In Memory Of Ralph McQuarrie, The Artist Who Designed Darth Vader & R2-D2

I run this regular Fine Art feature on Kotaku because it's an aspect of the creative process that I have a big interest in, and the utmost respect for. Indeed, there was a point in my life where I hit a fairly substantial crossroads, and if I hadn't gone down the path that led me here, I'd have ended up pursuing a career in production/concept art instead.

The single biggest inspiration for that was the work of Ralph McQuarrie, who sadly passed away over the weekend, aged 82. McQuarrie designed some of the most iconic and important elements in science-fiction movie history, from the alien mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind to the original Battlestar Galactica TV series to some work on Jurassic Park.

He is most widely known, however, and will be most fondly remembered, for his contribution to the visual identity of the Star Wars universe.

McQuarrie's hands are all over the three original Star Wars films, on which he worked as a production illustrator, design consultant and concept artist. He designed Darth Vader. He designed R2-D2 and C-3PO. He designed Chewbacca. Indeed, it was McQuarrie's vivid concept paintings, all done on the strength of nothing but George Lucas' script, which helped convince studio executives to green-light Star Wars in the first place.

McQuarrie appears briefly as a Rebel General in The Empire Strikes Back, and later won an academy award for his work on 1985's Cocoon.

If you love Star Wars, a lot of what you love is down to the work of this man. His contributions to the enduring popularity of the original trilogy simply cannot be understated.

He is survived by his wife Joan.

For perhaps the single best collection of his Star Wars work, many of which you probably haven't seen, you should really check out this 1997 book. It's collated like a work of Star Wars fiction, but really, the words are a thin thread tying together an astonishing collection of concept art for the original three films.

Fine Art is a celebration of the work of video game artists. If you're in the business and have some concept, environment or character art you'd like to share, drop us a line!


    A bunch of those images are now cycling through as my desktop background. Amazing talent and amazing influence.

    If you look at image:

    It looks like R2D2 was originaly intended to clomp along like a crazy tripod rather than drive on wheels.. And C3PO was a throw back from metropolis..

      Yes, & yes. I was given the Star Wars Portfolio about 20 years ago (holy crap, 20 years!) and the description of what he intended in that pic was exactly as you described it.

      As soon as I saw that early image of C3PO I instantly thought, woah, that had to be inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis!

    A syd mead special wouldn't go astray. He may not have directly designed games but he was pretty influential.
    These guys are worth a look too.

      Actually, Syd Mead was brought on by the team at Gearbox to flesh out the interior of the Sulaco for the upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines. So he has.

    i had that book since i was about 10 or 12, in fact that's what got me reading the extended universe novels.

    To think he hand drew/painted HE WORKS, compared to today's where its all about the photoshoping, he has true talent

    Ralph McQuarrie

      Hand painted gauche and acrylic is truly amazing i agree, but I wouldn't diss modern day techniques.
      The artists who can REALLY illustrate in Photoshop, have the traditional painting skills anyway - digital is just a means of getting the work done faster and cheaper.

    And in HD

    How fucking sad. That nigga was a legend.

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