Ron Cobb, the production designer that helped define the look of sci-fi for a generation of genre fans with his work on Back to the Future, Alien, and more, has died at age 83. The cartoonist-turned-Spielberg-collaborator also helped bring Star Wars, E.T., and Conan the Barbarian to the screen.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, news of his death comes from Cobb’s wife and The Twilight Zone co-writer, Robin Love. The two had been married for 48 years. Cobb reportedly died of Lewy body dementia on Monday — his 83rd birthday — in Sydney, Australia.
Cobb worked all over the entertainment industry during his decades-long career, first as Disney animator working on Sleeping Beauty when he was just a teenager. That led to a career as an underground editorial cartoonist, which led back into the film industry — starting with Dark Star, the ambitious sci-fi debut of one John Carpenter. Special effects and spaceship design for the film led to work on Alexandro Jodorowsky’s fabled Dune attempt, creating cantina creatures on Star Wars (the original), and conceptual design work alongside the legendary H.R. Giger on Alien. Credited with not only designing the Nostromo ship, Cobb also came up with the idea that xenomorph blood is corrosive.
Then Cobb’s collaboration with Steven Spielberg began, including design work on Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and design/story work on Night Skies…which later became E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He designed the weapons, armor, and buildings of Conan the Barbarian (as well as directed some second unit photography), worked on The Last Starfighter and Real Genius, and made the DeLorean synonymous with “time machine” with his Back to the Future design.
Some of Cobb’s other iconic work can be found in Total Recall, The Abyss, The Running Man, Aliens, Rocketeer, Cats & Dogs, Firefly, Southland Tales, District 9, John Carter of Mars, and more.
Cobb is survived by his wife and his son, Nicky.