The American designer Syd Mead passed away on 30 December 2019 at the age of 86. His illustrations of future cities and machinery contributed to the success of films such as “Blade Runner”. Just recently, fans celebrated “Blade Runner Day” on November 1 – the futuristic film noir from 1982 is set in a dystopian future in November 2019. Designers, illustrators and fans alike mourn the death of the important visionary.
The exciting thing about the future is that it is neither tangible, nor visible, nor comprehensible. And that it simply is not, doesn’t exist, at least not yet. Graphic artists working in the field of Science Fiction are tasked with visualizing the speculative universes of the future, and quite a few actually do exist. Yet, among them, there is only one visual futurist – Syd Mead.
The American designer, internationally renowned for his illustrations for the film and automotive industries, passed away recently. Mead was born in 1933 in the US state of Minnesota, served in the Army and studied design. After graduating at the ArtCenter College of Design in Los Angeles he was employed by the Ford Motor Company. At Ford’s “Advanced Styling Center” he projected futuristic vehicle designs into the near future.
Mead launched his own design firm in the 1970s and produced visualizations for companies such as Philips, Sony or Chrysler. However, he went beyond the call of duty in depicting advanced tech, and his graphics were replete with stylish people in streamlined urban environments. The powerful illustrations of future worlds and their products are testament to Mead’s visionary talent and skill. Inevitably, Hollywood became aware of him during the golden age of Science Fiction cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. He created designs for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Tron, 2010, Aliens, and most of all, Blade Runner – perhaps his most relevant contribution to a film project. Not only did he visualize machines and vehicles, but also the built environment where these technological wonders of the future were deployed.
Syd Mead was more than an inspiration to all those who are keen on seeing potential worlds of tomorrow with their own eyes. Among designers in the film, consumer goods or computer game industry, he is considered unrivaled, a titan. Architects and urban designers who are familiar with his illustrations also appreciate their imaginary, yet persuasive power. Beyond his work for Blade Runner, the space habitat orbiting Earth in Neill Blomkamps 2013 film Elysium is only a further example for the fascinating living spheres that Mead created.