Ralph McQuarrie - Legends of SF Art vol.4
My tribute to Ralph McQuarrie whose conceptual artwork defined the look of George Lucas sci-fi epic Star Wars.
Ralph McQuarrie was born in Gary, Indiana on June 13, 1929. His mother and grandfather painted and were a major influence, he studied technical illustration in high school and after two years serving in Korea he enrolled as an illustration student at the art center school in Los Angeles.
Leaving school he went to work for the Boeing Company providing mechanical drawings and sharpening his skills.
In the 1960’s he contributed artwork for CBS News ‘Apollo’ space missions coverage such as a rendering of the Apollo capsule travelling through space, visualising for television viewers what could otherwise not be seen. This generated interest in his work and it wasn’t long before he was approached by animation companies and film studios.
McQuarrie moved to California in the late 60’s and using his life savings he set up shop and started work as a freelance artist in Hollywood.
In the early 70’s he attracted the attention of director George Lucas who was impressed with his work and hoped they would work together on a space adventure he was writing. In 1975 they met up again and Lucas asked McQuarrie to work on designs based on his script for Star Wars.
McQuarrie’s paintings depicting robots, spaceships, planets and aliens were of immense value to Lucas in visualising his film project and in persuading 20th Century Fox to have faith and letting him go ahead and make his film.
The illustrations were also very useful when it came to discussing costuming and production design.
His paintings of scenes from the script included a look at the robots and Chewbacca as well as the attack on the Death Star. "It was part of my life ever since I was a little kid," he says of working in SF. "I can remember illustrations I did then of logging trucks with extra wheels and greater proportions, and fantastic versions of scientific equipment. So when Lucas asked me to draw these things, I felt it was what I was meant to do all along.”
Star Wars broke box office records when it was released in May 1977 and Ralph McQuarrie was soon working on the concept art for the sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).
In 1977 he worked on the design for the Mothership in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind and in 1982 contributed designs for the alien ship in ET the Extraterrestrial, he also worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). McQuarrie won an Oscar for his conceptual art on Ron Howard’s Cocoon (1985).
Other films he worked on include Star Trek IV The Voyage Home (1986), Batteries Not Included (1987) and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990). In the 1990’s he declined an offer to work on the Star Wars prequels. Ralph McQuarrie is now retired and his artwork has been displayed at various art exhibitions.
McQuarrie has an uncredited walk-on part in The Empire Strikes Back playing “General McQuarrie”.
Ralph McQuarrie died March 3rd, 2012, he was 82.
More by this Author
A tribute to John Howe one of the great names in fantasy art.
A tribute to one of the great SF artists, Bruce Pennington.
A Chronology of Fantasy Film Posters 1980-1989. With facts and ratings.