R.I.P. Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012)
I don't usually do obituaries on my blog but given how frequently I cover visual art and sci-fi franchises such as Star Wars, it would be remiss of me to not mention the recent passing of concept artist and matte painter Ralph McQuarrie. He passed away on March 3 at the age of 82, from complications due to Parkinson's disease. There are many places around the Web that feature much more information about McQuarrie's career and art (check out his official site here), so I thought I would share a few memories I have of his sizable contributions to my lifestyle choice of obsessive geekhood.
Even though his career didn't start in the entertainment industry, McQuarrie contributed his talents to many movies and TV shows. He provided conceptual art for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Cocoon, Nightbreed, Jurassic Park and the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. Yet he left his biggest impression on the original Star Wars trilogy, and I don't think that any other entertainment franchise expressed its gratitude for McQuarrie's contributions as much as Star Wars did.
As a young fan of Star Wars, I didn't know much about the film's production outside of what George Lucas did; however, I did know who Ralph McQuarrie was in relation to Star Wars and its two sequels. I saw McQuarrie's concept art in many Star Wars books, magazine articles, posters and bubblegum cards, and he and his art also appeared in several issues of Bantha Tracks, the newsletter for the official Star Wars fan club. To sum it up in a single sentence, McQuarrie was the link between what Lucas envisioned for his movie and the sci-fi pulp art from the early twentieth century that inspired Lucas to make Star Wars in the first place. It was in McQuarrie's art that Lucas' ideas for the Star Wars saga took form, long before a single frame of film was shot.
In the years since the original trilogy, McQuarrie's art (both original art and concept art) would reappear in various pieces of Star Wars merchandise. Click below to see some examples of these items, which thus makes Star Wars the only franchise where fans can collect replicas of popular characters and vehicles in both their official and conceptual forms. Beat that, Star Trek!
McQuarrie's art started appearing on toy shelves back in the 90s, when Galoob asked him to produce some original art for some of the toys in their Star Wars Micro Machines line. His work appeared on the packaging for four of the Action Fleet play sets: the Death Star, the Ice Planet Hoth, the Yavin Rebel Base, and the “Double Takes” Death Star. Click here to read more about McQuarrie’s work for Galoob's Star Wars toy license.
Since then, more Star Wars merchandise has been modeled after McQuarrie's conceptual art for the first Star Wars trilogy. Hasbro produced many action figures based on his concept art, and high-end collectible companies such as Gentle Giant and Kotobukiya did the same with character busts and dioramas.