words: Bonnie Burton
March 2012 marked the sad passing of conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie. The legendary conceptual artist not only inspired filmmaker George Lucas making Star Wars possible, but also other future directors, actors, screenwriters and more, not to mention millions of fans worldwide. I asked some of my favorite celebrity Star Wars fans what McQuarrie meant to them, as well as gathered the best celebs tweets that celebrated this one-of-a-kind artist.
Read more about Ralph McQuarrie and his work on RalphMcQuarrie.com.
Star Wars Prequels Producer Rick McCallum writes:
Ralph was the very first person I went to when we started prep on The Phantom Menace. When Ralph came to visit at the Ranch, he told me he just didn’t feel strong enough to take charge of the picture, but I felt sure I could convince him to change his mind. George and I were willing to work in any way that would make it possible for him to be part of the creation of the new trilogy. We had a great few days going over everything and finally when he told me he simply couldn’t take on the challenge because of his health, we took him into our conference room.
I showed him artwork from young artists from schools and visual effects companies throughout the world. We must have had at least 35 seriously talented artists work positioned throughout this big room. He walked around in total silence for nearly three hours, meticulously looking at everyone’s work and then he gathered Eric Tiemens, Ryan Church and Doug Chaing’s work and put them all together — then he sat down and looked at their work for what seemed like another hour and then suddenly he pointed at Doug Chaing’s samples and he exclaimed with urgency and a huge smile, “Yes, he’s the one!” And that’s how we hired Doug to become the Concept Designer on Episode I. And on Episode II and III, Ryan and Eric became the concept designers!
Ralph was a constant source of inspiration. We always had his art work hanging all over the art departments in the hallways and offices in London, Sydney and at Skywalker Ranch. There was never a single moment that I can remember not seeing someone looking, staring, or studying the beautiful and stirring images that Ralph created.
He was kind and decent — a consummate gentleman with a unique and beautiful perspective on our own world and those beyond. He will be sorely missed from our hearts but never ever forgotten.
The Clone Wars Supervising Director Dave Filoni writes:
Ralph set the standard for design in cinema. An entire generation of artists was inspired by his work. We all wanted to be Ralph. We wanted that job — designing starships and Stormtroopers, Jedi and Sith.
Every day on The Clone Wars we aspire to be like Ralph, to capture the magic that he gave all of us as kids. One of our most memorable days at Lucasfilm Animation was when Ralph came to visit, and we screened episodes for him. We wanted to show Ralph that his “look,” his vision for design, was alive and well on our show, and that we had respectfully studied his craft to make our Star Wars universe much like his.
We still use Ralph’s designs as inspiration, many of which have never appeared on screen before. Rakko Hardeen’s helmet was one of Ralph’s early Boba Fett helmet designs. There are countless examples of his influence on our show every week.
My wife asked me what Ralph meant to me, and I think I can sum it up in a way that many of my fellow artists feel. Without Ralph McQuarrie, I would not have the job I have today. I never would have considered it. I would not be half the artist I am, without his influence on my childhood. Thanks for everything Ralph. You will be missed, but you will live on in that galaxy far, far away.”
“To the world beyond the galaxy far, far away, Ralph McQuarrie was perhaps an unsung hero of the Star Wars universe but to the fans he was the intelligent design behind so many wonderful worlds. He was a visionary and an artist of the deepest imagination. Our universe is poorer without him.” – Simon Pegg, actor
Sad news. It sounds almost too cliche, but what he did with his bare hands and his tools of paint brushes and pencils not only influenced a young filmmaker in George Lucas, but an entire generation future filmmakers born after ‘77. It cannot and should not be underestimated.” – Colin Hanks, actor
“Thank you, Ralph, for creating a universe of adventure that has held a steadfast section of my brain from the first time my dad took me to see Star Wars, all the way through to today. You are a genius and a hero. The world is a lot less cool without you in it. May the force be with you.” – Mark Hoppus, Blink-182 singer/bassist
“The first images of Star Wars that I ever saw, were the pre-production paintings of Ralph McQuarrie. His artwork imagined a serious, mysterious, vast and completely new vision of a science fiction universe. Very much at odds with the too often silly, campy, or cold visions I was accustomed to seeing. In short, they blew my 12-year-old mind wide open.” – Hal Hickel, Animation Director Rango
“Star Wars would definitely not be what it is artistically and visually without the influence of Ralph McQuarrie. His magic and legacy will live on, just like the Star Wars saga and many of the other special films that have been blessed with his talents. He will be missed.” – Matt Lanter, actor The Clone Wars, 90210
“Ralph McQuarrie made science fiction feel like a reality we could live in. I will always cherish my Art of Star Wars books because they are filled with his brilliant illustrations. He will be missed.” – mc chris, rapper
“I was lucky enough to see Ralph’s concept art in the flesh within the archives of Skywalker Ranch. I was stunned by how vivid and luminous the images were. It was as if they were back lit with LED’s. Like a frame of Ralph’s imagination had been captured through alchemical means and preserved for the reverence and study of his disciples. For me, Ralph’s visions defined what SF should look like.” – Jesse Alexander, TV writer/producer
“Without a doubt, Ralph McQuarrie was a landmark definition of how we visually associate most sci-fi today. Star Wars alone would not have looked half as original, mind-blowing, or have even existed without his limitless imagination and creativity shaping the most important aspects of the original trilogy. He set precedence, changed the game and will be sorely missed.” – Joe Trohman, Fall Out Boy guitarist
“A truly gifted spark of creativity has just winked out of existence, which makes me sad… but at the same time, Ralph McQuarrie is a reminder to all visual artists, that we can shape amazing worlds and characters, with nothing but our minds and a little imagination. His work is an absolute testament to that.” – Ben Templesmith, comic book artist/writer
“A few years ago, I had the honor of touring the Lucasfilm archives. The highlight of that trip was seeing Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art. To personally view these seminal works was as life-affirming an experience for me as seeing Picasso’s “Guernica’ or the Mona Lisa. McQuarrie’s images were the visual fountainhead of a story that ignited my imagination at a very young age and put me on the course to become a professional in television and film. Both his influence in our popular culture, and my gratitude for his work are beyond measure.” – Javi Grillo-Marxuach, TV writer/producer
“Ralph was the greatest. My favorite artist, plain and simple. As a child, it was Ralph’s wondrous images in Bantha Tracks that kept me going in the years between Star Wars films. Through his breathtaking paintings I discovered the craft behind the magic on screen. It was world building, universe building, life-changing art that forever altered the direction of my life. Star Wars made me fall in love with movies. But Ralph made me fall in love with film-making. He will be sorely missed but respected forever.” – Kyle Newman, director of Fanboys
“Ralph’s art was awe inspiring, and gave a lot of people joy and collectables. The most I can say is thank you SO much, and the most I can offer with a heavy heart are my condolences.” – Adrianne Curry, supermodel & reality TV star
“I had no idea that the creation of imaginative films started with art until my parents took my sister and I to see Ralph’s work in a huge Art of Star Wars retrospective in San Francisco when I was about 8. Before that I guess I had just assumed that Darth Vader himself was an actor, or that the Rancor really was a one of a kind beast that was trapped and forced to roar when the cameras rolled. When seeing McQuarrie’s early renditions of the characters displayed next to the costumes and props, which were next to a print of the actual film scene, I questioned why an artist would draw something different than what it was ’supposed’ to look like. My dad explained that it was the other way around, and that someone first had to IMAGINE all these things that we see on screen. Then I re-walked through the whole gallery and became obsessed with all of the original concepts and immediately said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to imagine things. I want to imagine everything.’” – Alex Pardee, artist