Ron Cobb dead

Ron Cobb, who designed the DeLorean time machine for Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future, the Nostromo ship for Ridley Scott’s Alien, and more, has died at the age of 83. Celebrate his life by reading about several of his biggest on-screen accomplishments below.

The Hollywood Reporter says that the multi-talented filmmaker passed away today of Lewy body dementia, according to Cobb’s wife. Starting out as an animator on Walt Disney Animation’s Sleeping Beauty, Cobb’s impressive career spanned nearly five decades, and he ended up crossing paths with several of the biggest directors in Hollywood history.

Cobb worked with John Carpenter on 1974’s Dark Star, which was written by Dan O’Bannon, who would eventually go on to write Ridley Scott’s Alien. Along with H.R. Giger, Cobb provided concept paintings for Scott’s sci-fi classic; he designed the interior and exterior of the Nostromo, the ship inhabited by Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and her crew. (It was also his idea that the xenomorph’s blood be corrosive, a stroke of genius that helped solve a troubling screenwriting problem.)

He also served as a creature designer for the cantina scene in George Lucas’s Star Wars: A New Hope, worked on the interior of the mothership in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (and later worked as a production artist on Raiders of the Lost Ark), was the production designer for John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian and Nick Castle’s The Last Starfighter, and designed the Earth colony complex in James Cameron’s Aliens. That’s a pretty damn impressive run right there, but he also served as a concept artist or concept designer on Cameron’s The Abyss, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall, Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, and Joss Whedon’s Firefly. And then, of course, there was his work on Back to the Future‘s DeLorean (which was later added onto by another designer). Talk about an incredible career.

Spielberg, impressed by Cobb’s contributions to Raiders of the Lost Ark, suggested that the jack-of-all-trades direct Night Skies, a sci-fi movie that ultimately never ended up getting made but one that changed Hollywood history nonetheless: it inspired Spielberg to make E.T. Here’s how THR describes Cobb’s involvement:

Cobb was given a cameo as a doctor in the ensuing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), but he didn’t think much of the finished product, calling it “a banal retelling of the Christ story, sentimental and self-indulgent, a pathetic lost-puppy kind of story.”

Later, Cobb’s wife noticed that there was a $7,500 “kill fee” in his Night Skies contract — plus 1 percent of the net profits — should he not get to direct the movie. She sent off an invoice to Universal and received an envelope with a check inside for more than $400,000.

For the rest of his life, Cobb was asked by friends, “What did you do on E.T.?” His reply was, “I didn’t direct it.”

Rest in peace.

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