ByElise Jost, writer at
"It's a UNIX system! I know this!" Twitter @elisejost
Elise Jost

Obviously there are a lot of people in the movie industry we've never heard of: Set designers, boom operators and makeup artists all work their magic behind the scenes, and usually the only time you'll catch their name is in the final credits of the movie — if, like me, you always insist on staying until the lights come on in the theater.

That's why most people would probably not know who Colin Cantwell is. But as soon as you learn that he's the man who designed the original Death Star in George Lucas' Star Wars, he's already fascinating. And that's not all, he also created the X-Wing. And the A-Wing. And the Star Destroyer, and the TIE Fighter, and the Rebel cruiser.

It gets even better! This incredible man, who's achieved so many things in his career that it feels like his body is hosting five different people each with their own life goals, recently gave a reddit AmA — an Ask Me Anything session in which he answered users' various questions — and revealed little known details about his extraordinary work. You can head to the full AmA over here, or continue to read below for the best things we learned about Cantwell.

1. He Contributed To The Creation Of The Animation Department At UCLA

As one of the first animation majors at UCLA, Cantwell explains, he later suggested the university create that department while he went on making his own animation.

2. His Spaceship Designs Got Him Introduced To George Lucas


Even if you've got the coolest spaceship designs standing on your desk, how do you get in contact with someone like George Lucas? Cantwell was lucky enough that some of his friends knew about his miniatures and worked with Lucas on the set of American Graffiti. But ultimately, his trick for knowing the people who'd introduce him to future jobs was showing up at trade shows and helping the crews.

3. He Found The Inspiration For The X-Wing In A Pub

The new X-Wing in 'The Force Awakens' / Disney
The new X-Wing in 'The Force Awakens' / Disney

While Cantwell admits a lot of his designs don't rely much on physics, the X-Wing's characteristic shape isn't just coincidence; he got the inspiration for the popular ship while playing darts in a pub. But in general, he focuses on the looks when creating a new ship:

80% looks, 10% aerodynamics, 10% whimsy

4. He Hadn't Planned The Trench In The Death Star

As for the iconic Death Star, Cantwell revealed that he hadn't planned the weapon to feature a trench at all — but when his mold shrunk, he convinced Lucas of the new shape as if it were an intentional design feature, and it stayed. Could you imagine the Death Star as a smooth, round sphere?

5. He Became Friends With Stanley Kubrick

'2001: A Space Odyssey'
'2001: A Space Odyssey'

Working with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, he not only became friends with the director, but also contributed to the movie's soundtrack:

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.

6. He Was CBS's Lead Analyst During The Moon Landing

As if movies weren't cool enough, Cantwell got involved in much more than set design, working on quantum physics and getting a job or two at NASA — one of them involving reporting for CBS during the moon landing, as famous reporter Walter Cronkite's NASA connection.

7. He Invented The Color Monitor For Hewlett-Packard

When he wasn't busy designing new spaceships or talking about space, he even found the time to design the first color monitor for Hewlett-Packard:

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.

Casually confirming the feeling that this man has indeed done pretty much everything in life.

8. He Was Accepted Into Frank Lloyd Wright's School

Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright

There's plenty of incredible information in this rare Q&A session, but one fact that really shows the extent of Cantwell's skills is that he was accepted into Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture school. One of the most famous American architects, Wright unfortunately passed before Cantwell had a chance to work with him, but one can only imagine the wonders they would have produced together.


Had you heard of Colin Cantwell before?

For more about Colin Cantwell, check out his website at


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