Ron Cobb’s 10 Best Pieces of Concept Art Film


Sci-fi and fantasy films depend on the imaginative and brilliant minds of leading conceptual artists, and few of them have the same level of skill and aptitude as the late great Ron Cobb. For decades, this masterful concept artist has lent his visions to some of Hollywood’s most popular films, including Star wars and Extraterrestrials.

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Cobb has worked on a plethora of projects over the years, but some of his greatest works are ones that sci-fi fans can list by name. These incredible concept art designs have helped immortalize Ron Cobb, a genius and a true artist who will go down in history as one of the most popular in his field.

ten Night Skies / ET The Alien (1982)

Split image of an alien design by Ron Cobb for Night Skies

After Encounters of the Third Kind Saved Columbia Pictures from bankruptcy, Steven Spielberg saw fit to bring in Ron Cobb to design some sort of mirror image tracking in the form of Night sky. Unlike the positivity of Close encounters, this movie was meant to be a somewhat violent horror with bits of comedy.

Cobb not only designed the alien creature for the movie, but was offered a chance to direct. Unfortunately, the script turned into what would later be known as AND the alien, which would go beyond the years 1977 Star wars gross total. Cobb’s design of the creature is a far cry from the adorable little alien in AND, but all great ideas have to start somewhere.

9 The Rocket (1991)

Split image of Ron Cobb's costume design concept for The Rocketeer

The 90s adaptation of The Rocket may have been a box office bomb when it debuted in 1991, but it has become a cult following in recent years. By the time of production, Cobb was already a household name in Hollywood, having worked on a host of massive hits and a few B-list sleepers.

His sketch of the original Rocketeer wasn’t far removed from what was ultimately depicted in the film. Sure, Cobb had comic book sources from the 1980s, but he managed to streamline and refine the lines while giving the costume a more utilitarian and believable edge.

8 Black Star (1974)

Split image of Ron Cobb's ship design for Dark Star

John carpenter Black Star was co-written by Dan O’Bannon, who would later co-write the hugely popular Extraterrestrial. Sadly, this first draft met empty theaters and negative reviews, though the film continued to achieve respect and cult status among sci-fi fans.

Ron Cobb was not as well known at the time and was barely making ends meet. However, its technical expertise was certainly no less sharp, as evidenced by its design concept for the titular vessel of the film. While quite simplistic compared to some of his more ambitious future works, the concept of Dark Star is no less iconic.

7 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Split image of Ron Cobb's concept art for Raiders of the Lost Ark

Having made a name for themselves in cinematic circles for some truly amazing technical art concepts used in films like Extraterrestrial, Cobb competed in Steven Spielberg The Raiders of the Lost Ark. He didn’t play a major role in most of the film’s designs, but he was a key player in one of the film’s most memorable sequences.

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Cobb co-assisted in the design of the popular Flying Wing, an experimental Nazi vessel that serves as an interesting backdrop for a fight between Indy and a mighty fist fighter. Ironically, Harrison Ford would tear his ACL apart after being crushed by the Flying Wing’s undercarriage during filming.

6 Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Split image of Ron Cobb's Thulsa Doom concept art for Conan the Barbarian

Ron Cobb was less well known for his work in fantasy films, having been promoted to extraordinary artist within the sci-fi community. Yet his conceptual magic and keen eye for detail earned him a place in the design phase of Conan the Barbarian, with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He helped design a ton of content for the film, from weapons to armor sets and castles. However, one of its most iconic concept pieces is the twin serpent motif used to symbolize the infamous Thulsa Doom and its cult of snake worshipers. It’s one of the most identifiable designs in the whole movie.

5 The Last Starfighter (1984)

Ron Cobb's Gunstar concept art split image for The Last Starfighter

One of the best things about Ron Cobb was his ability to not only conceptualize amazing vehicles, but also make them believable. Many directors in Hollywood have marveled at the way Cobb breaks down how his creations work, back and forth. This level of detail is shown in his work for The last star hunter.

The design of the iconic Gunstar was Cobb’s vision that came to life, and it ended up paving the way for one of the first sci-fi films to use computer-generated images. To date, this is one of the most unique starfighter designs in movie history, along with the Millennium Falcon from Star wars.

4 Back to the Future (1985)

Split image of Ron Cobb's concept art for the DeLorean from Back to the Future

The DeLorean may be one of the most recognizable cars in the world, but it was only a basis for the technical mess that represented the eccentric scientific mind of Doc Brown. To help sell it, Ron Cobb was brought in to sketch how such a car could be Frankensteined to resemble a mad scientist’s vision of a time machine.

Cobb took the DeLorean and gutted much of the internal components, replacing them with a bizarre and confusing mix of devices, panels, and flashing lights. While the public couldn’t get most of it, Cobb still managed to give the car an aura of credibility, while also creating one of the Back to the futurethe best pieces of concept art.

3 Alien (1979)

Split image of Ron Cobb's Nostromo concept art for Alien

The original by Ridley Scott Extraterrestrial created a franchise that now serves as a mainstay in the world of science fiction. Scott took a flawed script, overhauled it, and married it to a team of brilliant designers led by Ron Cobb and eccentric horror artist HR Giger. During production, Giger handled the design of the alien creature, biomechanical creations like the abandoned ship and the deceased Space Jockey pilot.

During this time, Cobb handled almost everything related to the human side of the equation, especially the commercial tug Nostromo. Much of his design work helped come up with what is now known as the “truckers in space” motif, primarily identified by its cool, un-charismatic, but straightforward functionality.

2 Star Wars (1977)

Split image of Ron Cobb's alien creature creations for Star Wars

There was no shortage of talent on the set of the George Lucas original Star wars in 1977, and Cobb was there to help. While longtime fans would have thought he played a role in the design of the ships, he actually focused most of his attention on the alien creatures shown during the Mos Eisley cantina scene.

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Many of his designs were either in the film or in spinoff articles, while others were cut. The most recognizable of his creations is undoubtedly the Ithorian, a Star wars race that has seen action in movies, video games, and television equipment over the years.

1 Aliens (1986)

Split image of Ron Cobb's dropship concept art for Aliens

There are a few things that don’t make sense about 1986 Aliens, but Ron Cobb’s concept designs are certainly not one of them. With a few more years of experience under his belt, Cobb was ready to tackle some of the film’s more difficult concept designs, which was no small feat given Cameron’s own aptitude for creating excellent artistic concepts.

After a few drafts, Cobb created the massively iconic design of the Colonial Navy spaceship, which has grown into one of the coolest sci-fi vehicles ever made. He even went so far as to “humanize” the ship with hilarious decals depicting a bald eagle armed with the phrase “we are endangering species” on the side of the hull.

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