Birthday Messages

6.13.10 This weekend marks a birthday milestone for two men that have bridged generation gaps and given our imaginations fuel for endless flight. We owe them both our respect and thanks. But for now, let’s just wish them a Happy Birthday.

The Teacher

The mind-numbing bliss of 1970’s child-friendly television programming had the occasional enlightened corner. Sesame Street and The Electric Company made a valiant effort at educating my cartoon saturated brain. Once I learned how to count, and realize why one thing was not like the others, the appeal faded. A restless imagination and a need for visual stimulation makes for a tough audience. The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was more than up for the challenge.

Here was a guy whose job it was to dive for sunken treasure, swim with whales and catch sharks. Cookie Monster couldn’t compete with a White Tip feeding frenzy. But it wasn’t all gratuitous action and eye candy, there was a message. The adventure was also informative. There were questions being answered, species being studied and a new world being discovered. The series ran for the first eight years of my life (1968 to 1976) and became a weekly routine that was anything but routine. Every week he traveled to a different place, studied new things. He was part hunter, part explorer, part archaeologist. He believed that educating people about their world was the key to saving it. That the next generation would not be so quick to pollute and ignore if they could get a glimpse of what was really out there. The world was his classroom and the television allowed us all to be in on the lecture.

Friday was Cousteau’s 100th birthday. If there was ever a time he was needed, it’s now. Unparalleled pollution and ignorance have devastated the earth. It is only through the curiosity, respect and appreciation of our natural world that we can make things better. A survival of the enlightened, brought to you by The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

The Artist

The debate over what defines art has raged in many circles for too long. What it boils down to is communication. An idea, an emotion, a story; all conveyed through the talented hand of the artist. Through his art, Ralph McQuarrie has done all this and more. An illustrator who helped animate the Apollo missions for TV news broadcasts, McQuarrie would make a name for himself with a different kind of space adventure.

McQuarrie created the first visual concepts of George Lucas’ Star Wars. This was storytelling like never before, and he was the man to help bring it to life. Alien worlds, fantastic spacecraft, visions of armored overlords and heroic warriors. The illustrations were meant to help sell the idea of the film to studios and financial investors. They went on to become icons. A vision of our childhood that became synonymous with adventure, fantasy and imagination. All flowing from one man’s paintbrush, into the collective imagination of a generation.

It is McQuarrie’s painting of the dog fight above the Death Star that is among my first, and favorite, visions of the Star Wars universe. Since seeing that masterpiece, I awaited the first look at every new piece of his art that preceded each new film. I spent hours on end sketching out the designs and recreating the paintings. I developed an appreciation for art, and the power it has to ignite imagination and evoke emotion.

Ralph McQuarrie turns 81 today. Thank you Ralph, The Force has always been with you.

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