Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie has passed away at 82. If you'd have asked me yesterday who my heroes were, I probably wouldn't have listed him (or his Star Trek counterpart, Matt Jefferies), but growing up, when you asked me to close my mind and imagine what a universe of possibilities could be, I probably would be thinking of their expansive visions of empires and federations throughout space.
As you grow, you wean yourself away from imitation and towards your original conceptions, but deep down those early influences are still at work. McQuarrie's work is probably buried in a place so primal in my childhood imagination that I couldn't guess at where it comes out now, but it's definitely there.
And I do mean Ralph McQuarrie -- I had one of the concept art books (and, again, the Star Trek counterpart). It was beautiful and valuable to me to see at a young age that not only was there this beautiful and compelling vision in the stars, but that there were just as many other visions that could have existed.