From Conan to Alien, and The Last Starfighter to Total Recall, The Art of Ron Cobb looks at the art of a creative icon

Review by C.J. Bunce

Some concept artists light the spark for the visuals of a film or television project.  A few create something truly novel, something that endures.  The late artist and designer Ron Cobb has something of both.  Fans of pop culture know his work even if they don’t know his name.  Now he’s the centerpiece of the next look at the greatest artists and artisans behind the scenes of cinema.  With Titan Books’ new work The Art of Ron Cobb, the publisher adds to the film enthusiast’s bookshelf of sci-fi designers like Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, The Artistry of Dan Curry, Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, and a stack of books on John Eaves, including Star Trek: The Art of John EavesThe Art of Ron Cobb is available for pre-order now here at Amazon.

Cobb not only designed for film and TV, he worked on video games, he was a political cartoonist, and his countless sketches and designs could be found across genres and media.  Two of his works as an artist for NASA have been displayed in the Smithsonian Institution.

But what is his most iconic creation?  Is it the Hammerhead character from the cantina in the original Star Wars?  His spacecraft in Alien?  The ship in the desert in Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  The look of Arnold Schwarzenegger as King Conan in the original Conan movie?  The gunstar ship from The Last Starfighter?  The Rocketeer’s jetpack?  Or was it his modifications to the real-life DeLorean that became Doc Brown’s time machine in Back to the Future?  Maybe it was the ecology logo that was stamped on millions of signs throughout the 1970s.  Whatever the answer, Ron Cobb’s imagery will survive in imaginations of audiences for a long time.

His most influential work, and even designs that were discarded, can be found inside The Art of Ron Cobb.  Author Jacob Johnston with the aid of Rachel Meinerding and Nicole Hendrix Herman, seems to have discovered it all.  With a similar layout as the James Cameron retrospective Tech Noir, readers will see the development of Cobb’s unique style over time.  At first blush his work looks like that of Star Trek designer Andrew Probert, who worked with Cobb, along with countless other contemporaries, including John Eaves, Roger Christian, Nick Castle, Iain McCaig, and James Cameron, all who contributed to the book.

The book covers Cobb’s big deals and setbacks, from his early days working with John Carpenter, Nick Castle, and Dan O’Bannon on Carpenter’s Dark Star, to getting pushed out of his original deal with Steven Spielberg to direct a sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which turned into E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  The breakup agreement netted Cobb millions in royalties–without doing a single thing.

Cobb was even asked by the U.S. military to help design real-life drop ships after his designs for Aliens solved problems the military hadn’t yet figured out.  Cobb worked on another cult classic, Real Genius, creating Val Kilmer’s high-tech device that made William Atherton’s house into a giant Jiffy Pop.

Other projects used none or only minor amounts of his design ideas, like Firefly, True Lies, The Rocketeer, Leviathan, and The Running Man.  The book documents a tangent career trip he took designing for a video game startup, Rocket Science Games, and later offering unused ideas for a Timeline game idea for Michael Crichton’s novel.  Readers will find examples of his political cartoons, rock album covers, and Famous Monsters magazine covers.

He created the ecology symbol in 1969, combining the “e” for Earth and “o” for wholeness or unity, then he put it in the public domain so people would actually use it.  It became the centerpiece of the Greenpeace logo and was ubiquitous in late 20th century culture.

Including a foreword by James Cameron and afterword by his wife Robin Cobb, in a full-color hardcover with gold foil book cover and foil jacket, The Art of Ron Cobb will be a must for fans of sci-fi futurism and 1980s film design.  Pre-order The Art of Ron Cobb now here at Amazon, arriving in bookstores everywhere September 13, 2022.

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