Chesley Bonestell imagined the future — and got it right, mostly.

Bonestell, a Bay Area painter who died in 1986, was successful in the mid-20th century. But he didn’t paint picturesque scenes of the American Midwest, or wholesome images of post-World War II suburbia. His works didn’t appear in Life magazine and — while they have been exhibited — tend not to hang next to Monet’s lilies or Van Gogh’s self-portraits.

Rather, his art appeared on the covers of science-fiction and fantasy magazines and books through the 1940s and ’50s. The futuristic images depicted planets and galaxies unseen by the human eye, and man-made rockets perched atop sandy, alien environs. His paintbrush helped the legendary aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun convince the American public — already motivated by the Cold War — that humanity could get to space, and inspired the likes of Carl Sagan.

(Much of his work focused on interplanetary exploration, an as-yet unrealized goal.)

And now, 33 years after Bonestell died and 50 years after man first made it to the moon, the artist who imagined interstellar travel years before the United States space program launched in earnest, will regain the spotlight — or, rather, the moonlight.

That’s because a documentary on Bonestell’s life and work — by Palos Verdes filmmaker Douglas M. Stewart Jr. — will hit Laemmle theaters in West Los Angeles, Pasadena, Encino and Claremont on July 15 and 16.

The film, “Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future,” was a hit at Comic-Con international and film festivals last year. And, for Stewart, who saw Bonestell’s work on magazine covers growing up, it was a passion project.

“On the 50th anniversary of man landing and walking on the moon,” Stewart said, “here’s the story that nobody’s heard.

“His paintings were incredibly influential,” Stewart added. “Why do people go into the aerospace business? Why do they dream to fly rockets? Because there’s something in us that resonates. There’s a spark that comes from somewhere.”

And Bonestell’s paintings, Stewart said, are the kind that make people yearn to leave Earth.

But Bonestell, dubbed “The Father of Space Art,” wasn’t only known for his paintings of rocket ships, Saturn and other far off places. There’s more to his life story — as Stewart discovered.

Stewart, while working on the documentary, found there were “little thrills along the way,” including that the space-art patriarch helped design the Chrysler Building in New York, and turned blueprints and technical drawings into paintings to help the Golden Gate Bridge get built.

Bonestell was also a matte painter, creating a visual background for filmmakers. He painted landscapes for Hollywood films such the Orson Welles classic “Citizen Kane” and the 1953 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” (not to be confused with Welles’ infamous radio broadcast).

Stewart conducted extensive research for the documentary, including interviewing multiple people inspired by Bonestell’s art — from visual-effects artists on the “Star Wars” original trilogy to Rocco Lardiere, a retired rocket engineer from Palos Verdes.

Stewart and Lardiere actually knew each other through their children’s school.

One day, Lardiere, whose space career began by working on the Delta rocket program in 1980 at McDonnell Douglas in Huntington Beach, told Stewart he had been inspired by Bonestell’s book “The Exploration of Mars.” The aspiring engineer purchased the book when he was 11 years old, because he liked the color plates of Bonestell’s paintings.

“Chesley Bonestell painted very realistic and exciting scenes of an imagined future,” Lardiere said.

“When he was painting,” he continued, “for the most part, we had not even launched a satellite.”

Sputnik, the Russian satellite, had not happened yet, Lardiere noted.

Telling Bonestell’s life, meanwhile, took Stewart three years. He described it as a “labor of love.”

“(The documentary) contains a tremendous amount of wonderful archival footage some of which has never been seen before,” Stewart said.

That includes rare footage of Bonestell himself and a clip of author Ray Bradbury talking about the artist.

“There are really priceless gems that just came about as a result of incredible detective work that one has to do when you do a film like this,” Stewart added. “It’s a collaboration of people who knew (Bonestell) or were influenced by him.”

Stewart said the idea of making a film about Bonestell had been “percolating in my mind for a long time.”

But, he figured, a film about Bonestell had to already exist. Not so, Bonestell expert Ron Miller told Stewart.

Miller, Stewart said, told him it’s time to make a film about the artist.

“Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future,” however, is not just for space lovers or space-art experts, Stewart said. Rather, it’s a film for anyone who cares about history and art.

“You don’t have to be a space geek to like this film,” Stewart said. Bonestell “gave America hope. He inspired Americans to continue to conquer the final frontier of space.”

For more information on Bonestell and the July 15 and 16 L.A. screenings, visit chesleybonestell.com.

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