Syd Mead

Sydney Jay Mead, commonly Syd Mead (July 18, 1933–December 30, 2019 ), was a prolific and influential American “visual futurist”, industrial designer and a neofuturistic 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.'” His works, many of which are critically acclaimed and highly regarded, have led to Mead being called “the artist who illustrates the future”.

Syd Mead was born on July 18, 1933 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, Mead continued on to the Art Center School in Los Angeles (now the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena), where he graduated in June 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, Michigan to accommodate the offers he received, most notably from Philips Electronics.

On December 30, 2019, Syd died in his Pasadena home at the age of 86, after three years of lymphoma. Shortly after his death, many paid tribute to Mead’s life.

“ There are more people in the world who make things than there are people who think of things to make. ”
— Syd Mead

Syd Mead is world-renowned for his stunningly realistic visions of the future. He is best known for his designs on landmark sci-fi movies such as Blade RunnerAliens and Tron. To Syd, science fiction is “reality ahead of schedule.”

Presented here is original art from his Progressions exhibit, a retrospective spanning more than 50 years. Shown in chronological order, these examples of Syd’s imagination begin with a Bugatti concept as a young design student in 1957, and trace his progression through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and ’10s.

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota and raised in Colorado Springs, Syd graduated with distinction from the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in 1959. His career began at Ford Motor Company’s Advanced Styling Studio in Dearborn, leading in 1970 to the formation of Syd Mead, Inc. in Detroit. His designs and illustrations earned major contracts for Philips, Sony, Honda, Minolta, Bandai, Intercontinental Hotels and many other international clients.

Design opportunities increased after moving to California in 1975, leading to work on his first movie project, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, then in later years, Bladerunner, Tron, 2010, Aliens, Mission Impossible III and, most recently, Elysium.

Transportation design remains his first love, however, whether it’s show cars, solar-powered unicycles, luxury yachts, cruise ships, or spacecraft. Bold designs set in extraordinary surroundings produce the visual narratives that have become a Syd Mead trademark.

Syd periodically holds one-man exhibitions in different countries. He began in Germany in 1973 and has since exhibited in Japan, Italy, Spain, and all over the United States. In 1996, his Cavalcade to the Crimson Castle with 114 original paintings and illustrations had a three month showing at the Center for the Arts in San Francisco. His personal appearance there, and subsequently at schools across the country attract sellout audiences. Progressions debuted at the Forest Lawn Gallery of Fine Arts in Glendale, California in 2012 and continues to draw record crowds as it travels to galleries nationwide.

Syd also lectures to corporate and academic entities. It started with Chrysler in 1983 and continues today with clients such as Disney, Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, Pratt, and many others around the world, including a four-city tour of Australia, to capacity audiences.

In 1998, Syd Mead relocated his studio to Pasadena, California. His unique imagination continues to allow us a fascinating glimpse into the future with a variety of new projects.

Some career highlights: 

  • 1959: Ford Motor Company — Advanced Styling Center in Dearborn, Michigan.
  • 1961: US Steel — futuristic paintings for a booklet.
  • 1970: Syd Mead, Inc. — company established.
  • 1976: Sentinel  — book of designs published.
  • 1978: Star Trek: The Motion Picture — production illustrator and Voyager design
  • 1980: Blade Runner — visual futurist, designing cityscapes and vehicles. 
  • 1980: Tron — conceptual artist, designing light cycles, solar sailers, and carriers.
  • 1983: 2010 — visual futurist, designing the Leonov spaceship.
  • 1985: Aliens — conceptual artist and ‘Sulaco’ spaceship design. 
  • 1985: Short Circuit — consultant and designer of the ‘Johnny 5’ robot.
  • 1985: Oblagon — book published.
  • 1987: Yamato 2520 — designed space cruisers, fighters, props and costumes.
  • 1988: UFO Cover-Up? Live! — conceptual futurist. 
  • 1988: L.A. 2013 — artist for article in the Los Angeles Times.
  • 1990: Solar Crisis — conceptual artist of the future depicted 
  • 1991: Kronolog — design book published.
  • 1991: Terraforming — designed backgrounds and spacecraft for the video game.
  • 1992: From Time to Time — production designer for the future Paris. 
  • 1993: The Fire Next Time — futuristic concept consultant
  • 1993: CyberRace — designed vehicles for the computer game.
  • 1994: Timecop — visual consultant on designs for guns and time machine. 
  • 1994: Strange Days — designed ‘sim-stim’ playback deck and ‘trodes’ headgear.
  • 1995: Johnny Mnemonic — visual consultant
  • 1995: Cyber Speedway — designed vehicles for the Sega game.
  • 1997: Wing Commander: Prophecy — conceptual artist for aliens on computer game. 
  • 1998: Turn A Gundam — designed mobile suit ‘mecha’ for the anime.
  • 2000: Mission to Mars — conceptual artist and vehicle design.
  • 2001: Sentury — book published.
  • 2003: Tron 2.0 — designed a new light cycle for the PC game.
  • 2004: Gnomon Workshop — educational DVDs.
  • 2005: Mission: Impossible III — mask maker machine design.
  • 2008: Aliens: Colonial Marines — designed the ‘Sulaco’ for Gearbox Software. 
  • 2008: Exposé 6 — Grand Master Award from Ballistic Publishing.
  • 2010: Sentury II — book published.

 

12 Comments
  1. Stan Mott

    The passing of Syd Mead is a great loss to the contemporary worlds of art and design. I personally reveled in his utopian scenes of giant and glorious land yachts, as well as his dystopian depictions of menacing yet marvelous architecture that made “Blade Runner” a film classic. Thanks for the ride, Syd.

  2. Brian C Baker

    Syd will likely influence the future more than any architect or city planner through his consistent view of the next century. The detail and thought he put into his works exceeds our ability to understand what the nuance of his brush was indicating. He was the master of indication but in a superbly realistic way that few since Vermeer were capable.
    We are all fortunate to have lived at a time when the Nostradamus of design was alive to explain it all to us. Syd once signed his book for me with the phrase…”The future is a great destination”
    With eternal admiration: Brian Baker

  3. Glen Durmisevich

    Syd Mead influenced and will continue to influence many designers, artist, film makers and authors through his ability to envision a future world that could be perfectly wonderful or dark and mysterious. I was lucky enough to get his US Steel book and Portfolio when I started at CCS and was honored to meet him and even see him do a demo of his work. A true master of his future world.

  4. Syd’s clairvoyance of the future was truly an inspiration to generations of designers. His humanity and style, made the future tangible and accessible to all. This cerebral approach to design, never made it less emotional, but always was optimistic, in ways no other designer or futurist could approach.
    We went to school with Roger and were blessed with their many returns to Detroit for his talks. He will truly be missed!

  5. Howard Pelcman

    Howard Pelcman
    As a young man I was stunned to see his visions of the future. I could easily
    walk through them in my dreams and be inspired but my hands wouldn’t let me render my own visions. So I gladly accepted his. I am thankful that I have the gift of an artists brain. I can appreciate the wonder that he and others have bestowed on us.
    Syd Mead showed us where we can go, though I think we will never get there.
    Such a gift. Such a loss.
    Thank you

  6. Thomas Semple

    He was a rendering god. No one painted with gouache like him. I would liked to have met him….Bob Dylan too, of course. Bob’s inaccessible, perhaps even cheeky, but as I understand it, Syd was not.

    He was an amazement, a genius, and a good man. Who’s left to inspire us?

  7. Syd and I swapped studios at Ford. I was very new as a designer and greatly admired Syd – what the heck, I was awed by him and still am.

    Perhaps, swapping him for me was an insult intended by upper management,who disliked his freelance illustrating for USS and wanted to twist the knife. It cost them a good employee as he left.

    Syd was fun to work with, held great parties at his house, always with many other designers from all the car companies. It flattered me to be invited. Visits with him, upon his return trips to Detroit, were always terrific. My wife Jackie, who hired into Ford after Syd had left, finally got to meet him at one of his presentations and loved it.

    One lunch hour, as Syd and I walked to the Ford cafeteria, I asked, “What would happen if we ordered our lunches by color group only?” Syd loved it and rejoined, “Let’s find out!” Surprise, we never had a bad meal!

    Syd was a great creative genius who could illustrate his ideas wonderfully. He was an incredible spark for all of us and we designers will never forget.

  8. Syd and I shared transportation to Tom Kellogg’s memorial in 2003, and it was the first chance I had to speak with him one-on-one at length. I was awestruck, to say the least, as my discovery of SENTINEL was a high point of my design “reading”, and his work set an impossible standard for integrated futurist vision!

    From that point on, he would usually stop my office to say hello when he was in SF.

    I still get a catch in my throat when I think of him as gone from us.

  9. stewart reed

    Syd will be missed. His home is very near our hillside Art Center Campus, so he was always accessible to us. He received the “Design Lifetime Achievement Award” from Eyes on Design in Detroit in 2017 (The first recipients in were Gordon Beuhrig and Strother MacMinn in 1998/1999). Along with his great imagination and competency as a car designer, he established the idea of a “visual futurist”. He created wonderful future scenarios in which new kinds of vehicles seemed completely plausible! This coming Saturday evening, he will be honored at the Art Director’s Guild in L.A. Several of us from Art Center’s Transportation Design, Illustration and Entertainment Design will attend.

  10. George Prentice

    I was fortunate enough to visit Syd’s home / studio in Indian Village circa 1969. The secondary definition of the future is that which is beyond thought; as a futurist, Syd pushed contemporary thought to the limits of comprehension. R.I.P.

  11. Dennis F. Otto

    I had the privilege of meeting and chatting briefly with him at a local IDSA meeting down in Indy years ago. Of course, I brought one of my Syd Mead “rendering bibles” ( “obtained” long ago at ACCD) for him to autograph!

    Syd Meads’ marvelous visions of the future combined with his unique ability to perfectly render those soaring glimpses into the future like no one else, will be sorely missed. He had talents far beyond we mere mortals!!! 🙂 DFO

  12. Norman Spirit

    Mr. Mead also did quite a few “speculative” pieces for military firms, a few of which I collected. It used to be possible to go to a service-connected show and meet up with “Chief” Johnson, Keith Ferris, Mark Waki, Syd Mead and Atilla Hejja all in an hour…

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