Syd Mead, the “visual futurist” and concept artist known for his design contributions to sci-fi films such as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Aliens and Blade Runner, passed away on December 30, as announced by Autoline’s John McElroy on Facebook. He was 86.
McElroy wrote, “He was one of the greatest designers and futurists of of our times. Syd Mead passed away this morning. His work and influence will outlive him forever.”
Mead was set to receive the Art Directors Guild’s William Cameron Menzies Award during the Guild’s 24th Annual Awards on February 1, 2020 in Downtown Los Angeles. He survived by his partner Roger Servick and the Mead family. A cause of death was not immediately given, but last year he had traveled to City Of Hope, a cancer treatment center in Duarte, California.
“Syd Mead has played a pivotal role in shaping cinema with his unique ability to visualize the future. His visions and illustrations of future technological worlds remain as a testament to his vast imagination. Mead is one of the most influential concept artists and industrial designers of our time,” said ADG president Nelson Coates to THR.
While Mead said in an interview he started drawing when he was around 2 years old, and before heading to art school, he served in the army. Mead spent nearly three years in Okinawa during the Korean War, after which he started working for Ford Motor Company, before starting his own design company in Detroit in 1970.
Here’s what you need to know about Syd Mead:
1. Mead’s Career Started In Designing Cars
Born on July 18, 1933, in St. Paul Minnesota, after studying at the ArtCenter College of Design, which is now located in Pasadena, California, Mead started out his career as designer for the Ford Motor Company and after establishing his own firm, banked Philips Electronics as his first client. He earned the term as a “futurist” after helping companies such as Sony, Chrysler, and Playboy design new technology and products.
In an interview with Car Design News in 2016, he shared his ideas on the future of automotive vehicles. “I was trying to think ok a mobility idea that was a one person footprint,” Mead said, which is how he came up with wheel pants, which he illustrated in his rendering of the 200th Kentucky Derby.
“Vehicles for movies, you’re helping the director illustrate the story, which has a social and a technological setting. You have to be aware of that, because you don’t want to jar the story. It has to be consistent” Mead explained on why Blade Runner became so iconic. “It never violates its own technological format. You have to essentially illustrate the story as you do for real life.”
One car he’s happy to have had nothing to do with? The Pontiac Aztec. “It is an astonishingly awful vehicle,” Mead said.
2. Syd Mead Created V’ger for ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ & the Leonov Spaceship for ‘2010: The Odyssey Continues’
Mead’s work has left an indelible mark on numerous films, but one of his most notable creations was designing the “Leonov” spacecraft, along with all of its interiors and attendant craft, in 1984’s “2010: The Odyssey Continues.” He also created V’ger, a sentient version of the Voyager spacecraft, for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in 1979.
He’s also responsible for creating the “Spinner” police car in 1982’s Blade Runner, along with the drab city views, and Decker’s apartment. He was the visual futurist for 2017’s Blade Runner 2049, as well, and is credited for designing the future Las Vegas in the film.
In 1994’s Timecop, which starred Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mead designed the headquarters of the Temporal Police and Van Damme’s car.
3. Mead’s Father Was A Baptist Minister
The designer credits his father to reading books like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers to him as a kid for what jumpstarted his interest in the sci-fi world.
He said, “My father was a baptist minister, and for some unknown reason he read [these books] to me before I learned to read. I have no idea why, I still don’t. By the time I was 6 or 7, maybe 10 years old, I could draw really quite well. And by the time I was in high school I could draw the human figure, I could draw animals, and I had a sense of shading to show shape. I was really quite accomplished at that point with brush technique and so-forth.
As for what pushed him toward drawing Mead explained, “I was sort of an insular child. I didn’t associate much with people my age until college. There was once a 60th anniversary of my graduating class from high school; I didn’t remember anybody in the class. Now, I was active in posters for athletic events, I was active in theatrics and all that, but I don’t remember any of my classmates.”
4. Mead Wrote The Book ‘The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist’
Credited for paving the way for how visual artist could think differently create with modern technology, Mead detailed his career as a concept artist in his book, which was published in 2017.
Filled with a plethora of images from his 40 decades of work, The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist contains hundreds of his sketches, never seen before prints, and the behind-the-scenes process of how images turned from ideas on paper to full crafted visuals on the big screen.
5. Tributes To The Iconic Visual Artist Poured In On Twitter
Mead, who was a consultant of the cult-classic Short Circuit, the vehicle designer in 2000’s Mission to Mars, and the visual futurist on 2015’s Tomorrowland, amassed a huge following over his numerous decades in the industry, and was regular on the Comic-Con circuits.
After news of his death spread online, thousands took to Twitter to share their condolences, and remember his massive contributions to the sci-fi film industry. Most users online refer to him as nothing short of “a legend” who’s “influence” will live on forever,” and even remembering some of his work projects that never came to fruition on screen.
One Twitter member wrote, “RIP Syd Mead. One of the greatest visionaries we’ve ever been blessed with. Whole parts of the present are the manifestations of things he was the first to see, untold vastness that he has gifted us remains there for the realization. Entire worlds.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article said Syd Mead created the Leonov spacecraft for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” He created the Leonov for “2010: The Odyssey Continues,” and created V’ger for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”