Conceptual Darth Vader Helmet

Based on an early development sketch

by Star Wars conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie

No, this isn't quite the Vader you've become so familiar with, but it could have been. Above is the completed 1:1 scale conceptual helmet fabricated in two parts with thick, dark, acrylic lenses. The finish on the parts is much like textured military and police helmets.

The old and the new, an evolution of the most memorable mask in the history of film popular culture.

The Evolution of a Character: The leap from 2 to 3 dimensions

When a conceptual artist first commits a design to paper, it is the earliest development sketches that are the purest to his imagination when translating from nothing but the spoken word for his guidance. Artists like Ralph McQuarrie are selected by their style to develop and refine raw concepts that are otherwise trapped in the mind of someone without the ability to bring them to life visually. Artists like these are a very important tool for story tellers. The images they create become an immensely important part of characters and environments.

Often, many artists with different areas of expertise are utilized throughout the process of bringing a character to life. Each stage of development may influence the final look, and therefore they each play a role in the final incarnation with their own interpretations. McQuarrie's drawings were developed extensively to what we know today, including additional illustration work by John Mollo, Joe Johnson, under the direction of production designer John Barry. Ultimately, sculptor Brian Muir fleshed out Darth Vader's mask as we know him today.

We were enthralled by this particular early sketch showing glimpses of the origins of an evil mask, and wanted to make it tangible, and wearable.

The design test using a gloss finish ABS helmet with textured faceplate combination (above). The hybrid gloss and matte finishes make for a distinctive alteration of the piece, similar to the two tone paint scheme on the face of the original Vader helmet.

A direct comparison of the conceptual 'General Vader' helmet (matte helmet) and the ESB Darth Vader helmet.

The profile of the finished helmet shows the sweep of the helmet brim, and the overhang of the widow's peak. There are distinct differences from the screen used helmet as we have come to know it. Some creative leeway was exercised in bringing out the finer details that weren't fleshed out in the sketch. The wider and fewer grille vents on this rendition also worked well, and we had tested many configurations and thicknesses before arriving at this one.

We recognize that there are a number of ways to tackle the paint scheme, and since this piece is a concept, the sky(-walker) is the limit. With this first incarnation, we’ve gone with a combat/tactical helmet textured surface, which we think really works well with the piece. We have also experimented with a few of the details that worked best with the design, including the number of mouth grille slots, and the helmet base sweep decay, something that wasn’t possible the way it was drawn. Mimicking the original Muir sculpting process, this piece has maintained a similar organic feel to it, not out of asymmetry, but something that a mechanical process couldn’t have achieved.

Bringing Concept to Life (beginnings)

We initially set out in 1997 to bring this piece to life, but only a personal project it remained. In the fall of 2006 we began anew, and are elated to finally have a final incarnation of this piece to display. These early sculptures depict how pencil lines and shading translated to become shapes and dimensional structures.

An article on this subject (external link)

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