Ron Cobb, one of the all-time great movie concept artists, has passed away at age 83 (obituary). Mr. Cobb was responsible for designing the looks and props of a wide swath of familiar genre films from the 1970s through today including all time classics like Alien, Star Wars and Back to the Future. Known for his lived-in, utilitarian design work, Cobbs' art continues to influence all varieties of artists today.
Mr. Cobb's most direct contribution to the Wing Commander universe was as a very early artist on the 1999 Wing Commander film. Director Chris Roberts asked Cobb to develop a series of concepts based on the spacecraft needed for the script but ultimately chose to go a different direction. Producer Todd Moyer was particularly unhappy with Cobbs' work and pushed for a more budget-friendly option for the ships.
It was Mr. Cobb's immense influence that had the most impact on Wing Commander. Take, for example, the orange, plush chair he designed for ALIEN's Nostromo which found its way into our universe as the ejection seat for the fighters in the original Wing Commander.
And of course, what is Wing Commander's Raptor heavy fighter but another take on Rob Cobb's Gunstar fighter designed for THE LAST STARFIGHTER? Ron's incredible imagination inspired countless details, from high tech spaceships to little humanizing touches like the bucket collecting water from a leaky pipe in the barracks.
Mr. Cobb was also inadvertently responsible for one final addition to the Wing Commander universe: Starlog Group's heavy coverage of the Wing Commander movie which included three cover stories and a bespoke 'making of' magazine. That's a lot of focus on Wing Commander for a year when genre films included The Matrix and The Phantom Menace. It turns out the editor responsible had accepted the Wing Commander coverage because they thought it would give them an opportunity to interview Ron Cobb, who was in fact no longer with the production.
The elder Garriott also served as one half of the first American father-son astronaut duo when Richard Garriott went to the International Space Station in 2008. And while we often refer to Richard as "Origin founder" in our news stories, Origin Systems was actually co-founded by Richard and Robert along with their father, Owen, and programmer Chuck Bueche. In various interviews, Richard credits being sent to a programming camp that Owen picked out as a major influence that set him on the path towards game development. In addition to this connection to the Wing Commander series, in a broader sense, we all continue to benefit from the advances in spaceflight, technology and engineering that he advocated for over many years. We're all better off thanks to you, sir.
Astronaut Owen Garriott was a good friend and an incredible astronaut. I have a great sadness as I learn of his passing today. Godspeed Owen. pic.twitter.com/rT56PQMwJV— Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) April 15, 2019
Thank you Scott! Dad had a great 88 orbits around the sun! https://t.co/MsPh8LZoSg— Richard Garriott (@RichardGarriott) April 15, 2019
The extraordinary theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has passed away and tributes are pouring in from across the internet. As a genius thinker and pioneer in space, he made his mark on the whole genre of science-fiction, including Wing Commander. On the universe map, star systems are often named after developers, authors and even fans. Large quadrants are reserved for luminaries such as Chris Roberts himself. Massive sectors are the backdrops that entire Wing Commander games exist in with famous names like Vega, Enigma and Gemini. Just one sector was named after a living person, and that person was Stephen Hawking.
Mr. Hawking was also friends with Origin founder and second-generation astronaut Richard Garriott. They famously explored zero gravity together aboard the vomit comet and collaborated to advance the cause of science and space exploration over the years. That he passed away on Pi Day is especially fitting and helps ease the loss slightly - he couldn't have calculated a better time to go!
Jerry Pournelle, one of the giants of science fiction literature, passed away on Friday. He was best known for his frequent, genre-defining writing collaborations alongside fellow luminary Larry Niven, including The Mote in God's Eye, Lucifer's Hammer and Footfall. He was an unparalleled creator of worlds in his own right, responsible for series like Janissaries and the CoDominium setting, which has become an expansive shared universe that continues to expand today. Mr. Pournelle was equally respected in the tech world, where his early advocacy for personal computing took the form of a famed BYTE column, Chaos Manor, that ran in some form or another until his death.
Wing Commander fans will remember Mr. Pournelle as one of our own, a true fan of the series and an advocate for our favorite universe. In fact, it was through his computing column that I first discovered the series, his passion for the series causing my father to take note and suggest it to me. When Baen started developing Wing Commander books, Jerry Pournelle was an early choice for the third slot in the package. The initial plan was to have him outline a story for Ellen Guon (which would have involved the destruction of the Tiger's Claw.) Alas, contract issues blocked the project and the book assignment went to William Forstchen's Fleet Action instead. Some years later, he expressed an interest in telling more stories in the Privateer setting, which unfortunately also did not materialize.
You can access years of correspondence and columns through his A View from Chaos Manor website.
It's never easy to lose such a vital, irreplaceable member of the family, but this is downright heartbreaking. Carrie was one-of-a-kind who belonged to us all- whether she liked it or not. She was OUR Princess, damn it, & the actress who played her blurred into one gorgeous, fiercely independent & ferociously funny, take-charge woman who took our collective breath away. Determined & tough, but with a vulnerability that made you root for her & want her to succeed & be happy. She played such a crucial role in my professional & personal life, & both would have been far emptier without her. I am grateful for the laughter, the wisdom, the kindness & even the bratty, self-indulgent crap my beloved space-twin gave me through the years. Thanks Carrie. I love you, mh
Terry was a friend and a fan. He had gone into survivalist mode when he read Lucifer’s Hammer, and came to the scenes where the survivors are discussing the old civilization. He said it made think, why be miserable when we have civilization. Better to try and keep it. After that he wrote at a prodigious pace. One day he was in Hollywood negotiating a movie, and came over for lunch. I showed him Wing Commander, he liked it, and I gave it to him as a present, remarking that this was a cheap way to slow the competition. He get addicted to it, but far from slowing his legendary output he produced even more. Wing Commander and its sequel Privateer were amusing interludes between the torrent of pages.
I have not seen him since his illness, because I have not been to Britain in many years. I fondly remember our last dinner in London. I wish we could repeat it. Our guest as Jack Cohen, and it was an experience worth repeating. Farewell, old friend. RIP
There's been an outpouring of grief for actor Robin Williams since his untimely passing yesterday. Many others have written more wonderful tributes than I could craft, but we would like to take a moment to briefly pay respect to our fellow gamer and Wing Commander fan. Mr. Williams and his wife were engrossed in the 8-bit Legend of Zelda in the late '80s, so they named their daughter after the title character. His son was also named after Cody from Final Fight. Articles have even popped up listing out what franchises he was most into, and one of them was Wing Commander.
He was so into the series in the mid '90s that he popped up on the set of Wing Commander 4 during its filming. In fact, Chris Roberts even wanted Williams to play Merlin in the Wing Commander Movie. A couple years back, Chris mentioned that he regretted how Williams' absence zapped some critical humor and narrative sequences in the film. Ultimately the Merlin AI character was largely cut from the movie, although Mark Hamill did voice the uncredited part during computer dialogue sequences between Blair and his Rapier. We can only imagine how memorable it would have been as originally intended! Alas, if an enhanced director's cut is ever made, this particular casting will never be. Goodbye, Mr. Williams.
CHRIS ROBERTS - Losing Merlin was the biggest mistake in my opinion. It didn’t happen until mid-way through post production. We shot everything and the intention was to film a big star (I was wanting Robin Williams) on a green screen for a day or so and then composite in a holo –effect. We were over budget and the producer, Todd Moyer, had persuaded me to try a cut without Merlin as he didn’t think we needed him and we couldn’t afford the VFX shots or the additional green screen shot (let alone a fee for a big actor). When I didn’t get a response back from Robin Williams' camp I gave in to the idea. I really regret it as losing Merlin we lost a lot of the humor plus a lot of exposition that explained the whole Pilgrim backstory – not to mention the fact that the Captain turned out to be a Pilgrim. Between losing Merlin, the bigger opening (when the Pegasus was more like Hawaii of Pearl Harbor) and the Kilrathi not working I feel a lot of what made the script work for me was lost. The final film was too simple without these extra layers. I have often toyed with the idea of taking the original footage, re-doing the Kilrathi with today’s digital VFX, filming Merlin and making a new cut – I even proposed it to Fox a while back but they declined. When I get the rights back in 2015 I may do this as it would all be a lot cheaper now than before. I don’t think it would make WC a great film as there are some basic flaws with it, but I do think it would make it better.
AD - This is interesting... I never really pictured Robin Williams in the role when reading the novelization or the script. I always imagined his lines being delivered in a more dry/ironic kind of way.
CHRIS ROBERTS - I wanted Robin Williams because he liked and played Wing Commander and I thought he could handle Merlin's dry humor (he doesn't always have to be whacky Mork). Funny thing is that I ended up working with him on The Big White.
Pulitzer prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert passed away today. He reviewed the Wing Commander Movie in March 1999 and gave it one star. Out of respect for the dead, I'll hold my comments there! Whether you feel that he's spot on or passionately disagree, now's a fitting time to watch the review again here:
Jurgen Prochnow, who played the submarine captain in ``Das Boot,'' is one of the stars of ``Wing Commander,'' and no wonder: This is a sub movie exported to deep space, complete with the obligatory warning about the onboard oxygen running low. ``Torpedoes incoming!'' a watch officer shouts. ``Brace yourself!'' It's 500 years in the future. If the weapons developed by the race of evil Kilrathi only inspire you to ``brace yourself,'' we might reasonably ask what the Kilrathi have been doing with their time.
Other marine notes: ``Hard to port!'' is a command at one point. Reasonable at sea, but in space, where a ship is not sailing on a horizontal surface, not so useful. ``Quiet! There's a destroyer!'' someone shouts, and then everyone on board holds their breath, as there are subtle sonar pings on the soundtrack, and we hear the rumble of a giant vessel overhead. Or underhead. Wherever. ``In space,'' as ``Alien'' reminded us, ``no one can hear you scream.'' There is an excellent reason for that: Vacuums do not conduct sound waves, not even those caused by giant destroyers.
Such logic is of course irrelevant to ``Wing Commander,'' a movie based on a video game and looking like one a lot of the time, as dashing pilots fly around blowing up enemy targets. Our side kills about a zillion Kilrathi for every one of our guys who buys it, but when heroes die, of course they die in the order laid down by ancient movie cliches. The moment I saw that one of the pilots was an attractive black woman (Ginny Holder), I knew she'd go down, or up, in flames.
The plot involves war between the humans and the Kilrathi, who have refused all offers of peace and wish only to be targets in the cross hairs of video computer screens. Indeed, according to a Web page, they hope to ``destroy the universe,'' which seems self-defeating. The Kilrathi are ugly turtleoid creatures with goatees, who talk like voice synthesizers cranked way down, heavy on the bass.
Against them stand the noble earthlings, although the film's hero, Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is suspect in some circles because he is a half-breed. Yes, his mother was a Pilgrim. Who were the Pilgrims? Humans who were the original space voyagers and developed a gene useful for instinctively navigating in ``space-time itself.'' (Just about all navigation is done in space-time itself, but never mind.) Pilgrims went too far and dared too much, so timid later men resented them--but if you need someone to skip across a Gravity Hole, a Pilgrim is your man.
There are actors on board capable of splendid performances. The commander of the fleet is played by David Warner, who brings utter believability to, alas, banal dialogue. Two of the other officers, played by Tcheky Karyo and Prochnow, are also fine; I'd like to see them in a real Navy movie. Prinze shows again an easy grace and instant likeability. Matthew Lillard, as a hotshot pilot named Maniac, gets into a daredevil competition with the Holder character, and I enjoyed their energy. And the perfectly named Saffron Burrows has a pleasing presence as the head of the pilot squadron, although having recently seen her in a real movie (Mike Figgis' ``The Loss of Sexual Innocence,'' at Sundance), I assume she took this role to pay the utility bills.
These actors, alas, are at the service of a submoronic script and special effects that look like a video game writ large. ``Wing Commander'' arrives at the end of a week that began with the death of the creator of ``2001: A Space Odyssey.'' Close the pod bay door, Hal. And turn off the lights.
Neil Armstrong, commander of the Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 missions, passed away today. Armstrong needs no introduction; as the first man to walk on the moon it is likely his will be one of the few--perhaps even the only--contemporary name remembered distant centuries from today.
In addition to his achievement unlikely ever to be surpassed, Armstrong should be remembered for his sheer strength of character. He spent the forty-odd years following the landing as a model hero. Taciturn to a fault, he opted to neither profit from nor dwell on his part in the Apollo program.
Origin Systems paid tribute to Armstrong in 1995 by giving the surname to the player character in Super Wing Commander. "Maverick" Armstrong replaced Christopher Blair in that remake of Wing Commander I.
Chad Hart let us know about the recent passing of space artist Robert McCall. He was responsible for numerous conceptual and futuristic illustrations dating back to the 1960s. Classic depictions such as the one below went on to inspire a generation of artistic work, including some that should be very familiar. Check out more of his creations here.
This morning James Doohan passed away from complications due to pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease. A lot of our visitors will mourn him as Scotty from Star Trek. He was getting old and had been sick for a little while, but losing familiar faces is always a bit sad. StarTrek.com will have a tribute up soon. Feel free to visit Crius.net if you'd like to say something.