Any Star Wars fan worth their weight in druggat knows about how formative the art of Ralph McQuarrie was when it came to the design and aesthetic of the Star Wars universe.
He was the conceptual designer of the original trilogy, and not only did Ralph McQuarrie draw many of the films’ sets, he also designed many of the films characters including Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO, and it was McQuarrie who even suggested that Darth Vader wear a breathing apparatus.
After his success with Star Wars, McQuarrie would go on to design the alien ships in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and eventually go on to win an Academy Award for Visual Effects for his work on the film Cocoon. If that wasn’t enough, he also worked on the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
This is a man who literally designed sci-fi and fantasy icons (and Cocoon…), and had a style that could almost make you feel the isolation and the otherworldly decay of futuristic dream realms born from his mind and brought to life on canvas—connecting you to the surreal and the bizarre in a way few artists could.
Unfortunately, this artistic master passed away in 2012 at the age of 82, but his memory and his work live on in The Art of Ralph McQuarrie: Archives, a collection put together by author John Scoleri and due for publication this May by Dreams and Visions Press, a site dedicated to preserving McQuarrie’s work.
I had the privilege of speaking with author John Scoleri about the upcoming release of Archives, where he discussed the story behind the collection of McQuarrie’s work and what it was like working with this artistic master. He also gave Geek Insider a sneak peek of what sci-fi fans and art appreciators can look forward to when the book hits stores in May, as well as what may lie ahead for the McQuarrie archives now that Disney has taken over the Star Wars franchise.
Q1: Tell us more about Dreams and Visions Press. How did you get started and what’s your overall mission?
John Scoleri: Dreams and Visions Press was founded in 2006 for the express purpose of publishing our first collection of Ralph McQuarrie’s art. In the years since, we have published several more books of Ralph’s art, as well as variety of different art prints and a two-volume slipcased set of The Art of Tomb Raider (the video game franchise).
Stan Stice (owner of Dreams and Visions Press and the designer of the books) and I published our first book on Ralph’s work in 2007 (now sold out and commanding high prices on the secondary market) with a goal of showcasing Ralph’s entire body of work, and not just the Star Wars art he is primarily known for. We knew and worked with Ralph for the last 16 years of his life, and set out to create a career-spanning archive of his body of work, including film and television concept art, book covers, movie posters, aviation art, commercial illustration and personal works.
Through a limited license with Lucasfilm, we were able to include Star Wars art as 1/3 of our first book’s content. Since then, we’ve published a book strictly focused on Ralph’s Star Wars work for the 30th anniversary of the film in Japan in 2008, a companion to a gallery of original Star Wars drawings curated for the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, Florida in 2010, a tribute book Remembering Ralph McQuarrie: Dreamer and Visionary in 2012, and a 35th anniversary portfolio of Ralph’s Battlestar Galactica paintings in 2013.
Q2: What can fans look forward to in the new volume of The Art of Ralph McQuarrie ARCHIVES?
John Scoleri: With our new ARCHIVES book, we’re bringing back into print Ralph’s non-Star Wars art that was included in our first book, along with even more art that we couldn’t fit into the initial volume – making this the largest collection of Ralph’s non-Star Wars work to date. In doing so, we came full circle with the job we started in 2007—bringing awareness to Ralph’s entire body of work.
When we set out to produce ARCHIVES (which has been in the works since 2010, and was successfully funded as a Kickstarter project last summer) we initially envisioned a two-volume set, one of which would be focused on Ralph’s non-Star Wars art, and a second volume of his Star Wars art. When we were unable to attain a license to include his Star Wars art, we forged ahead with the non-Star Wars volume. With such strong interest in Star Wars and particularly Ralph’s art in the wake of the Rebels cartoon and new films, I think it’s safe to assume that Disney/Lucasfilm will eventually get around to publishing a collection of Ralph’s Star Wars work.
Q3: What was it like working with Ralph McQuarrie and putting these collections together?
John Scoleri: Stan Stice and I initially befriended Ralph in 1996, and over the next several years we took him to conventions around the world to meet his fans. We’d go visit him often, and he would flip through a stack of artwork from some project he had worked on, and we were continually amazed by what we saw. There were plenty of things we knew he had worked on in addition to Star Wars (Close Encounters, ET, Battlestar Galactica), but it seemed like every time we’d visit him we’d learn something new, whether it was book covers, movie posters, or commercials… it turned out that Ralph had worked on many projects that we were familiar with, despite not being aware of his involvement in them. I personally recall the day when flipping through some drawings, I asked him about one and he casually replied, ‘Oh, that’s a sketch for the piece I did for Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ It turned out that Ralph made a single contribution to that film, but boy was it a memorable one. When Indy shows the government agent the bible with an illustration of the Ark, that’s a Ralph McQuarrie original onscreen. There were so many things like that, we realized that it was a terrible oversight that there wasn’t a coffee table book of his work available.
We soon discovered that others had tried, and the insurmountable challenge they ran into was getting approvals to include Star Wars art. For a publisher trying to do a mass market book of Ralph’s art, Star Wars was clearly the most marketable category. The difference in our case was that we refused to let that stop us. We were prepared to produce a book of Raph’s non-Star Wars art, and then use that as a calling card to convince Lucasfilm to let us follow that up with a companion volume of his Star Wars art. Fortunately, they reviewed a sample book that Stan had prepared, recognized that we were focusing on Ralph’s entire body of work, and agreed that we couldn’t do that justice while ignoring his contributions to Star Wars.
It was a dream project to work on. Ralph was deeply involved in its creation, and while he was always such a humble man, it meant the world to him to know that a collection of his work – representing his entire career – would reside in the Library of Congress. We had no prouder moment than the day we delivered the first sample copies to Ralph and his wife. Though we had been working on the book for more than a year, I don’t think he truly believed it was going to happen until he held the finished product in his hands.
That book has long since sold out, and now commands high prices on the secondary market. Even prior to Ralph’s passing in 2012, we wanted to make more of Ralph’s work available to a wider audience, as we knew how much more there was than what we had been able to fit into our first book. As a result, The Art of Ralph McQuarrie: ARCHIVES was born.
Q4: What were Mr. McQuarrie’s thoughts and opinions about his art for Battlestar Galactic and Star Wars?
John Scoleri: Ralph loved his experience working on Star Wars, and the collaboration he had with George Lucas, but he took great pride and invested himself fully into all of the projects he worked on, whether it was a movie poster, book cover, or concept art for film or television. For Galactica, he only worked on the show for a brief period in the summer of 1977, between spending time in London working on an unmade Star Trek feature film and the time he signed on to work on The Empire Strikes Back in October of that year. He did some amazing work for the show, but expressed that he was uncomfortable as the elements of the TV show evolved to being more and more like Star Wars.
Q5: What were some of Ralph’s favorite pieces?
John Scoleri: Ralph did express on several occasions that his favorite of his Star Wars paintings was one that he created of the Wookiee living room for the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.
Q6: Out of all of Ralph’s work that people might not be familiar with, what would you want readers to discover within this most recent archive?
John Scoleri: Having had the pleasure of immersing myself in Ralph’s body of work – from when I was a seven year-old Star Wars fan in 1977 to the 16 years we worked directly with him – there are many that I consider favorites. I love the three sketches he did for Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love so many of his Star Wars paintings, from the very predictable original Star Wars novelization cover and ‘Luke’ vs Vader lightsaber duel production painting to less obvious choices such the inverted Y-Wing flying over the Death Star. But I find that digging into Ralph’s less familiar work, which we showcase in ARCHIVES, I continually revisit the paintings he did for Cocoon (for which he and the heads of the vfx team received an Oscar), as well as a series of paintings he did for an IMAX film of a ballet titled To Dream of Roses, and last but not least — one of the most exciting new areas we’re showcasing for the first time in ARCHIVES — the work he did for Irvin Kershner’s unfilled adaptation of Forbidden Planet.
Q7: What are some of the Dreams and Visions’ tribute prints that Star War fans and sci-fi fan should check out?
John Scoleri: In addition to having published several books on Ralph’s work, in 2013 we secured a license to produce a portfolio of his paintings from Battlestar Galactica, along with a series of Battlestar Galactica tribute prints by a number of contemporary artists (Mark Daniels, Tsuneo Sanda, Tom Hodges) celebrating that show’s 35th anniversary.
Q8: I have to ask, what are your thoughts about the upcoming Star Wars films? How soon do you think before Disney/Lucasfilm will publish a collection of Ralph’s Star Wars work?
John Scoleri: I’m anxious to see what they come up with, and can’t imagine a better choice than Lawrence Kasdan to work on the screenplay. I do hope that they find the right balance between using Ralph’s work as inspiration without relying on it as too much of a crutch. With what little we know about the new films, I think it’s safe to say Ralph would enjoy seeing some of his unfilled concepts brought to life onscreen. Lucasfilm has just announced that a book of Ralph’s Star Wars art will be released in 2016.
Make sure to check out Dreams and Visions Press for incredible McQuarrie tribute art, original posters, and of course, to reserve a copy of The Art of Ralph McQuarrie: Archives due for release May of this year. This 400-page edition of McQuarrie’s work would make a great addition to any sci-fi fans personal collection.