Ron Cobb, the acclaimed concept artist and production designer behind iconic movies like Alien, E.T., Back to the Future, and Conan The Barbarian, has died at age 83. Cobb passed away on Monday, September 20th, which also happened to be his birthday. Robin Love, Cobb's wife of 48 years, reported that his cause of death was Lewy body dementia, Lewy body dementia, which is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer's disease dementia. Cobb leaves behind a cinematic legacy that includes many now-iconic pieces of sci-fi memorabilia - not to mention some famous Hollywood stories, like almost directing the film that would later become Steven Spielberg E.T.
Ron Cobb was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1937. With no formal training under his belt, Cobb managed to still land a job working as an "inbetweener" for Disney Studios by the time he was 18. His talent got him promoted to being a breakdown artist on Sleeping Beauty, Disney's final movie animated movie to have its cels inked by hand. However, that quick success stalled after Sleeping Beauty, when Cobb was laid off by Disney in 1957.
Throughout the 1960s Cobb rose to prominence and fame as a political cartoonist, with his work becoming aligned with the Underground Press Syndicate and its various papers. Success as a cartoonist didn't cover all of the bills, though, and Cobb had to also take other freelance work, such as drawing the covers for Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing at Baxter's (1967) and the Ecology symbol that is used in the Ecology Flag. In the early seventies, he relocated to Sydney, Australia, and worked for various alternative magazines.
It was in the late '70s into the '80s where Cobb's work broke into Hollywood. He was uncredited for his work designing the Cantina creatures for Star Wars: A New Hope, which led to work as a concept artist on Ridley Scott's Alien and as a production designer for Conan The Barbarian. It was while working on Conan that Cobb also helped advise Steve Spielberg, who was filming Raiders of the Lost Ark nearby.
It was his collaboration with Spielberg that led to Cobb getting the offer to direct Spielberg's film Night Skies. That film was based on the 1955 account of a Kentucky family that claimed to have encountered five alien beings in their farmhouse. When the family threatened to sue, Cobb re-wrote the idea into his own story concept, which ended with an alien being marooned on Earth. However, the effects budget for the five aliens was too high, and the movie was scrapped - until Spielberg re-worked it as a film about a boy protecting a single escaped alien. As a consolation prize of sorts, Cobb was given a cameo in E.T. as a doctor.
That disappointment didn't stop Cobb's career; his work as a conceptual designer on Aliens led to more collaborations with James Cameron on The Abyss and True Lies; he consulted on the DeLorean time travel machine for Back to the Future; working on Arnold Schwarzenegger films Total Recall and The 6th Day; and the cult-hit Joss Whedon sci-fi series Firefly (to name a few).
In short: Ron Cobb's legacy will survive long after him. We offer our condolences to his friends and family.