Syd Mead (Sydney Jay Mead), arguably the most significant futuristic industrial designer and concept artist of our time, recently passed away at the age of 86 on December 30, 2019 after three years battling lymphoma. His name and epic work have been ubiquitous, shaping the futuristic aesthetic of the past, present, and beyond.
Syd Mead was best known for the work he did for numerous iconic Sci-Fi movies, for his spectacular and exquisite paintings, and for inspiring generations of creative minds and lovers of art. His oracular vision and mastery of technique have touched countless individuals from all walks of life, all over the world.
Syd Mead had such a strong impact on our culture, that the words “Looks like Syd Mead” are uttered with such frequency. Chances are that the artists responsible for the sights which evoke that referential sentiment will readily cite his work.
Syd Mead joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, graduated from the Art Center in LA, and began working for the Ford Motor Company for two years before moving to Hansen Co. in Chicago as an advertising illustrator.
He contributed work to Phillips Electronics, National Geographic, United States Steel, Celanese, Intercontinental Hotels, Sony, Minolta, Dents, Tiger Corporation, Mitsubishi, NHK, Disney, and Bandai. Other notable clients of Syd Mead were Seibu, Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, Allis-Chalmers, Rays Wheels, many magazines, and several renowned institutes.
Ridley Scott made Syd Mead a household name, practically overnight, by hiring him as the concept artist for Blade Runner (1982). Mead would then revisit the world when he contributed to Blade Runner 2049 (2017). He did the vehicle designs from Tron (1982), the most famous of which was the light cycle.
He created the sentient V’Ger for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Johnny 5 for Short Circuit (1986), the USS Sulaco and power loader for Aliens (1986), and sets for Elysium (2013). Suffice it to say that if you didn't know Syd Mead's name before now, you have undoubtedly appreciated his art or the work of someone who admires him.
He also worked on 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984), Turn A Gundam (1990), Yamahto (1994), Strange Days (1995), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Mission to Mars (2000), Mission: Impossible III (2006), and Tomorrowland (2015).
Regarding, the Syd Mead look, he told Vulture: “I like to do what I call ‘supersonic baroque,’ a swirly pattern of embroidery typical of the lush baroque era, superimposed on to slick, geometric shapes. The result is like a tapestry wrapped around a cylindrical or hexagonal or triangular section. It does wonderful things in terms of detail.”
“I’ve called science fiction ‘reality ahead of schedule.’”
“The idea supersedes technique.”
“In visual futurism, the line between total fantasy and futuristic is a thread of reality.”
Syd Mead (1933-2019) will forever be remembered as the ground-breaking, visionary grandfather of concept art whose legacy will continue to guide how humanity designs its own future to translate idealistic aspiration into innovation and emotional awe. Journey well, sir.