As the design consultant and conceptual artist for the original Star Wars
trilogy, Ralph McQuarrie helped to bring the vision of George Lucas
to life. With just Lucas's script as a reference, McQuarrie played a pivotal role in creating the look of Star Wars
with his painted images of exotic aliens, helpful droids, futuristic vehicles and mysterious landscapes.
Born on June 13, 1929 in Gary, Indiana, McQuarrie's earliest influences were his grandparents who were both artists. He began art classes at as a child and through his young adulthood until he earned a position as a technical illustrator at Boeing Aircraft Company where he illustrated the latest designs in air and spacecraft. In the 1960s, his work was used in animated sequences by NASA and CBS news for the coverage of the Apollo lunar missions.
In 1965, McQuarrie moved to California to work as a freelance artist in film and television. About a decade later, Lucas needed to convince Twentieth-Century Fox to finance his upcoming project, Star Wars. To sell them on the idea he'd need more than a few sketches. So he commissioned McQuarrie to create several paintings which included R2-D2 and C-3PO in the desert, stormtroopers in the corridor of the Death Star and Luke and Darth Vader battling with lightsabers to show the studio executives. The presentation was a hit and soon McQuarrie found himself painting additional concept paintings, as well as helping with matte paintings during production.
Over the course of three Star Wars movies (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) McQuarrie's sketches and production paintings served as the framework from which Lucas and his team of set designers, make-up artists and special effects wizards worked grand ideas into images on film.
One of McQuarrie's most important contributions to the Star Wars saga is the image of Darth Vader. He and Lucas worked hard to create one of the most feared villains in cinematic history. McQuarrie mixed elements of a Japanese warrior mask and armor with a spacesuit to come up with the terrifying costume befitting the Dark Lord of the Sith. Less horrifying characters which McQuarrie had a hand in conceptualizing include R2-D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca and Yoda.
The Star Wars universe wasn't McQuarrie's only creative playground. He also worked on such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Cocoon (for which he won an Academy Award), E.T. The Extraterrestrial, *batteries not included, Total Recall and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark; as well as the television series Battlestar Galactica.
In addition to his film and television work, McQuarrie created artwork for Star Wars books including The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, The Mos Eisley Cantina Pop-Up Book and Jabba's Palace Pop-Up Book, as well as illustrations for Isaac Asimov's short story collections Robot Dreams and Robot Visions. McQuarrie also worked with Douglas Trumbull on the Back to the Future attraction at Universal Studios, creating the storyboards and paintings for the film effects.
McQuarrie lives in Berkeley, Calif. with his wife Joan.