The acclaimed illustrator and Academy Award-winning conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie passed away on Saturday at his home in Berkeley, California, aged 82. A name that will be instantly familiar to Star Wars fans, McQuarrie was one of the most influential figures in science fiction and fantasy art and his visionary illustrations were key to defining the look of George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away.
Born in Gary, Indiana in 1929, McQuarrie moved to California during the 1960s where he gained work as a technical illustrator for Boeing before shifting into the field of film and TV, designing movie posters and working on the animation for CBS News’ Apollo space program coverage before coming to the attention of George Lucas, who then commissioned McQuarrie for design work on his space opera, Star Wars. McQuarrie’s designs were instrumental in securing financing for the film and he went on to continue his role on The Star Wars Holiday Special, along with the theatrical sequels The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, in addition to appearing on screen in Episode V in the uncredited role of General McQuarrie.
Outside of Star Wars, McQuarrie worked on the visual effects for the 1978 pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica and continued his association with Lucasfilm as an illustrator on Raiders of the Lost Ark, having previously worked with director Steven Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He would provide further designs for Spielberg on E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and in 1986 he received the Oscar for Best Visual Effects alongside Ken Ralston, Scott Farrar and David Berry for his work on Cocoon. Subsequent credits included Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, *batteries not included and Nightbreed, and he was later offered the opportunity to serve as the concept designer for the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but chose instead to announce his retirement.