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RIP Ralph McQuarrie, Star Wars Visionary

Geekdom lost an important figure over the weekend – Ralph McQuarrie died at the age of 82. Many people won't know the name, but they will undoubtedly know his work as a concept artist on everything from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Cocoon to the original Battlestar Galactica. But what he will always be remembered for is his work on the original Star Wars trilogy. In fact, were it not for McQuarrie, Star Wars might never have existed at all.

George Lucas commissioned McQuarrie to create concept art based on scenes from an early draft of the Star Wars script, and Lucas used these visuals to help sell the film to 20th Century Fox. After the movie got the green light, McQuarrie stayed on to help develop the look of everything from iconic characters to vehicles to buildings and landscapes, and even worked on marketing materials, like posters and promotional artwork.

As a tribute to McQuarrie and his impressive body of work, we present a gallery of some of his concept and production art for Star Wars. I think you'll agree that his vision helped define a generation and quite possibly changed cinema forever.

Concept art for the scene when Darth Vader reveals to Luke that he's...well, you know.

Early concept art of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.

Early versions of R2-D2 and C3PO that helped convince 20th Century Fox to make Star Wars.

Early Snowspeeders take down an AT-AT while Snowtroopers run past.

Concept art of an AT-AT preparing to step on Luke Skywalker and his Snowspeeder.

The Ewoks carry their golden deity through the forest of Endor.

Production art for the cloud city of Bespin.

Stormtroopers carrying lightsabers and shields as they intercept our heroes on the Death Star.

An early concept for the Jawa Sandcrawler, as well as a Jawa settlement.

Production art of a squadron of B-Wings taking out a Star Destroyer.

Luke evading the Empire on his Speederbike on the forest moon of Endor.

A Tusken Raider gathering in the cold night of Tatooine.

Production art for Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band.

All images copyright Lucasfilm

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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