Born in Gary, Indiana, McQuarrie began his career doing technical illustration for Boeing and then transitioned to work designing movie posters. He also created animations for CBS News coverage of the Apollo space missions
It may even be argued that without his genius, George Lucas may never have been able to convince a studio to take a chance on his wild eyed "space opera". Ralph McQuarrie was originally contacted by Lucas in 1975 to do some paintings based on the script that were intended to pitch the film to studios because he felt there would be a better chance executives would open their wallets if they could catch the vision of what the as of yet untitled film was all about.
"I just did my best to depict what I thought the film should look like. I really liked the idea. I didn't think the film would ever get made. My impression was it was too expensive. There wouldn't be enough of an audience. It's just too complicated. But George knew a lot of things I didn't know."
"His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'do it like this'."
McQuarrie went on to create concept designs for the original Battlestar Galactica television series and theatrical blockbusters Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. The Extraterrestrial. In 1985, he won an Academy Award for for visual effects in the film Cocoon.
I was ten years old when Star Wars hit the theaters. My parents thought the film looked silly and didn't want to take me. I made a deal with them to do a certain amount of work around the house in exchange for a trip to the theater. By the time the intro scrolled up and that endless Star Destroyer soared overhead, I had seen a lot of pictures of the film, including Ralph McQuarrie's visionary paintings.
It is a testament to his brilliance that I was initially disappointed that Luke didn't actually get to fight Darth Vader as depicted in the truly dynamic concept painting at the top of this post.
I loved the film and it has endured for me, but it was the artwork that fueled me, igniting a passion that carries me to this day. My art may not bear much resemblance to anything McQuarrie created, but the idea that you could conjure something so real seemingly from nothing, stuck with me.
His influence on design will be felt forever. There is no doubt in our hearts that centuries from now amazing spaceships will soar, future cities will rise and someone, somewhere will say...
"that looks like something Ralph McQuarrie painted."
McQuarrie, was a true legend in the field of film and illustration. We will all miss you and your brilliant vision Ralph.