Ralph McQuarrie, 1929-2012

(Original blog post March 4, 2012 – 234 views)


Ralph McQuarrie was not really an influence on my art.

A master of his craft? You bet. A visionary? Hell yes. A favorite artist of mine? Absolutely.

But I cannot say that his work was an artistic influence. I’ve studied it, definitely learned a thing or two about composition and light from it. But it didn’t make me want to do what he did.

I can’t.

Ralph McQuarrie had a command of the technical aspects of art that I could never grasp. His work has a precision that I wouldn’t even begin to attempt. I once saw footage of him at work — it might have been on one of those old “Making of Star Wars” VHS tapes from the early ’80s — as he whipped off panel lines on an X-wing fighter by running his paintbrush along a ruler held above his illustration board, and it was clean and perfect in a way I didn’t even know was possible.

That, coupled with the confidence with which he worked — which shows through in each piece of Star Wars concept art we’ve ever seen published, and there are hundreds — made Ralph McQuarrie practically untouchable for me as an artist, ever since I first became aware of him at the early age of 6-ish. Around 1980, when Empire Strikes Back came out, my Mom bought me the official behind-the-scenes magazine of the movie. It showed lots of candid shots of the actors, the model builders creating miniatures, and of course, preliminary concept art by McQuarrie and Joe Johnston, whose names I learned and remembered. It was then that I began to understand the creative process, the way things are first conceived and then move through an evolution, before they become a finished product. Some of McQuarrie’s paintings looked somewhat different from the final images we saw in the films, but of course, what he’s known for is actually how closely his concepts were stuck to in the actual production.

So, until I can pull off an illustration of an epic scene of a stunt fighter blasting its way through a phantasmagorical alien world and make you believe it’s real, I can’t really say that Ralph McQuarrie influenced my art too much (at least, my style). But he was one of the first teachers I ever had, and there aren’t too many artists I respect more than him. Thank you, Ralph.