Ron Cobb, one of the creative minds behind the Back to the Future DeLorean and many other Hollywood props and sets, died September 21—his 83rd birthday—in Sydney, Australia. Robin Love, Cobb’s wife of 48 years, told multiple sources that her husband suffered from Lewy body dementia.
Cobb, a cartoonist by trade who eventually became a production designer, worked on everything from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty to sci-fi films like Star Wars and Aliens.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, among Cobb’s many creations was the interior of the Mothership and the stranded tanker in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), several cantina creatures for Star Wars (1977), the exterior and interior of the Nostromo ship in Alien (1978), weaponry and sets for Conan the Barbarian (1982), the vehicles of The Last Starfighter (1984), the earth colony complex in Aliens (1986), the breathing tanks and helmets in The Abyss (1989), and the Omega Sector logo and the H bombs in True Lies (1990).
However, Cobb was likely most famous—certainly among automotive enthusiasts—for his contribution to the DeLorean-turned-time machine in Back to the Future (1985). You can check out his DMC-12 sketches his website, roncobb.net. Writer/producer Bob Gale shares the story in a behind-the-scene video:
For his work on Back to the Future, Cobb was credited as DeLorean Time Travel Consultant.
Cobb’s career began in 1956, when as a teenager, fresh out of high school, he was hired to work as an “in-betweener” and breakdown artist on Disney’s animated feature Sleeping Beauty in 1956. The film was released in 1959.
In the 1960s, Cobb became a celebrated counterculture editorial cartoonist, and at one time his work was syndicated in more than 80 newspapers on four continents.
Cobb was tapped to direct E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which at the time was being called Night Skies, at the suggestion of Steven Spielberg. However, after Spielberg played a major role in rewriting the script, he decided to direct the film himself. Cobb was compensated with 1 percent of the box office receipts, which according to The Hollywood Reporter amounted to about $400,000.
Cobb’s creativeness wasn’t limited to drawing or set production. It was he who suggested, for Alien, that the creature’s blood be corrosive, explaining why the crew couldn’t simply shoot or injure the alien invader. And in the early stages of production on Back to the Future, Spielberg asked Cobb how he would turn the DeLorean into a time machine. Cobb considered Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown character and suggested they make it look homemade, like the rest of Doc’s wacky inventions. The movie car became a Hollywood icon, just like its creator.