Joe Johnston revealed to StarWars.com that his ideas for the AT-ATs began with a study of metallurgic futurism, rather than at the sketch pad. The “Star Wars” movies make use of all kinds of unusual futuristic technology, and the filmmakers wanted the fictional machines to look like something might in real life in a few centuries. Johnston even remembers the industry catalog he thumbed through to get ideas as to how metals would look in the future. He said:
“I had remembered from Cal State Long Beach, there was a portfolio that U.S. Steel had published. It was all about, ‘This is how steel is going to be used in the future.’ It was paintings by Syd Mead. They gave these portfolios — I think there were 12 illustrations — to design schools and students. They published them with no copyright at all. ‘What we’re saying is, this is the future.’ One of the illustrations in there was a truck that walked on four legs. The illustration of it was walking through this snowy forest and I thought, ‘That is really cool.'”
Thanks to the thoroughness of the internet, Syd Mead’s invention is available. His paintings, painted in 1969, can be seen on the website CyberneticZoo. The walking truck was a cargo vehicle meant to traverse uneven terrain. The U.S. Military had even funded the invention of such a vehicle. One can see the AT-AT scene in Mead’s painting, right down to the icy terrain. The walking cargo truck wasn’t as animal-like, however, possessing a standard driver’s cab.