Tuesday, December 31, 2019

R.I.P. Syd Mead

I was saddened to hear of the death of Syd Mead, who died this week at age 89.

While his name likely isn't a household word, you've likely seen his work without realizing it. He was a prolific and talented illustrator, concept artist and industrial designer, who specialized in visualizing futuristic vehicles, machinery and cityscapes.

His work was clean, sleek and polished. It was also strangely believable. No matter how advanced the concept, he rendered it in such a way as to make it convincing. Many's the time I stared at one of his futuristic cities and wished I could live in it!

Syd Mead had a HUGE effect on me and my work, and was a big influence on my style and sense of design. I used to study his work intently, trying to figure out how he illustrated various textures and substances. He was an absolute master at rendering reflective surfaces!

Mead was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1933. After a three year stint in the Army, Mead attended the Art Center School in LA, where he graduated in 1959. He immediately landed a job with the Ford Motor Company, in their Advanced Styling Studio.

Mead seemed to specialize in conceiving and illustrating futuristic concept vehicles.

After two years there he began illustrating books and catalogs for major corporations such as US Steel, Celanese, Allis Chalmers and more.

In 1970 he launched his own company, where he did quite a bit of industrial design and concept work for Philips Electronics.

Eventually his work caught the eye of Hollywood. There's no doubt in my mind that this illustration of Mead's inspired George Lucas to come up with the AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back!

In 1979 he began doing concept work for various films, such as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Mead worked on many designs for the massive V'ger ship.

He worked on TRON2010Short CircuitTime CopJohnny Mnemonic and Elysium as well.

He also designed the Sulaco for ALIENS.

By far his biggest and most important film contribution was in 1982's Blade Runner. Mead designed Deckard's iconic flying Spinner police car.

He came up with most of the other vehicles seen in the movie as well.

He also designed the dense and detailed city of 2019 (!) Los Angeles for the film. The look and feel of Blade Runner was like nothing ever seen before, and his work is still influencing scifi movies to this day. He also worked on the sequel, Blade Runner 2049. I cannot overstate how influential his work has been in the past three decades.

Mead did design work for several videogames as well, such as Mass Effect.

Mead is also the only American artist ever asked to design a Gundam a traditionally Japanese franchise! I'm not a big fan of his Turn ∀ Gundam robot, but I'm still impressed by his achievement.

He was an amazing talent who'll be sorely missed. R.I.P. Syd Mead!

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