Colin Cantwell, the concept artist behind sci-fi details in Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and War Games, has died. His longtime partner Sierra Dall confirmed his death to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 90. Cantwell got his start in science fact, working for years at the Jet Propulsion Lab during the space-race-filled 1960s. From his work with JPL and NASA, Cantwell moved onto film. His first project was consulting with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cantwell said in a Reddit AMA that he “persuaded him not to start the movie with a 20-minute conference table discussion.” In that same Reddit AMA, Cantwell lays claim to creating the “first real color monitor for Hewlett Packard.” And yet his UI designs for War Games were mostly monochrome.
Some of Cantwell’s most enduring contributions to pop culture were the original designs for the X-Wing, A-Wing, Star Destroyer, TIE Fighter, and Rebel cruisers. He designed the Death Star and, as he put it, “gave it its trench.” The Death Star’s trench was actually a happy accident. As Cantwell recounted in his AMA, “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.” From there, the trench run was born. Great design, kid. That was one in a million.