John Stears, who won his second special effects Academy Award for the original Star Wars, died on April 15, 1999, of a stroke at the age of 64.
Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as the dean of motion picture special effects, Stears made his mark concocting wild vehicles like the flying car in 1968's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and James Bond's classic 1960s era Aston Martin, winning his first Oscar for Thunderball in 1965. (He shared his Star Wars Oscar 12 years later with four other artists.)
Although his long title on Star Wars was Special Production and Mechanical Effects Supervisor, his contribution to the saga can hardly be put into words and can be seen in the iconic visage of R2-D2, to whom Stears was a key contributor. In addition to Star Wars, Stears created special effects for films from 1957's A Night to Remember to 1998's The Mask of Zorro, as well as the 1993 TV miniseries Babylon 5: The Gathering.
But Stears' greatest fame came from the 1986 film F/X, which featured actor Brian Brown as a special effects artist enlisted by the government to help stage a fake assassination. Stears not only created the "f/x" for the film, but he was also the loose inspiration for the lead character. But Stears told interviewers that although he had been approached for similar work in real life, he turned it down.
Born in Uxbridge, England, Stears served as a draftsman in the British Air Museum after studying art, beginning his career by building scale models of buildings for an architecture firm. He began his film career when he was hired to build model aircraft for the British film Reach for the Sky in 1956. Stears is survived by his wife, Brenda, and daughters Jacqueline and Janet.