The Artist Behind the Death Star Talks About His Art & Life

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 - 6:00PM
Star Wars
Tuesday, 27 September 2016 - 6:00PM
The Artist Behind the Death Star Talks About His Art & Life
Colin Cantwell is, quite simply, the most influential sci-fi nerd you've never heard of. According to his Reddit AMA today, he's done everything from creating the star ships in Star Wars (including the Millennium Falcon, X-Wing, A-Wing, Star Destroyer, and TIE Fighter) and designing the first "real" color monitor for Hewlett Packard to helping Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey. His other film credits include Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and War Games.

But even more amazing than his sci-fi credentials are the odds he beat to get them:

Opening quote
When I was a boy, I was diagnosed with TB as well as partial retinal detachment. The cure was to confine me to a dark room with a heavy vest across my chest to prevent coughing fits. I spent nearly TWO YEARS of my childhood immobilized in this dark room. Suffice to say, nothing else could slow me down after that!
Closing quote


Cantwell is now 84 years old, but these photos from The Original Prop Blog show that the effects of tuberculosis and over half a century of designing haven't stopped him from signing pictures, taking photos, and posing with fans. Julien's auction recently sold a number of his artworks and memorabilia for roughly $100,000. 

As for amazing stories, Colin is full of them. One of our favorites may be the origin of the Death Star's trench:

Opening quote
"I was also the one who designed and sculpted the Death Star and gave it it's trench...George Lucas gave me the project of designing a "Death Star". I didn't originally plan for the Death Star to have a trench, but when I was working with the mold, I noticed the two halves had shrunk at the point where they met across the middle. It would have taken a week of work just to fill and sand and re-fill this depression. So, to save me the labor, I went to George and suggested a trench. He liked the idea so much that it became one of the most iconic moments in the film!"
Closing quote


Or maybe the origin of the X-Wing:

Opening quote
It had to be ultracool and different from all the other associations with Aircraft etc. In other words it had to be Alien and fit in with the rest of the story. . A dart being thrown at a target in a British pub gave me the original concept and then it went forward from there.
Closing quote


Then there's his story about his part in the famous Apollo 11 landing broadcast with Walter Cronkite:

Opening quote
I was deeply involved in Apollo 11 both before and during the mission. I sat a few feet from Walter Cronkite and functioned as the "Hal 9000" computer that fed information to Walter as he was broadcasting live online. Half way through the final descent, I alerted Walter to my detection of an orbit change that would consume more fuel, but allow coasting a little further than the planned target. When the other TV stations had the ships landed according to their NASA manual, I determined that the the Apollo had not yet landed. This was later confirmed that I had the accurate version of landing.
Closing quote


On the AMA, some very interesting questions were asked, including "You have worked with some very famous individuals. Who did you get along with best on a personal level?" Cantwell's response is Stanley Kubrick, strangely enough:

Opening quote
I had great relationships with everyone. But Stanley kubrick and I became friends. I used to go to his house at midnight and discuss events related to the film over turkey sandwiches. This evolved into a discussion after he had fired his fourth composer. At that time I suggested that he use many of the pieces of music that became part of the movie 2001 Space Odyssey. This includes the now well known theme song.
Closing quote


Cantwell's most recent project is a sci-fi book series called CoreFires, which he's been working on for "20 years." You can sign up to get a free copy of it here. You can also get a copy of it on Amazon for 99 cents. To see more of Cantwell's art, you can visit his website here.

See you later, space cowboy.
Science Fiction
Sci-Fi Art
Star Wars