Ralph McQuarrie Dies at 82
If his name doesn’t ring any bells, seeing his work certainly should. Ralph McQuarrie started his career as a technical illustrator for the aviation giant Boeing, occasionally designing film posters and dabbling in animation for CBS News’s coverage of the Apollo space program working for a three man company dubbed, approproately, Reel Three. Sometime in the early 70s, a young USC film graduate named George Lucas learned of his work and met with him to do some work on a fantasy space opera rolling around in his mind. In 1975, Lucas hired McQuarrie to conceptualize several scenes from his script and history was made.
Even if, heaven forbid, Star Wars isn’t your thing, McQuarrie’s illustrations became visual template by which many of the most famouse science fiction films and televisions shows. Star Trek, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Battlestar Galactica all had McQuarrie’s designs to guide their visuals. McQuarrie inspired several generations of artists in dozens of fields and, according to Lucas, had a hand in inspiring the actors: “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’.”
On a more personal note, Star Wars has been such a major inspiration in my own life, due largely in part to McQuarrie’s artwork. His visions of other worlds and other-worldly creatures sparked my own imagination as a child and even now I find it hard to take my eyes off of his work. He seemed not to not to paint with acrylics and a brush, but with light itself. I’ve included a selection of images below. You can find hundreds more by visiting http://www.ralphmcquarrie.com.
McQuarrie retired shortly before pre-production on Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace began, turning down the offer Rick McCallum reached out with, quoting that he had simply “run out of steam”.
McQuarrie died at the age of 82 on March 3, 2012 in his Berkley, California home. His art will surely live on.