Ralph McQuarrie (June 13, 1929 – March 3, 2012)
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 illustrator 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 recognisable 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 commissioning 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 an uncredited, non speaking part in The Empire Strikes Back, you can see that here kinda funny as he walks across the 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 résumé 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.
Above and at the head of the 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 further 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.”