Ron Cobb, Designer for ‘Alien’ and ‘Back to the Future,’ Dies at 83
You might not know the name Ron Cobb, but if you’re a film fan, you almost certainly know his work. His designs helped define the look of some of the most iconic movies of the 1970s and ’80s, and he eventually became a filmmaker in his own right. Sadly, Cobb died in Australia on Monday of Lewy body dementia. He was 83 years old.
Born in 1937, Cobb broke into Hollywood as an artist at the Walt Disney Company, where he first worked as an “inbetweener” on Sleeping Beauty. He later became a celebrated underground cartoonist. His art got him noticed by Hollywood, and he soon designed the space ship in John Carpenter’s Dark Star, and then was hired onto Alejandro Jodorowsky unmade adaptation on Dune. After that project collapsed, Cobb did uncredited design work on the original Star Wars — creating some of the most famous Cantina aliens — and then joined several other former Dune crew members on another science-fiction project: Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Cobb was instrumental in the design of the spaceship Nostromo, both its exterior and interior, along with the overall science-fiction look of the film. (He’s also credited with naming the “Weylan-Yutani Corporation” that became an increasingly important figure in the Alien franchise.) From there, Cobb worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark — designing the Nazi Flying Wing — Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Conan the Barbarian, where Cobb was production designer and created Conan’s armor and weapons, including its famous swords.
A few years later Spielberg recruited Cobb to help figure out how to turn a DeLorean into a time machine in Back to the Future. In this video, the film’s writer, Bob Gale, explains how Cobb was brought in, and exactly what he contributed to one of the most famous cars in movie history:
Cobb also contributed designs to movies like Real Genius, Aliens, Total Recall, True Lies, The 6th Day, and Southland Tales. In 1992, he made his feature directorial debut, Garbo, about Australian garbage collectors.
Although Cobb never became a household name, his style was enormously influential. He had a gift for designing science-fiction technology that looked both advanced and plausible — like the DeLorean that had been messily outfitted with a nuclear reactor. You can see that approach in so much of his work, which then inspired several generations of film artists that followed. You can see more of Ron Cobb’s designs and art at his website.
Gallery — The Best Sci-Fi Movie Posters of All Time: