‘Death Star’ Creator Adds Life to San Diego’s InterGalactiCon — Uncrowded Comic-Con

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Actor Colin Ferguson looks over drawings and photos showing the artistry of Colin Cantwell at InterGalactiCon. Photo by Chris Stone

By Chris Stone

Colin Cantwell’s first vision of the Millennium Falcon was declared “unconstitutional” and had to be rebuilt from scratch. The Death Star had a materials malfunction.

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Designer and visual effects artist Colin Cantwell described his work for “Star Wars” at the InterGalactiCon in Mission Valley. Photo by Chris Stone
But the “Star Wars” visual effects artist didn’t become desperate.

He relied on his own version of The Force.

So said the 86-year-old former motion picture designer and artist Saturday at the inaugural InterGalactiCon at the Town & Country Hotel Resort — a single-day Comic-Con without the crowds.

Several dozen “Star Wars” geeks heard Cantwell explain the obstacles that led to the evolutions of new story lines for the films and his life.

Born in San Francisco, Cantwell — best known for his concepts and designs on the Death Star and other iconic “Star Wars” crafts — had to start from scratch on the Millennium Falcon when his creation looked too similar to one created by another studio.

Like a lizard, he said.

It took four nights before “it grew into clarity what it had to be. And that was going to be the initial heart of the story — the ship and where we were going,” recalled the white-haired, slender resident of Boulder, Colorado.

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Another fly in the ointment was the Death Star, whose plastic original had a flaw: The two halves of the polystyrene sphere didn’t fit together. A gap was left at the equator.

The self-educated designer informed director George Lucus, who pondered the problem for 20 minutes, then returned with: “It’s a go on the trench.”

The gap in the small model became a pivotal moment in the film as Rebel Alliance forces flew into the trench and destroyed the moon-size spaceship.

InterGalactiCon’s founder saw a similar opening — in the market.

“I had wanted to start up some new convention,” said Steven “Captain” Kirk. “Some of these other shows have gotten too big. It’s hard to have as much fun as you used to when they were smaller.”

Looking around the area, Kirk said he saw small specialty shows and Comic-Con, and felt there need to be something in the middle.

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A cosplayer checks out the booths in the exhibit hall at InterGalactiCon at the Town and Country Convention Center in Mission Valley. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Designer and visual effects artist Colin Cantwell described his work for "Star Wars" at the InterGalactiCon in Mission Valley. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Colin Cantwell's early renditions of "Star Wars" starships were shown. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Actor Colin Ferguson of SYFI "Eureka" fame poses for a photo at InterGalactiCon in Mission Valley. Photo by Chris Stonemore
An early rendition of a "Star Wars" wing fighter was displayed at the session with Colin Cantwell, designer of "Star Wars" craft. Photo by Chris Stone more
Kevin Carney of San Diego Sabers was among the cosplayers at InterGalactiCon. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Jeremy Jiao shows off the drawing by designer Colin Cantwell that he bought at InterGalactiCon. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Actor and cartoonist Dean LeCrone of San Diego Steam Punk dresses as his character, Dr. Artemus Peppers, at InterGalactiCon. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Sierra Dall, partner of film artist Colin Cantwell, shows photos of his work including "Star Wars" designs at InterGalactiCon. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Katie Main of San Diego Sabers helps Kevin Carney apply his makeup at InterGalactiCon in Mission Valley. Photo by Chris Stonemore
A cosplayer calling himself Harrison Innocent takes advantage of the game room at InterGalactiCon. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Jordan Hinson, who played Zoe Carter in SYFI's "Eureka," greets attendees at InterGalactiCon. Photo by Chris Stonemore
An early conceptual drawing of the Death Star was shown during a talk by its designer, Colin Cantwell. Photo by Chris Stonemore
Colin Cantwell autographs a Death Star model at InterGalactiCon in Mission Valley. Photo by Chris Stonemore
The original model of the Millennium Falcon had to be redesigned because it looked too much like a spacecraft in another movie. Photo by Chris Stonemore

“We designed this as an experience for people, so you can walk around, interact with the celebrities, meet new people, make new friends — great memories,” the founder said.

“The fact that people can just walk up to these (celebrities) that they have known from TV and sit down and listen to their stories and interact with them — those are things that they will never forget,” Kirk said.

The convention started with a VIP party Friday night and opened Saturday with speeches, celebrity autograph sessions, an exhibit hall, game room, lightsaber competitions and a comic book workshop.

The event — charging $50 for adults and $10 for kids 12 and under — was designed for 1,000 people. Hundreds had shown by mid-day.

Cantwell and his partner of 20 years, Sierra Dall, have been making the rounds at comic conventions to sell memorabilia, selfies and autographs.

People who approached Cantwell’s booth, one of 30 at the con, learned more about the prolific artist.

His career would make any film aficionado’s jaw drop, working with George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg.

The artist’s visual effects credits include: “Star Wars: Episode IV,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “WarGame,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” “Genesis,” “Mars: The Search Begins” and technical dialogue in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Specifically, he designed the X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Y-Wing, Death Star, Millennium Falcon and Death Destroyer for the first “Star Wars” movie.

That’s just part of the story.

He also was accepted by Frank Lloyd Wright into his architectural school, was the first to graduate as an animation major at UCLA. And as “Hal 9000,” Cantwell was in direct communication with NASA during the moon landing and conveyed a blow-by-blow description of the landing to Walter Cronkite.

He designed software for Hewlett Packard and wrote, designed,and directed the first OMNIMAX spherical projection movie, “Voyage to the Outer Planets.”

George Lucas also offered him the job of leading the effects shop Industrial Light & Magic. But Cantwell turned him down, feeling the work might be “too repetitive.”

San Diegan Jeremy Jiao was impressed. He recently entered a model contest and won a prize to attend the conference.

“I knew he was going to show up, and I’m a big ‘Star Wars’ fan,” Jiao said. “I wanted to see if I could get a signature on my little Death Star model kit.” And he did.

“It’s nice and small,” he said of the Mission Valley convention. “It’s got a lot of space.”

Jiao says he’s attended Comic-Con for more than 30 years and watched it grow over the years.

“It’s kind of nice to go back to roots like this. Back when I was doing art in the ’90s, I used to work cons like this.”

Other celebrities at the event included actors Claudia Christian of “Babylon 5,” Colin Ferguson, Niall Matter, Jordan Hinson and Ed Quinn of SYFI’s “Eureka” fame.

Other scheduled speakers included Ryan Schneider of CBO, Insomniac Games; Trevor Baca, a music composer; Ashley Sher, a Hollywood makeup artist; and teachers Brandon Boyland and Vernon Renegar.

Jiao, the “Star Wars” fan, recalls how his parents dropped him off in downtown San Diego to see his first Comic-Con — at age 12. (“I couldn’t even fathom doing that with my 12-year-old,” he said.)

The new convention “feels very old school to me,” he said. “I hope this is a trend for InterGalacticCon.”

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