Hello Reddit. I'm Colin Cantwell. Please be patient with me as I am 84 and this is my first time on Reddit. You may not have heard about me, as I like to keep out of the limelight, but I'm sure you've seen projects I've worked on. I'm looking forward to getting to know you and answering your questions!

A short list of my most favorite experiences are: * Being accepted to Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural school * Working with NASA to inform the public on the first unmanned space flights * Being Walter Cronkite's “Hal 9000” NASA connection during live broadcast of the first moon landing * Inventing the first real color monitor for Hewlett Packard * Writing my first book CoreFires - a labor of love 20 years in the making

I've worked on the following movies & shows: * Lead star ship designer for Star Wars - I drew the original designs for the X-Wing, A-Wing, Star Destroyer, TIE Fighter, & Rebel cruisers. I was also the one who designed and sculpted the Death Star and gave it it's trench * 2001, A Space Odyssey - I worked closely with Stanley Kubrick and persuaded him not to start the movie with a 20 minute conference table discussion * Buck Rogers in the 25th Century * Close Encounters of a Third Kind * War Games

I have a deep interest in science - especially quantum physics and space travel. I could not have picked a better time to have been born. So much has happened so quickly! Our dreams of space flight are maturing and I believe one day soon we’ll be exploring the next waiting wonders of our galaxy.

Two short anecdotes to get us started - When I was a boy, I was diagnosed with TB as well as partial retinal detachment. The cure was to confine me to a dark room with a heavy vest across my chest to prevent coughing fits. I spent nearly TWO YEARS of my childhood immobilized in this dark room. Suffice to say, nothing else could slow me down after that!

George Lucas gave me the project of designing a “Death Star”. I didn't originally plan for the Death Star to have a trench, but when I was working with the mold, I noticed the two halves had shrunk at the point where they met across the middle. It would have taken a week of work just to fill and sand and re-fill this depression. So, to save me the labor, I went to George and suggested a trench. He liked the idea so much that it became one of the most iconic moments in the film!

My latest project is a book series called CoreFires. I've made it available for free in the hopes that readers will find in it a sense of wonder and excitement. It's space science fiction of course! You can read the description here

You can see my original Pre-Star Wars artwork here My book is available for free here This also enters you in a contest for a free signed print of my original Pre-Star Wars star ship designs. You can also get CoreFires for free on Amazon here for the next 3 days

I hope that's enough to get us started. AMA!

Comments: 1728 • Responses: 51  • Date: 

Oak9874409 karma

As someone who designed the Death Star, were you embarrassed when a design flaw allowed a solo rebel fighter to destroy it with a single shot? Was Vader mad at you? What about the Emperor? Who took the blame for the whole thing?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA5373 karma

I sold armament to both sides... so not embarrassed.

Frajer1204 karma

How did you wind up working on Star Wars?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA2598 karma

I built miniatures of my own space ship designs and built terrains. I had friends that worked on American Graffiti who introduced me to George Lucas. George saw some of my minatures and liked them well enough that he invited me to discuss a project… which eventually became Star Wars

Weedbro46 karma

Do you have pictures of some of these?

sci_fi_guy77 karma

You can see some of his early designs on his website -

Sweetdreams6t965 karma

well that didnt take long to take down..

Colin_Cantwell_AMA52 karma

Keep trying.. It'll be up again

slukenz1028 karma

What inspired the X-wing? It just looks so cool

Colin_Cantwell_AMA2437 karma

It had to be ultracool and different from all the other associations with Aircraft etc. In other words it had to be Alien and fit in with the rest of the story. . A dart being thrown at a target in a British pub gave me the original concept and then it went forward from there.

Laf32569773 karma

You have worked with some very famous individuals. Who did you get along with best on a personal level?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA1822 karma

I had great relationships with everyone. But Stanley kubrick and I became friends. I used to go to his house at midnight and discuss events related to the film over turkey sandwiches. This evolved into a discussion after he had fired his fourth composer. At that time I suggested that he use many of the pieces of music that became part of the movie 2001 Space Odyssey. This includes the now well known theme song.

r1singphoenix201 karma

At that time I suggested that he use many of the pieces of music that became part of the movie 2001 Space Odyssey.

Just wanted to show my appreciation for this. 2001 is one of my favorite films, and while I couldn't possibly say what the best thing about it is, the music is certainly way up there. Did you have anything to do with the use of The Blue Danube during the docking sequence? One of the highlights of the film, in my opinion.

For those unfamiliar: https://vimeo.com/42097740

Edit: better quality source with full scene

Colin_Cantwell_AMA174 karma


All of the other music, but the Blue Danube was Kubrick's idea

mediocre_life577 karma

Damn, that is very impressive, you did some amazing stuff! My question is, how did you get into movie industry? Oh and another one, who did you enjoy working with the most?

Thank you, sir!

Colin_Cantwell_AMA837 karma

I was the first animation major UCLA and actually suggested that they add that department. I created some of my own animation and then worked on some industrial shorts and expanded from there. Each person had special qualities. I respected and liked them all. No Favorites.

huge_ox518 karma

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement, both on and off screen?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA1017 karma

Working on higher dimension physics and quantum physics.

s0nderv0gel439 karma

Hello Mr. Cantwell, thanks for this AMA!

So for my question(s): How much artistic freedom did you have when working with George Lucas? Did you brainstorm designs together or did you pitch a selection of which George Lucas then picked his favorites?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA666 karma

I had freedom from the getgo. And for a particular story, questioned him about the various scenes and what they would need. I remember asking him about the size of a satellite by asking if it was bigger then Burbank.

HippieSpawn1977379 karma

I can't believe how much you have influenced my life and imagination, and I have never heard of you until now.

What do you think of the new Lego sets that have everything (including Tie Fighters) planned out for kids? How is that similar to models you may have had growing up, and how is it different?


Inventing the first real color monitor for Hewlett Packard

Wait, what? How old were you when you did that? What was your contribution?

Thank you for sharing your creativity and architectural efforts and passion with us.

Colin_Cantwell_AMA494 karma

Haven't kept track of the new Lego sets. I developed the 4x4 pixel cells in fill colors that let the three gun CRTs produce over 5000 fill colors. It was my first color computer other than green. A few years ago.

Emorio290 karma

Were there any parts of the moon landing broadcast that you thought looked questionable at first, or was your analysis pretty much open and shut?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA1016 karma

I was deeply involved in Apollo 11 both before and during the mission. I sat a few feet from Walter Cronkite and functioned as the "Hal 9000" computer that fed information to Walter as he was broadcasting live online. Half way through the final descent, I alerted Walter to my detection of an orbit change that would consume more fuel, but allow coasting a little further than the planned target. When the other TV stations had the ships landed according to their NASA manual, I determined that the the Apollo had not yet landed. This was later confirmed that I had the accurate version of landing.

IliveinBowmanville228 karma

Where did the inspiration for the star ships in star wars come from? Which is your favorite ship you designed? Which ships from other franchises are your favorite?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA433 karma

Check out the earlier answer about the X-Wing . I knew the Tie Fighter had to be so Alien, so different from all of the Star Wars ships that it would remain a surprising mystery. It took lots of deep thought, but I think I succeeded. It just came out of my mind. They are all an embodiment of the Star Wars adventure as a whole… no favorite

Amber2391211 karma

Were you always interested in space?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA297 karma

Yes, from early childhood.

j5kDM3akVnhv128 karma

Mr. Cantwell -

First thanks much for doing this. I'm a huge fan of your designs. I recently visited the Udvar-Hazy location of the US National Air and Space Museum in Dulles, Virginia and saw the original model for the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind there. I noticed quite a few easter eggs hidden in it (I think there was a small R2D2?).

Being a Cold War kid, the movie War Games had a tremendous impact on me growing up. Still one of my favorites. What were your primary responsibilities with that film?

Bonus question: what was it like working with Walter Cronkite?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA164 karma

What were your primary responsibilities with that film? Bonus question: what was it like working with Walter Cronkite? All of the graphics on the big screens in the War Room were my designs, programmed during the previous night before filming. At that time I had "key man" insurance in case I didn't survive the pressure, since I was the only person doing the graphics.

Working with Walter was great!!

FigMcLargeHuge127 karma

Mr. Cantwell, I was wondering if there are any plans to bring 2001 A Space Odyssey back to the theater? I was born around the time it came out, and had only ever seen the movie on regular tube tv's. A few years ago I got to see it on an HD TV shown in HD and was absolutely blown away. I can't even imagine what it must have been like back in 1968 to see this in the theater. I would love to see it on the big screen.

Colin_Cantwell_AMA195 karma

Certain theaters do bring back 2001 upon occasion, but this is random. I would also like to see it on the big screen again.

DystryR122 karma

Hello Mr. Cantwell! thanks for doing his AMA!

First off, I'm a huge star wars fan - and pretty much have been for as long as I can remember.

My first question; what is your opinion on the derivative ships from your original designs? Most notably the ARC-170 (X-Wing) & to a lesser extent the Jedi Starfighters.

Do you like the designs from a 'lore' standpoint that dictates these designs eventually became yours?

Second question; what was your favorite ship design in the Star Wars universe? (Made by you or not, whichever answers the question!)

Thanks again!

Colin_Cantwell_AMA181 karma

I am happy that my basic concepts have been given new life in the current Star Wars versions. I have no favorite design. They all served their individual purposes.

Obie_Trice_Kenobi120 karma

Do you own any of the Lego sets of the ships you designed? The Star Wars Legos were always my favorite.

Colin_Cantwell_AMA216 karma

Since I created the space ships for the very first Star Wars movie, there were no Star War's Lego sets. However, I worked with plastic model parts. I called them nurneys and had a thousand drawers of nurneys which I dragged around from place to place until a couple of years ago. .

DoctorHelicopter104 karma

Hi there! What's your favorite thing that you've built over the years, for work or for yourself, and why?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA246 karma

An 8x4 foot model of the Copreties canyon on Mars in three dimensions created by using the shadow angles of the first images of the planet. I finished it in a few days then photographed it with a travelling snorkel camera for the San Diego museum.

sock2014104 karma

Have you discussed Cosmic Biodesics with any major physicists? Have you been able to establish a mathematical foundation for it?

Are you watching Elon Musk's presentation about colonizing Mars which is happening in an hour? http://www.spacex.com/mars
Any advice for his spaceship designs?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA143 karma

I am continuing to explore Cosmic Biodesics and allied subjects and will be coming back to it shortly. As of yet it has not been discused with any major physicists. Have been too busy to track Elon Musk's work, but thanks for the heads up.

jump-n-shoot-man103 karma

If you weren't doing what you're doing now, (which is awesome by the way) what do you think you would have pursued as a career?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA292 karma

LOL ...Too many to count. But I was accepted by Frank Lloyd Wright to Taliesen to study architecture with him. Unfortunately, he died before I was able to work with him.

Ctschiering94 karma

What was the atmosphere when making 2001? Was it "this man is a genius and this movie will be amazing" or "what in the hell is going on?"

Colin_Cantwell_AMA181 karma

Three years of "What the H?" and genius? By the end of production there was no question of extraordinary genius. I was so happy to be involved.

oldbenfranklin85 karma

Conversations with Kubrick, Star Wars design of the awesome X-wing (every boy's love in the 80s), writing sci-fi, what a great experience. Did you work with McQuarrie at all? What's your favorite beer you're drinking this month?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA151 karma

Yes, I was designing in the same room as Ralph was doing his wonderful paintings of my designs. No beer.

liamquane80 karma

Hi Mr. Cantwell! Big fan of your work! Can I ask; what id the best thing a director can do for you?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA200 karma

Make movies

two_off75 karma

Do you have any of your original drawings, designs, or mock-ups for any Star Wars concepts that you can share?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA127 karma

None of the actual originals, but you can see the original concept prints on my website http://colincantwell.com/home2

CaptainChewbacca68 karma

Mr. Cantwell, first I wanted to thank you for inspiring a childhood of space dreams and imaginings. Second, I was wondering if any of the EU novel authors consulted you when they designed ships and weapons, or wrote about their in-universe designers?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA122 karma

No authors knocked on my door. Where did I go wrong? Maybe next time.

SgtAwesome2163 karma

Mr. Cantwell, Did you have any input or ties to the Force Awakens or any of the new Star Wars films? If not, what did you think of the new takes on your classic ship designs? I was a big fan of the redesigned X-Wing myself.

Colin_Cantwell_AMA105 karma

No ties to the recent Star Wars movies. But I enjoyed seeing the new life of the originals in recent films.

liamquane63 karma

What was it like working with George Lucas? I got into filmmaking watching you both behind the scenes on DVD.

Colin_Cantwell_AMA77 karma

Fun and exciting.

absolutspacegirl59 karma

Damn dude I work at NASA and am completely obsessed with Star Wars. You are my hero.

Why were you chosen to inform the public about the first unmanned flights? How did you get that job?

Are you doing anything with the new Star Wars movies? Do they ever ask for your input?

What's your first step in designing a fictional space ship? Do you take any engineering/physics into account or just make it look good and come up with a story as to why it looks the way it does later?


Colin_Cantwell_AMA60 karma

Damn dude I work at NASA and am completely obsessed with Star Wars. You are my hero. Why were you chosen to inform the public about the first unmanned flights? How did you get that job? Are you doing anything with the new Star Wars movies? Do they ever ask for your input? What's your first step in designing a fictional space ship? Do you take any engineering/physics into account or just make it look good and come up with a story as to why it looks the way it does later? Thanks!!!! I got the job by doing a lot of mission films for JPL and NASA. The ships were usually a mix of engineering and imagination.

RFarmer58 karma

Were the panels on either side of the TIE fighter originally designed to be Solar Panels or Radiation Vents? I would love to know how you mixed practical "realism" into your ship designs.

Thank you so much for your vision and work.

Colin_Cantwell_AMA108 karma

The other early Star Wars vehicles were echoes of the Fifties, but the TIE Fighters had to be instantly perceived as something Alien and somewhat timeless. Above all they ship and panels had to be mysterious and threatening.

Rockky6755 karma

Were the models in the original Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon film serials a big inspiration to you?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA170 karma

Not really.

CologneTheDragon52 karma

How does it feel to have the same exact name as me, a lame 9th grader?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA113 karma

Pretty good to me

liamquane51 karma

What was it like working with Stanley Kubrick?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA128 karma

My best memories were 1. Making 2001 2. Driving a Mini Cooper in a parking lot 3. Watching rushes with a dozen apes I worked closely with Stanley and shed tears while he was Moviola editing HAL's demise.

UnknownSpartan50 karma

So, who designed the Y-Wing?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA110 karma

I did. Along with the original Millennium Falcon concept, the X-Wing, the original Imperial Cruiser concept, the TIE Fighter and the Death Star

liamquane46 karma

How do you keep comng up with different and unique designs for vehicles for so long?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA88 karma

Not so much anymore. I no longer have my 1000 nurney drawers.

pipsohip46 karma

I may be too late for this to be seen and/or answered, but here goes nothing! I'm a young industrial designer trying to find my way into something I enjoy, and design of this nature for movies has always been one of the things on my short list of "pipe dream jobs". So I suppose I have 2 questions!

  1. What was your design background and how did you use that to get into design in film?

  2. What advice would you give to a young designer such as myself about venturing into the realm of prop, set, or any other type of design in the film industry?

Thanks so much!

Colin_Cantwell_AMA76 karma

I came early to trade shows and helped unload trucks to get to know people. You can learn about my background in earlier posts.

greeniepoo37 karma

In working with such famous figures like Lucas and Kubrick, what has the most memorable moment with them?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA75 karma

Attending the Premiers.

CGreezy27 karma

Your house must be full of amazing things. Any pictures of anything you made, or you particularly enjoy, that you would like to share with us?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA42 karma

We moved into a small house about 2 years ago, se we don't have anything in our house. However, if you go to my website http://colincantwell.com/home2 you can find Star Wars stories, information about my book CoreFires and also concept prints of the designs I did before George hired me.

sonic_tower26 karma

What is your favorite fictional starship that you did not design?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA42 karma

Too many to remember. I enjoy sci-fi including stories that take place in higher dimensions.

memeing-of-life25 karma

What do you think of the prequel trilogy and the sequel trilogy?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA107 karma

I think the prequels were too "animated" and lacking character development. The latest film was getting back to the original Star Wars roots and I enjoyed it.

MPair-E24 karma

Hi Colin! I grew up playing with and enjoying your designs.

What is the best book you've read recently, and could you name a couple of your favorite authors? Where does a maxi-nerd like you go to get his maxi-nerd fix?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA53 karma

Well, actually the best and only book I have read recently is the space adventure I wrote, CoreFires. It has consumed most of my time for many months. You can learn about it on my website http://colincantwell.com/home2

RaygunnerRei23 karma

Soo. . . Why did you design the death star with a thermal exhaust port that leads to the core? That seems like a pretty big design flaw. . .

Colin_Cantwell_AMA79 karma

... and pretty important for the finale.

Schnass23 karma

Having such a successfull carreer that you've had, and hosting this AMA, do you ever contemplate on changing your name to Canwell?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA26 karma

Good point... I'll think about it

matheweis20 karma

What a great AMA. Some of your designs don't quite seem to make sense even though they look really cool, so I'm curious how much you allowed aerodynamics vs "photodynamics" ( space aerodynamics) vs art influence the designs? Given the amount of influence that sci-fi has on technology, you think some future development might make them practical?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA67 karma

80% looks, 10% aerodynamics, 10% whimsy

semantikron14 karma

What new technology are you really looking forward to seeing become a reality?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA26 karma

Breakthroughs in genetic engineering

liamquane10 karma

What was Kubrick like as a director? Was he as uncompromising as people say he was?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA18 karma

He was beyond compromising and continually creating the NEW that we'd soon call genius.

Cpottzy7 karma

How does one become the designer for the ships in Star Wars?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA22 karma

Thanks for asking, but check the earlier answer

Laf325696 karma

I am reading the Corefires book you are giving away at http://www.colin-cantwell.com/contest.html. I also love your spaceship designs. How did you come up with the concept of the Corefires?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA6 karma

It was about 30 years ago that I came up with the concept. I just guess I have a vivid imagination.

Rebelfizzy2 karma

Your designs are truly amazing, and I I'm glad you are doing this AMA! What inspired you to create the TIE-Fighter? I love it's design!

Colin_Cantwell_AMA2 karma

Check previous posts.

Endless_Vanity2 karma

What is a Hollywood insider secret nobody knows about?

Colin_Cantwell_AMA5 karma

Aside from "How the Death Star got its trench", I don't know too much about recent Hollywood secrets.