Artist Ralph McQuarrie died March 3 at home in Berkeley. He was 82. He suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and had been in declining health.
McQuarrie’s visualizations of many characters and elements in Star Wars aided George Lucas in convincing studio executives to go ahead with production.
He also shared an Academy Award for visual effects for Cocoon.
McQuarrie is best known for his work in developing the look of Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, C3PO, R2-D2 etc., however, I believe fans of my generation also appreciate that his production work contributed to getting the original movie released. It seems hardly anyone involved expected Star Wars to make much money, let alone hundreds of millions. That’s why publicist Charlie Lippincott was going around to conventions and club meetings in 1976 with a slide show largely consisting of McQuarrie’s art trying to build word-of-mouth and public demand to release the movie. His presentation to the LASFS at the 1976 Westercon was the sole highlight of my (otherwise unremarkable) single term as club president.
As it turned out, not only was the movie a success, it was such a success that it fostered an Official Star Wars Fan Club that coincidentally employed several LASFSians. For the first two years the club’s newsletter Bantha Tracks was edited and (mainly) written by Craig Miller, who was Director of Fan Relations for Lucasfilm from 1977-1980. Later issues were produced by his successor Maureen Garrett, including Bantha Tracks #15 (1982), which was largely devoted to Ralph McQuarrie, and included a lengthy interview conducted by Ken Rowand:
Bantha Tracks: Can you give us a brief history of Ralph McQuarrie, highlighting your early days with George Lucas on Star Wars?
…The scope of Star Wars was so vast and so visual no script could convey it all. George felt he could use a few of my paintings to convince the people at Fox his movie idea would be interesting. They listened to George’s presentation and looked at my four or five paintings and were convinced enough to give him enough money to finish the script and do some more paintings. George worked on the script and went to England to research a tentative budget while I did five more paintings. Twentieth Century Fox, chiefly Alan Ladd Jr., decided on the strength of our further work and a deal was made to go ahead with Star Wars. I felt Star Wars was George’s project and I was there to help him get it done, so I had to become a filmmaker’s helper….
Certainly the work I did on Star Wars is the best of all the paintings I have done. I can say I am an artist whose work has been widely seen and enjoyed. To me that means I have achieved my goal.
[Thanks to Taral, Andrew Porter and David Klaus for the links.]
Ralph was a sweet, wonderful, immensely talented man. In the years he lived in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of spending many afternoons with him in his home and it was always enjoyable. Beyond my work as a publicist at Lucasfilm, getting to use Ralph’s paintings for various purposes to market “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back”, I had the remarkable opportunity of working with him, designing a poster that Ralph painted. Not that Ralph needed my artistic inspiration, but it was a treat for me.