Just got word that Ralph McQuarrie died at age 82. When I began this blog over a year ago, I originally had a McQuarrie painting as my backdrop before I changed it to Tintin and Captain Haddock in the desert. Why was it that my first instinct was to “go McQuarrie”?
My earliest imaginings were formed by Star Wars, and Star Wars was formed primarily by the concept paintings created by Ralph McQuarrie. Simply put, without Ralph McQuarrie, there would be no Star Wars. At least not the “look and feel” of Star Wars that has been a part of my world for as long as I can remember.
There is already a lovely blog post up on the Star Wars site which gathers some condolences from industry people who loved and were influenced by Ralph McQuarrie’s work. You can also read more about Ralph McQuarrie here.
Remember before the internet when geeks like us could only get our movie news from things like the free Tribute magazines you got in theatre lobbies, or Starlog magazine, or Fangoria if you were a fan of horror movies? And before “special features” became common place on DVDs, you had to hope that your favourite blockbuster would be given a “Making of” special that you always magically seemed to catch? This was even before the days of VCRs, people. How did we survive?
I’ve never liked going to the dentist, and I remember one time going with my Mom and she bought me a Starlog magazine that was filled with Ralph McQuarrie’s concept drawings for the still unreleased “Empire Strikes Back”. I remember poring over those images and paintings with my Mom in the dentist’s waiting room and trying to imagine what the heck was going on. I particularly remember one of Luke who had climbed out of his crashed snowspeeder and was looking up at the approaching AT-AT. I remember my Mom pointing out the detail of the holster of bullets around one leg. I heard rumours of the “Battle of Hoth” but since the movie was still months away from release my friends and I could only wildly speculate what it all meant. I hated the dentist so much that I remember wishing I could trade places with Luke in that painting. I’d take my chances against the Empire if it meant I would get out of seeing the dentist. I was six.
I remember being fascinated by the idea of “matte paintings”. That artists, real artists like Ralph McQuarrie, would paint a landscape onto a piece of glass, leaving a small area open where the preset filmed sections of the movie would be inserted in post-production. I loved looking at these paintings in the “Making of” books and then trying to spot the shots in the movie and try to see where the painting ended and the live action began. The best matte paintings were so well done you could hardly ever tell. The shots were never on the screen long enough for serious scrutiny, and yet they served their purpose. They made you believe. Movies are simply not made this way anymore, and I think we’re poorer for it.
Years later, when I was “grown up”, I bought an “Empire Strikes Back” portfolio made up of twelve concept paintings done by Ralph McQuarrie himself. Now these are just prints, obviously, but they have such a rich colour to them that I decided that when I had my own place i would get these framed and hung up all over my cool pad. Well, that hasn’t happened….yet. I’m lucky enough that my wife lets me have a Tintin print up in our kitchen. I really don’t have the wall space for even one of these beautiful pieces, let alone all twelve. They remain in the my Mom’s mythical basement. Our own basement is unfinished, but one day the plan is to do something down there, and when that happens, I’ll sticking up all 12……okay maybe one….or two….three tops.