The Tears of a 'Bot

Last week a giant in the world of special effects slipped quietly away with little to-do in the public eye. Grant McCune, the man responsible for R2-D2, died of pancreatic cancer in his California home. He was 67.

Usually my posts here are rife with snark and flippancy, but I was compelled to take a moment’s break from my usual modus operandi to properly and somberly address the extraordinary achievements of a man whose life’s work has culminated in some of the most iconic characters and special effects in geek history.

McCune’s career began when he, along with friend Bill Shourt, created a little fish you may know as the enormous white shark in Jaws – an accomplishment for which he received no credit, save a foothold in the special effects industry. It was from there to the stars, almost literally, as he became the chief model maker for Star Wars, a role for which he won an Oscar in 1977. R2-D2 would be shedding a tear for his creator now. But many of the other characters in Star Wars owe McCune for their genesis, too.

1978 brought Battlestar Galactica and 1979 brought another Oscar nomination for his work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Is your mind blown yet? This man was a major player in much of what geeks have cherished for decades.

McCune then became a partner in Apogee Productions, which was responsible for more than a few epic films, including Die Hard and Caddyshack. He soon founded his own company, Grant McCune Design, which worked on films like Batman Forever, Red Planet and Spider-Man.

McCune was originally a student of biology, but considered photography to be the key element of his special effects work. “The most important thing is what you see with your eye,” he told Popular Mechanics. “Movies are a lot different from reality. This is because you’ve isolated the viewer’s eye to a certain spot — you can’t look anywhere else. If you’re a photographer, you get the idea of what you need to do by analyzing what it is that needs to be set and where it is and how much detail it should have. All the best people who ever worked for me were first good with the eye.”

Popular Mechanics described McCune as “quiet but crucial”. I believe that pretty well sums up his career. The sum of his family life can be found in the wife, daughter, son and sister he leaves behind.

Rest in peace, Grant McCune. Your creativity and analytical approach to realistic and spectacular special effects will be missed.

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