31 December 2019 18:32
Syd Mead, the widely renowned conceptual artist and "visual futurist", has died at the age of 86. His work informed some of sci-fi's greatest cinematic achievements, including Blade Runner, Tron and Aliens. A talented artist from childhood, Mead began his professional career as an industrial designer for the Ford Motor Company in 1960s Detroit. He started his own company in 1970, with clients over the next two decades including Philips, United States Steel, Sony and Honda. His imagination had been fired in early life by the pulp sci-fi magazines to which his father subscribed, but his subsequent work in film was grounded by that eye for the practical and functional.
"The logic to doing (science fiction) is it has to look like it works," he told Empire in 2014. Even as a corporate and industrial artist, his work was extraordinary enough that he was lecturing and exhibiting at one-man shows from the early 1970s. That high profile eventually caught the eye of director Robert Wise, who brought Mead in as a production illustrator to design the V'Ger spacecraft for Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. He immediately moved on to Tron and Blade Runner, which he worked on concurrently. I designed all the vehicles, and saw my little wash renderings become real on the Warner Bros.
The spinner from Blade Runner, the lightcycle from Tron, the robot in Short Circuit, the power loader from Aliens, all those things and more were influenced, conceived, or designed by Mead. And while his work in Hollywood may be his most recognisable, his film career capped an array of earlier accomplishments. He served three years in the U.S. Army before being recruited by the Ford Motor Company to help its design team. That ballooned into bigger work and by 1970, he'd formed his own company, Syd Mead Inc. The company primarily worked on industrial design and architecture before transitioning into film. His first major film work was the V'Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Mead is one of the most influential concept artists and industrial designers of our time." Mead's background in industrial design may have helped him think up advanced technologies that are still believable. Before he created concepts of futuristic worlds, he worked on designs for Ford and illustrated catalogues for companies like United States Steel. When Art Directors Guild honored him in November, the organization's president, Nelson Coates, called him "one of the most influential concept artists and industrial designers of our time." He'd inspired people from various industries, after all, and he even once told Curbed that architects "go bonkers" for Blade Runner. Credit: Syd Mead (Warner Bros.) Concept artist Syd Mead has died at the age of 86 due to lymphoma, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The U.S. Army veteran began his design career at Ford Motor Company, but after two years segued to becoming a freelance illustrator. After twenty years designing for manufacturing and electronics companies, Mead began what would be a seminal run designing vehicles, characters, and worlds for films such as Blade Runner, Tron, Aliens, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Additionally, Empire Strikes Back concept artist Joe Johnston has said that the iconic AT-ATs were based on a Syd Mead design for a snow walker which appeared in a 1960s-era U.S. Steel brochure. Visual artist and futurist Syd Mead, who helped shape the look of influential sci-fi films including "Blade Runner," "Tron," "Aliens" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," died Monday of complications from lymphoma in Pasadena, Calif. Autoline journalist John McElroy first reported the news, which was confirmed by his spouse Roger Servick to several media outlets. Mead was set to receive the Art Directors Guild's William Cameron Menzies Award during the Guild's 24th Annual awards in February for his contributions on "Aliens," "Blade Runner" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." ADG president Nelson Coates said, "I am so saddened to hear of the passing of visionary illustrator and concept artist Syd Mead. His pivotal role in shaping cinema was unique, with a singular ability to visualize the future. As one of the most influential conceptual artists of our time, his visions and illustrations of future technological worlds will remain as a testament to his vast imagination." Mead started his design career in the auto, electronics and steel industries working for Ford Motor Co., Sony, U.S. Steel and Phillips Electronics. His career began as a production illustrator working with director Robert Wise ("West Side Story") to create Earth's nemesis V'Ger in the 1979 "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." He continued fusing technology with creativity, bringing to life some of the biggest films in science fiction. In 1982, he served as a visual futurist on "Blade Runner," before collaborating as a conceptional artist with director Steven Lisberger on the 1982 "Tron." Mead later designed the Leonov spaceship seen in "2001: A Space Odyssey" sequel "2010" before becoming a robot designer on the family film "Short Circuit," starring Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg. More recently, Mead's created designs for "Mission: Impossible III," "Elysium" and "Tomorrowland" and consulted on "Blade Runner 2049."