Colin Cantwell, the concept artist who designed iconic Star Wars spacecraft, including the X-wing Starfighter, TIE fighter and Death Star, died Saturday at his Colorado home of natural causes. He was 90.
Cantwell’s career almost reads like the highlights of effects in science fiction films for the past 60 years, including designing photographic effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), writing technical dialogue for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and consultant for computer graphics design for WarGames (1983). He is probably best known, however, for his work with George Lucas on Star Wars, most famously designing and building prototypes for the X-wing, TIE fighter, Star Destroyer and the Death Star, among many other designs. He was the man who gave the Deathstar its famous trench.
Colin Cantwell was born in San Francisco in 1932. As a youth, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and suffered a partial retinal detachment. The cure was to be confined to a dark room with a heavy vest across his chest to prevent coughing fits. Of the episode, Cantwell had said, “I spent nearly two years of my childhood immobilized in this dark room. Suffice to say, nothing else could slow me down after that!”
It was his work with Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA during the 1960’s that paved the way to his career in Hollywood. Cantwell was creating educational programs for the public to better understand the space flights programs. That, in turn, let to him being a technical resource for Cantwell being a resource for the legendary Walter Cronkite during his historic moon landing broadcast in 1969. It was Cantwell who was on the communications line between NASA and the astronauts getting updates that he fed to Cronkite, who in return broadcasted that information to the world on live TV.
Cantwell’s initial work in the motion picture industry was on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “I worked closely with Stanley Kubrick and persuaded him not to start the movie with a 20-minute conference table discussion,” he said during an AMA on Reddit in 2016. It was Cantwell who created the dramatic space opening that followed the dawn of man and bone thrown into the air.
In addition to his film work, Cantwell wrote two science fiction novels, CoreFires 1 and CoreFires 2.
Cantwell is survived by Sierra Dall, his partner of 24 years.
Worlds of imagination began with Colin Cantwell, and our own world is better for this wonderful, gentleman having passed this way.
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