuarrie has sadly passed away aged 82, Ralph was the visionary concept artist and illustrator responsible for the look and feel of the original Starwars trilogy . Born and raised in Gary Indiana, Ralph moved to California in the 60’s where he was first employed as a technical llustrator for Boeing. Ralph left in 1965 before becoming a commercial artist and designer working on a variety of projects such as these film posters. At the end of the 60’s as part of a three man team he animated US TV network CBS’s coverage of Nasa’s Apollo space programme this can be seen here (would love to see more of this). Not too long afterwards McQuarrie was approached by George Lucas to discuss plans for a certain sci-Fi fantasy film…

McQuarrie was commissioned by Lucas in 1975, and immediately set out creating concepts for characters, vehicles, set paintings, backdrops etc, these would of course evolve into some of cinema’s most recgonisable and loved Icons. Here’s a great quote from Ralph:

“I just did my best to depict what I thought the film should look like, I really liked the idea. I didn’t think the film would ever get made. My impression was it was too expensive. There wouldn’t be enough of an audience. It’s just too complicated. But George knew a lot of things that I didn’t know.”

Against all odds, Lucas armed with McQuarrie’s wonderful paintings finally managed to twist 20 Century Fox’s arm into comissioning the project, filming in Tunisia would start shortly afterwards. McQuarrie carried on with the Trilogy, working on both sequels, examples of which I’ve included here. Interestingly (I didn’t know this) Ralph also has a uncredited, non speaking part in The Empire Strikes Back, you can see that here kinda funny as he walks across screen in front of one of his own matte paintings.

Though obviously most famous for his work on the Starwars universe, McQuarrie’s highly impressive reseme includes Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET, Battlestar Galactica, Close Encounters of The Third Kind and Cocoon, which earned him an Acadamy Award for visual effects in 1986.

Ralph McQuarrie Xwing

Ralph McQuarrie A-Wing

Above and at the head of post are a few of my favourite McQuarrie images, I love the way his imaginings are slightly more streamlined and delicate than the intricate models they became, wonderful stuff!

Here are a few links for futher reading, firstly some great interviews (dating back to 1978)  at http://www.ralphmcquarrie.com/interviews/index.html also at his site check through the portfolio sections, I’ll strive to track down some of McQuarrie’s lesser known work for future posting. Also check the Day of the Jedi, for broad collection of Starwars concept art.

Finally to end with here’s a great quote from his website:

His influence on design will be felt forever. There’s no doubt in our hearts that centuries from now amazing spaceships will soar, future cities will rise and someone, somewhere will say…

“that looks like something Ralph McQuarrie painted.”


13 thoughts on “Ralph McQuarrie (June 13, 1929 – March 3, 2012)”

  1. RIP Mc Quarrie.

    Fantastic work – Lucas gets so much credit but one look at this man’s work and you can see that without McQuarrie’s vision Star Wars might never have had the cultural impact it did.

    You don’t often see concept art that remains so intact in the transition to the screen but his hand is responsible for the look of Star Wars.

    It’s not surprising that he had nothing to do with the new ‘films’

    from the Wiki – “Initially he worked as a technical illustrator for Boeing, as well designing film posters and animating CBS News’s coverage of the Apollo space program at the three-man company Reel Three.”

  2. What artist interested in sci-fi today was not influenced directly or otherwise by Ralph’s stunning work! @Simon is spot on.. rarely does concept work make it intact to the screen or remain as dynamic after all this time. The story telling and composition within each frame speaks for itself and to his mastery.

    The Force was strong with this one.

  3. All I can do is agree with everything already posted here. I don’t think most people outside of either the art world or the ‘geekdom’ world have the slightest clue as to how wholly and fully Ralph’s work was responsible for the look and feel of the original trilogy Star Wars world and characters. In lesser hands, the visual expression of those characters, machines, and settings could have been anything from dull to embarrassingly awful.

    God bless Ralph, and I will wish his spirit well. What a true visionary.

  4. I read that Lucas gave tribute stating “When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this.”

    Seems a bit disingenuous and doesn’t give the full credit that McQuarrie deserves for actually solidifying Lucas’s (some would say woolly) concepts and the world-building that he did.

    As Robert Degenhart stated, without his concise visuals and draughtsmanship, it’s doubtful that the Star Wars universe would be as culturally prevalent as it is today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *