Star Wars Death Star Designer Colin Cantwell Has Died At The Age Of 90.

In addition, he worked on films such as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey and the X-wing and TIE fighter prototypes. On May 21, Olin Cantwell, a concept artist who helped bring the Star Wars universe to life by designing and building prototypes for a wide range of epic spacecraft, including the TIE fighters, the X-wing, and the Death Star’s trench, died at his home in Colorado Springs, where he had been living for the last few years. He had reached the age of ninety-nine. Sierra Dall, his partner of 24 years and only immediate survivor, said dementia was the cause of his death.

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A former employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mr. Cantwell went on to work with directors such as Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg on projects such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” developing miniatures, computer graphics, and other visual effects (1979). The designs for many of the most memorable ships in “Star Wars” (1977) were created by him, but his most famous work is that which he worked on the first installment of George Lucas’s blockbuster franchise, “Star Wars.” An ex-director of Lucasfilm fan relations described him as a “quiet but extremely talented man” in a statement.

When it came to building the visual foundation for so many ships that are instantly recognizable today, Colin’s imagination and creativity were evident from the start, according to a statement released by Lucas. “His talent was obvious to everyone, and it will always be.” Although negotiations with Twentieth Century Fox over financing were still ongoing when Lucas hired Mr. Cantwell in late 1974, he was already hard at work refining a script tentatively titled “Adventures of the Starkiller, Ep. 1: TheStar Wars.” In the script, a number of spacecraft were mentioned, but descriptions of their appearance and movement were only vaguely described.

According to Brian Jay Jones’ book “George Lucas: A Life,” Mr. Cantwell was tasked with filling in the details, instructed by Lucas to make the ships look realistic but with “a comic book nobility.” Assembling plastic miniatures from thousands of pieces — including pill containers and lamp parts and parts of commercial model kits for planes, cars, and boats — he stored in an eight-foot-tall drawer he exchanged drawings with the director before landing on the final sketches that he used to make models.

No matter how the spaceships were shown, Mr. Cantwell wanted them to be instantly recognizable and elicit a sense of anxiety or excitement depending on where they fit into Lucas’s sci-fi story, whether they were individually or collectively. “My premise was that the bad guys and the good guys had to be instantly distinguishable. In an interview with the website Original Prop Blog in 2014, he said, “by how [a ship] looks and feels.”

An English bartender’s dart thrown in an English pub inspired him to create an image of an outlaw cowboy outside a saloon with his gun drawn in his hand. Millennium Falcon’s initial model was meant to look like an aggressive, precariously poised reptile—and instead served as the basis for the rebel blockade runner in the film’s first scene. Other artists, including Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, contributed to the Millennium Falcon’s worn-down, hamburger-shaped appearance. ‘ When he asked Lucas whether the ship was supposed to be “bigger than Burbank,” the answer was yes. Mr. Cantwell also created prototypes for the imperial star destroyer, which fills the screen in the film’s opening moments. He also created the Death Star, the laser-equipped space station capable of destroying entire planets.

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Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) flew through a canyon-like trench to fire torpedoes at a single weak point on the Death Star’s equator during the film’s climactic attack. By chance, the scene was born after Mr. Cantwell had finished making the Death Star model out of a 14-inch diameter plastic ball. However, when he scratched features into its surface, he discovered that both halves had shrunk to their original size where they were supposed to join together. Filling and sanding and refilling this depression would have required an entire week of work, he told the Montecito Journal of California. For the sake of time, I went to George and proposed a trench, which would result in battles between starships flying inside and outside the trench. In the film, Lucas agreed, and it was a key point.”

On April 3, 1932, Colin James Cantwell was born in San Francisco. During World War II, his father worked as a commercial artist and his mother as a riveter. Robert Cantwell, a Time and Sports Illustrated journalist and author of two critically acclaimed novels, was one of his uncles. With tuberculosis and a partially detached retina, Mr. Cantwell spent most of his childhood in a hospital bed. During a “Ask Me Anything” interview on Reddit in 2016, he recalled how he was kept in a dark room with a heavy vest over his chest to prevent coughing fits. “I was trapped in this dark room for nearly TWO YEARS as a child. After that, nothing was going to slow me down!”

Mr. Cantwell earned his bachelor’s degree in applied arts from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he made student films. When NASA and CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite worked together to land Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969, he listened to the communications line between the astronauts and Mission Control in order to keep Cronkite informed of the mission’s progress. He had already begun making scientific and commercial films and was utilizing his technical expertise in big-budget movies by this time. He befriended Kubrick after meeting him in London and helping him shoot “2001“‘s space scenes. Years later, he recalled visiting Kubrick’s home and suggesting the film’s dramatic opening scene, a celestial image of the sun, moon, and Earth scored to Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which became the movie’s main theme.

“Voyage to the Outer Planets” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” were both written and directed by Mr. Cantwell, who later wrote and directed “Voyage to the Outer Planets” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). He also worked as a computer graphics consultant for Hewlett-Packard, where he helped develop one of the first color desktop computer display systems. Using the system, Mr. Cantwell created graphics for the Cold War techno-thriller “WarGames” (1983), in which the positions of Soviet nuclear missiles flash across a dozen gigantic computer screens. He also wrote a two-volume science-fiction epic called “CoreFires,” according to his partner Dall, who claims that he later conducted quantum research. It was only in his mid-80s that he began attending fan conventions and selling prints of his concept art that he began talking about his “Star Wars” work, decades after the work of collaborators like Ralph McQuarrie was better known.

If Mr. Cantwell had accepted Lucas’ offer to run Industrial Light & Magic, he would have said that Lucas had underplayed his role in the creation of “Star Wars,” according to an interview with the Denver Post. He stated that he had no desire to continue his effects work, but rather to explore new avenues of the invention. This is the way he lived his life, Dall said in an interview with the Denver Post. A lot of people were drawn to his ideas because they were so original, creative, and insightful. Once they saw what he had to say, they couldn’t turn back.