FROM THIN AIR TO AMAZEBALLS: THE CONCEPTUAL DRAWINGS OF RALPH MCQUARRIE

(Another fond memory of my youth is a birthday party a young Dirty Donny had where his parents pulled out all the stops and had a Star Wars themed party.  Us kids fucking loved that movie when it came out (as did the rest of the world), and Donny’s parents were able to get the film on fucking Laser Disc – yeah, Laser Disc.  The thing looked like an LP that slipped into this future box and played the movie better than we had ever seen it before.  We ate cake (which I think was Star Wars themed too), yelled a bunch, and then watched the fuck out of our favorite movie.  In part 2 of our podcast with Dirty Donny, he speaks about being influenced by a few different artists, including the amazing work of Ralph McQuarrie.  This amazing artist illustrated all of the concept art for Star Wars, including Darth Vader.  Jeebus, that’s awesome.  Here’s what we found on the interweb about this wicked wizard of space art. – FATS)

Ralph Angus McQuarrie was an American conceptual designer and illustrator. In his career worked on the original Star Wars trilogy, the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Cocoon, for which he won an Academy Award.

io78_p4_2_bgImpressed with his work, director George Lucas met with him to discuss his plans for a space-fantasy film. Several years later, in 1975, Lucas commissioned McQuarrie to illustrate several scenes from the script of the film, Star Wars. McQuarrie designed many of the film’s characters, including Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO and drew many concepts for the film’s sets.  It was McQuarrie who suggested that Vader wear a breathing apparatus. McQuarrie’s concept paintings, including such scenes as R2-D2 and C-3PO arriving on Tatooine, helped convince 20th Century Fox to fund Star Wars, which became a huge success upon release in 1977.  Neil Kendricks of The San Diego Union-Tribune stated McQuarrie “holds a unique position when it comes to defining much of the look of the “Star Wars” universe.” McQuarrie noted, “I thought I had the best job that an artist ever had on a film, and I had never worked on a feature film before. […] I still get fan mail — people wondering if I worked on Episode I or just wanting to have my autograph.”

Around the same period, he was brought on board the design team of Star Trek: Planet of the Titans to re-design the USS Enterprise. McQuarrie went on to work as the conceptual designer on the film’s two sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).

early_vaderChristian Blauvelt of Entertainment Weekly praised McQuarrie’s works as “pioneering of the ‘used future’ aesthetic” which unlike other science-fiction, “imagined a lived-in galaxy that was gritty, dirty, and in advance states of decay.” He described McQuarrie’s style as “strongly geometric subjects rendered in muted colors against a flat, purposefully compressed backdrop. A McQuarrie Star Wars design looks like what would have resulted if Salvador Dalí had sketched concepts for Universals 1936 Flash Gordon serial by way of Sergio Leones Old West.”

McQuarrie played the uncredited role of General Pharl McQuarrie in The Empire Strikes Back. He appears in Echo Base on Hoth in the film’s opening sequence.  An action figure in his likeness as “General McQuarrie” was produced for Star Wars 30th anniversary. Action figures based on McQuarrie’s concept art, including conceptual versions of the Imperial Stormtrooper, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and other characters have also been made.

McQuarrie designed the alien ships in Steven Spielberg’s films Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), while his work as the conceptual artist on the 1985 film Cocoon earned him the Academy Award for Visual Effects. He also worked on the 1978 TV series Battlestar Galactica, and the films Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and *batteries not included.

ec2f4503892b6505f506df516869bbd7Rick McCallum offered McQuarrie a role as designer for the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but he rejected the offer, noting he had “run out of steam” and Industrial Light & Magic animator Doug Chiang was appointed instead. McQuarrie retired and his Star Wars concept paintings were subsequently displayed in art exhibitions, including the 1999 Star Wars: The Magic of Myth.  Several of McQuarrie’s unused designs from the original trilogy were utilized for the Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels animated TV series, including the planet Orto Plutonia, which was based on McQuarrie’s original design of Hoth, and the characters Zeb Orrelios and Chopper, based on his original designs for Chewbacca and R2-D2, respectively.

McQuarrie died aged 82 on March 3, 2012, in his Berkeley, California home, from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He is survived by his wife Joan.

chewwarforeternitysketchesLucas commented after McQuarrie’s death: “His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘do it like this’.”