Since I started this blog, I've been compiling a list of the top 100 concept artists in the industry. The hardest part was not coming up with number one, but number two. McQuarrie was the most well-known and influential concept artist ever. There are hundreds of amazing artists, but it's hard to think of anyone that came close to him.
Despite creating designs that inspired millions, he was still humble. He always described his design of Darth Vader as a fluke instead of a stroke of genius. He turned down creator George Lucas' offer to design for the prequels saying he didn't have any more "gas in the tank." He always took his greatness in stride.
I never had the honor of meeting him, but my greatest achievement on this blog is when one of his people contacted me saying they would pass my interview questions onto him. Just knowing he knew my blog existed is a huge honor.
Ralph Angus McQuarrie was born in the southeastern portion of the Chicago metropolitan area of Gary, Indiana on June 13, 1929. From a young age he was a lover of art thanks to his parents who were artists and helped him learn painting with watercolor and sketching. Fantasy and art were a life-long dream for him. While as a youth he worked in a logging camp and designed a fantasy logging truck. A bright student, while in high school, he learned technical drawing and that helped him get his first major job with Kaiser Graphics. From there he went to work at the Boeing Company. Here he illustrated the latest concepts in air and spacecraft and his graphic illustration was used for the televised coverage of NASA's Apollo lunar missions on CBS. His illustrations marked the first stages of man's exploration of space.
In 1965, he made a huge career move relocating to California. He set up a business in Venice Beach, California free-lancing in the film industry painting backgrounds for animation and artwork for movie posters.
It was ten years later, in 1975, that McQuarrie was introduced to a young director named George Lucas struggling to pursuade the executives at Fox to finance his science fiction fantasy called "The Star Wars." McQuarrie was working with Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins on an unproduced science-fiction film. The two had worked on Lucas' first feature film, "THX-1138," and they heard he was looking for a concept artist. McQuarrie collaborated with Lucas and came up with the look of the Star Wars film, bringing to life such creations as Chewbacca, lightsabers and Darth Vader.
"I just did my best to depict what I thought the film should look like, I really liked the idea," he said. "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."
From there he went on to design alien ships for Steven Spielberg's films Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and the alien for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). He won a Academy Award for the film Cocoon (1985). He also worked on the 1978 TV series Battlestar Galactica, and was consultant or concept artist for the films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, *batteries not included and Jurassic Park. His official website had the following statement:
It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the passing of Ralph McQuarrie.
People say you should never meet your heroes. Ralph was the exception to that rule. We were all fans of his amazing art long before we were blessed with his friendship. But once you got to know Ralph it was impossible not to become a fan of Ralph the man.
Ralph was a very special person for many more reasons than his undeniable brilliance with a brush. He was an especially kind, sensitive, deep, modest, funny and fascinating gentleman. And as fine a role model as any one could have wished for.
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."
June 13, 1929 - March 3, 2012
You created so many wonders that will always live in our hearts.
We'll miss you Ralph. You will forever be the brightest star in our galaxy.
If you would like to pay your respects in writing please visit Ralph's Facebook page or alternatively you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some tributes to McQuarrie that have been posted.
"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, Creator of the Star Wars films
"Ralph McQuarrie is dead. Without his inspirational art I would not be C-3PO. I once said to him, 'This is all YOUR fault!' Then I thanked him." - Anthony Daniels who played C-3PO (twitter)
"RIP Ralph McQuarrie, an extraordinary artist whose work fueled my dreams, fantasies and imagination. His paintings will live forever," - Simon Pegg (twitter)
"RIP Ralph McQuarrie, the visionary behind Star Wars," - Will Smith (twitter)
"a disturbance in the force, Ralph McQuarrie has passed. may the force be with him." - Elijah Wood (twitter)Ralph McQuarrie suffered from Parkinson's Syndrome in his later years and retired. He passed away at his home, leaving his wife Joan and a legacy of illustration that will never be matched.