Ralph McQuarrie was a true visionary

Ralph McQuarrie, artist, born June 13, 1929; died March 3. 2012

Ralph McQuarrie was born in Gary, Indiana and survived a bullet to the head in the Korean War, either of which could have prevented him from becoming the most influential concept artist of modern science fiction. He brought to life the original Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Raiders of Lost Ark, Battlestar Galactica and Cocoon, among others.

In fact, George Lucas’s Star Wars script was flat out rejected by movie studios until he had McQuarrie’s amazing paintings to display the grand vision of his universe. McQuarrie originated the look of many of the iconic characters, spacecraft and unique locations.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of such a visionary artist and such a humble man. Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars. His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled 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.’

“Beyond the movies, his artwork has inspired at least two generations of younger artists—all of whom learned through Ralph that movies are designed. Like me, they were thrilled by his keen eye and creative imagination, which always brought concepts to their most ideal plateau. In many ways, he was a generous father to a conceptual art revolution that was born of his artwork, and which seized the imaginations of thousands and propelled them into the film industry. In that way, we will all be benefiting from his oeuvre for generations to come. Beyond that, I will always remember him as a kind and patient, and wonderfully talented, friend and collaborator.”

—George Lucas

“Darth, R2-D2 and all of that came out of those first three or four weeks in early 1975,” said McQuarrie. “George gave me a script and I went away for a while. He said, ‘Do what interests you.’ It was like hearing music and seeing what you hear.”

When Spielberg asked him to design the mothership for the climax of Close Encounters, the artist drew on a dream from years earlier, in which he had seen an awe-inspiring spacecraft with pipes and stairways jutting out from its underside. Spielberg turned that concept on its head, so that the protuberances were now crowded onto the top of the ship like a tightly-packed metropolis.

McQuarrie often relied on the unconscious part of his mind to generate inspiration. “I used to try squeezing work out, but it’s like toothpaste in a tube that will only come out so fast … There’s no point pounding my brain – the best thing I can do is collect my thoughts as soon as I’m told what’s needed. Then I lie down and let it gel unconsciously. I sort of semi-sleep, and somewhere along the way of going to sleep or coming out of it, I get exactly what I need – it’s just there, rising like the bubbles in champagne from somewhere inside.”

– Excerpt from The Guardian

Here is one of many tributes I found that show some of his paintings…

There are also some great interviews and galleries at www.ralphmcquarrie.com

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