We can thank George Lucas for giving us the Star Wars universe but it was Ralph McQuarrie who first visualized the world we’ve come to know and love. Rich in depth and detail, McQuarrie’s sketches and paintings continue to amaze me. How can a guy have so much talent, I wondered? Ralph McQuarrie created the marvelous images of Star Wars and made it all look so easy.
I first met Ralph McQuarrie in a life drawing class at Art Center College of Design back in the fifties. As I recall, it was our first week of the new semester and by caprice I happened to choose a seat next to the mild mannered artist then in his twenties. We were all young students hoping for careers as professional commercial artists. Ralph wanted to be an illustrator like most of our classmates, while I had my heart set on an animation career. There was one thing I couldn’t help noticing. The artist sitting next to me demonstrated amazing skill and confidence in his drawing ability. Even then, I recognized I was certainly not in the same league as Ralph. Yet, the soft spoken young artist displayed not a hint of hubris or arrogance despite his amazing ability.
After leaving Art Center College of Design each of us went our own way. Yet, it would appear the world of movie making would be the final destination for us both. While I dabbled in the fantasy world of cartoon making, Ralph McQuarrie found a home in aerospace illustration. Technically adept, McQuarrie could handle such work with ease. Yet, he was also able to bring a bit of humanity to the often cold, tech paintings and sketches. When screenwriter, George Lucas needed a conceptual artist who could visualize the unique worlds he had imagined, the young director was lucky enough to find Ralph. Plus, Lucas needed impressive visuals to convince Hollywood studio backers that his ideas were solid.
A major motion picture has to travel a long road once the initial screenplay moves into development. Cold words on paper must now be translated into soaring visuals that breathes life into a world. An imaginary world that must be created from scratch. The Star Wars universe owes its existence as much to Ralph McQuarrie as it does to George Lucas. If you’ve seen Ralph’s rough sketches as well as his finished paints, you’ll know what I mean.
I was able to send a video message to my old Art Center classmate not long before we lost him. Because of his failing health he was no longer capable of creating the brilliant art that distinguished his amazing career. Yet, I’ll always remember him as a friend. A friend whose work continues to inspire me even to this day.