• Fri. Mar 5th, 2021

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Ron Cobb, a Pioneer in Science Fiction Design, Dies at 83

Ron Cobb, the artist and movie production designer known for his work on the spaceship in “Alien,” the DeLorean in “Back to the Future,” and some tipsy aliens in “Star Wars,” died on Monday in Sydney, Australia.

He was 83. His death was confirmed by his wife, Robin Love. The cause was Lewy body dementia.

Mr. Cobb, a self-taught designer who worked largely behind the scenes, advanced an aesthetic that still influences the spaceships and time machines of today’s science fiction films: futuristic, yet retro; modular, but boundless; and bursting with meticulous detail.

“He was hugely influential to myself and many of my peers in the business,” said François Audouy, the production designer behind the 2019 movie “Ford v Ferrari” and the forthcoming “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”

“His drawings were so infused with logic and realism,” Mr. Audouy said. “It just felt like his spaceships could take off at any moment.”

As originally conceived, the film was to focus on a group of aliens. But the concept evolved to focus instead on a single abandoned extraterrestrial. That 1982 movie, “E.T.,” was ultimately directed by Mr. Spielberg.

But Mr. Cobb was not bothered by the fact that he did not direct that movie. “He thought it was too cute,” Ms. Love said. “It wasn’t his bag.”

Still, Mr. Cobb made some money after Ms. Love noticed clauses in his contract that he had overlooked: a kill fee and a contractual share of profits. It was a welcome surprise for Mr. Cobb, whose income stream had been spotty in the past, and it helped to keep his family financially afloat for years.

Mr. Audouy worked with Mr. Cobb on “The 6th Day,” a 2000 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. He remembered Mr. Cobb as a meditative but gregarious designer who created gorgeous drawings, with stunning attention to detail and copious notes alongside.

“He was a master craftsman,” Mr. Audouy said. “And I think he made this connection with the filmmakers and the writers because he loved to talk about science, technology, extraterrestrials, why we’re here, and all of that. He was one of the most interesting people to speak to, ever.”

In the 1988 interview, Mr. Cobb said that he loved making myths. “Film offers me an opportunity to do all these things,” he said. “I can do the architecture. I can do the sets. I can express my interest in technology. I can express my interest in story, plot and character, the psychology of the characters. Film is very satisfying.”

Mr. Cobb spent the last few years of his life in Sydney. He is survived by his wife and their son, Nicholas Cobb, 19.

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