The press is now reporting the death of legendary illustrator and conceptual artist, Ralph McQuarrie. He passed away at the age of 82.
“A commercial artist and designer whose career included stints at Boeing and Kaiser Graphic Arts and creating animations of Apollo space flights for CBS News, McQuarrie created the concept art that was crucial in winning 20th Century Fox’s approval to put George Lucas’ “Star Wars” in production.
The success of his “Star Wars“ paintings launched a late feature film career for McQuarrie that included helping design such classics as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial,” “Back to the Future,” “Cocoon,” “Total Recall,” and the original TV series “Battlestar Galactica.”
Given that McQuarrie also worked on designs for the tv/film revival of Star Trek in the mid-1970s, it’s fair to state that his futuristic and heroic visions changed the very shape and direction of space adventure imagery in the cinema.
If you gaze at Mr. McQuarrie’s stunning art work for any length of time, you’ll find his compositions absolutely dominated by a strong sense of character and emotion.
Just gaze at that conceptual imagery, above of Darth Vader from Star Wars. He’s absolutely gigantic compared to his recoiling, retreating nemesis, and lunging forward in an aggressive stance. There’s something hawkish, or predator-like about Vader’s very presence. This piece of art captures and conveys the essence of Darth Vader as a warrior and a powerful villain. He dominates his rival, and there’s something inherently terrifying in his very stance and figure. So much of McQuarrie’s work succeeds on the same affecting level, transmitting feelings about his subjects.
I grew up with McQuarrie’s art work. I still own four posters of his concept drawings from Battlestar Galactica, ones that showcase the Cylon Basestar, the Ovions, Cylon Raiders, and other aspects of Glen Larson’s universe. Today, these works are still dazzling and ingenious.
We’ve lost a great talent today, but the science fiction film universe is richer and deeper because of Ralph McQuarrie’s imagination.