My Car Quest

January 25, 2020

Syd Mead: A Great Futurist Has Died

by Wallace Wyss –

Syd Mead died on December 30, 2019. He designed the sets for the movie Blade Runner. But he was a lot more than that.

I remember, maybe 40 plus years ago, I had a hardbound promotional book by US Steel. And who was the illustrator? Syd Mead. So even back then he was picturing the future 40 years hence.

The buildings were wild, the cars were sleek, and the people beautiful. All set in fantastic scenery, like maybe Manhattan set into Sedona Arizona.

I think he was right about a lot of what the future would look like, architecturally, for instance in Dubai there are now hotels that look like something he drew in the ‘60s. About cars, not so much. He seemed to like the long, low, wide ones and those big “boats” are disappearing. I think back then he would have hated SUVs.

He was an ArtCenter College of Design graduate, and was inspirational to designers in the automobile field, as well as industrial design and the film business.

He was born as Sydney Jay Mead, in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1933. He graduated from high school in Colorado, served in the armed forces, and was an early Art Center student from 1956-1959.

Upon graduation Mead was recruited by Elwood Engel, a Ford design director, to work at Ford’s Advanced Design Studio, where he worked on the 1963 Ford Falcon and a number of concept cars including the Ford Gyron, and the Ford Ranger II.

Then came the assignment that showed he had an uncanny ability to know what was coming. The assignment to work with US Steel on a concept book took him away from Ford in 1961. He then became a partner in a business, Mead Hansen.

From there he went out on his own in 1970. Among the first to call him was Philips Electronics for whom he put in 12 years. Other clients were hotels, architecture firms and electronics companies like Minolta and Sony.

In the late ‘70s he connected with Hollywood, envisioning the look of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and helping it go from the TV show to the big screen. Other sci fi films in his portfolio were Blade Runner, Tron, 2010, Tron 2.0, Alien, Elysium, Tomorrowland, and Blade Runner 2049 among others.

Blade Runner would be the film for which he was best known, but his work on the design of the “Leonov” for the movie 2010 was one of the works he mentioned most often. He won the Visual Effects Society “Visionary Award” and the Lifetime Achievement award from “Eyes on Design” in Detroit in 2017.

In an obituary tribute in Design News, the author wrote: “His was a world larger than ours- the technology was bolder, magical even, the cars and transport more sleek and luxurious, the architecture more graceful and geometric, and the cities are both more optimistic, and bleakly pessimistic (Blade Runner) than our own. His renderings of life in outer space enlarged our vision beyond Earth to the stars.”

I would second that. I think what Syd Mead did was make us (or maybe just me) not so afraid of the future. We could see it coming in his drawings and imagine ourselves there. Ironically I myself treasure ancient things, like log cabins, classic cars and the like but I thought, with guys like Mead designing the future, it’s not so unknown. We could live there.

He told an interviewer from the NY Times: “I’ve called science fiction ‘reality ahead of schedule’”

I enjoyed meeting him at Art Center after his concours speech. He was friendly to new designers, encouraging them. I think he embodied what Art Center is trying to teach designers; a sense of don’t confine your thinking to one technique or one school of thought.

He will be remembered, and I feel at a bit of a loss without him. Who will picture the world of 2050 without Syd?

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a fine artist specializing in exotic cars.

syd-mead-us-steel

From Syd Mead’s Work With US Steel

sydmead-blade-runner-spinner

Blade Runner Spinner by Syd Mead

These images can be found on Mead’s web site at this link.

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Syd Mead: A Great Futurist Has Died
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Syd Mead: A Great Futurist Has Died
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Syd Mead was an Art Center grad, and was inspirational to designers in the automobile field, as well as industrial design and the film business.
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Comments

  1. imwithstoopid says

    R.I.P. Mr. Mead. Really enjoyed your time travels to the future Sir, yes I did.
    Thanks for the sad notice, Mr. Wyss.

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