Syd Mead

blade runner by syd mead

Syd Mead (b. 1933), is a ‘visual futurist’ and concept artist. He is best known for his designs for science-fiction films such as ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Aliens,’ and ‘Tron.’ Of his work, Mead was once moved to comment: ‘I’ve called science fiction ‘reality ahead of schedule.” Sydney Jay Mead was born in Saint Paul Minnesota, but spent only a few years there before moving to what would be the second of many homes throughout the western United States prior to graduating from high school in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1951.

After serving a three-year enlistment in the U.S. Army, Syd Mead continued on to the Art Center School in Los Angeles, (now the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena) where he graduated in 1959. He was recruited by the Ford Motor Company’s Advanced Styling Studio under the management of Elwood Engel. Mead left the studio after two years to accept a variety of assignments to illustrate books and catalogues for large corporate entities such as United States Steel, Celanese, Allis Chalmers and Atlas Cement.

In 1970, he launched Syd Mead, Inc. in Detroit to accommodate the offers he received, most notably from Philips Electronics. As the principal of his newly formed corporation, Mead spent about a third of his time in Europe, primarily to provide designs and illustrations for Philips of Holland. His work for international clients continues to this day. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Syd Mead, Inc. provided architectural renderings both interior and exterior for such clients as Intercontinental Hotels, 3D International, Harwood Taylor & Associates, Don Ghia, and Gresham & Smith. His architectural clients recently have expanded to include the New York firm of Philip Koether Architects, for which he designed the interior of a Manhattan eatery.

Design activity accelerated after the corporate and personal move to California in 1975. In 1979, projects began to include work with most major studios, on such feature films as ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture,’ followed by ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Tron,’ ‘Short Circuit,’ ‘Aliens,’ ‘Johnny Mnemonic,’ and ‘Mission: Impossible III.’ Beginning in 1983, Mead began to develop working relationships with Japanese corporate clients, including Sony, Minolta, Tiger Corporation, Bandai, and Honda as well as contributing to two Japanese film projects, ‘The New Yamato’ and ‘Crises 2050.’ In the 1990s, Syd supplied designs for two Japanese toy icons, ‘The New Yamato’ and all mobile suits (mecha) in the ‘Turn A Gundam’ series.

Transportation design is Mead’s first love and he seldom misses an opportunity to provide his unique blend of futurism and believability to those projects consisting of a vehicle. Whether it be designing solar powered unicycles, show cars, luxury yachts, cruise ships, or the interiors of private 747s, each receives the same attention to detail within a perfectly designed scenario. This combination has become a Syd Mead trademark and has been seen in everything from concept cars for Ford Motor Company to futuristic ‘hypervans’ which have been the subject of his latest full color illustrations.

Syd Mead continues an active schedule of one-man shows, which started with an invitation to exhibit at ‘Documenta 6,’ Kassel, West Germany in 1973. His work has since been exhibited in Japan, Italy, California, and Spain. In 1983, in response to an in invitation from Chrysler Corporation to be a guest speaker to their design staff, Syd Mead assembled a selection of slides to visually enhance his lecture. The resulting presentation was a resounding success and since has been expanded and enhanced with computer-generated imagery specifically assembled at the requests of such clients as Disney, Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue, Pratt University, the Society of Illustrators and many others both academic and corporate around the world.

Always an advocate of new technologies, Syd Mead has expanded his horizons to include computer illustrations and graphics by mastering a variety of software. Beginning with the official poster of the 1991 Concours d’Elegance ‘Eyes on the Classics’ in Detroit, Mead has attempted to use the latest in available techniques to their best advantage. A digital gallery consisting of 50 examples of his art with interface screens designed by him became one of the first CD-ROMs released in Japan in 1992. In 2004, in response to many requests, Mead cooperated with Gnomon School of Visual Effects to produce a 4 volume, ‘How To’ DVD series titled, ‘TECHNIQUES OF SYD MEAD’ which continues to be sought after by designers around the world.

In 1998, Mead relocated his studio to Pasadena, California, where he continues to be involved in a variety of design projects. He recently completed work on a documentary of his career with director Joaquin Montalvan. ‘VISUAL FUTURIST’ was released in 2007 on DVD and is available through the virtual Oblagon bookstore on the Syd Mead official webpage WWW.SYDMEAD.COM. Mead attributes success in an astonishing range of creative activities to the premise that imagination–the idea–supersedes technique.

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