Sunday 2 February 2020

In memoriam: Syd Mead (Telegraph 10/01/20)

Syd Mead, who has died aged 86, was an industrial designer and concept artist who transformed the look of science-fiction cinema with his work on a run of enduring, influential films that emerged from Hollywood at the turn of the 1980s.

After designing the mysterious vessel V’Ger for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Mead assumed the unusual credit “visual futurist” on Blade Runner (1982), where he was given free rein to dream up and illustrate many of the elements that helped bring author Philip K. Dick’s dystopian future to bustling, analogue life.

Initially employed to design the film’s distinctive, airborne “Spinner” police cars, Mead’s sketches and paintings so impressed producers that he was also asked to assist in visualising the detective hero Rick Deckard’s apartment, and the Voight-Kampff machine used by Deckard (played in the finished film by Harrison Ford) to detect replicant life.

“I feel pretty responsible for the final look of the film,” Mead said in a pre-release interview. “The way the street scenes are dressed is right off my sketches. I walked around the set one morning, and it was like being in one of my drawings. It was pretty eerie.”

Though the film was never more than a cult hit, it established Mead as a visionary thinker and artist at a point where mainstream cinema was beginning to imagine and build ever more expansive universes. Over the next few years, Mead would originate the computer-generated world of Tron (1982), the spaceships of 2010 (1984) and Aliens (1986) and Johnny-5, the friendly robot at the centre of the family adventure movie Short Circuit (1986). In each case, Mead’s work balanced the visually striking with the highly practical, a testament to his grounding in real-world industrial design.

He was born Sydney Jay Mead on July 18, 1933 in St. Paul, Minnesota to the Baptist preacher Kenneth Mead and his wife Margaret. A keen drawer from a very early age (describing himself as “an insular child”), he studied draughtsmanship and classical art at the Art Center School in Los Angeles before joining Ford as an industrial designer.

In 1970, he formed Syd Mead, Inc. in Detroit, taking on design work for a variety of clients including Philips, Chrysler and Playboy; after the company moved to Southern California in the mid-Seventies, it assisted in designing the trains used in San Francisco’s BART system. Shortly thereafter, the staggering success of Star Wars (1977) sent major American studios scurrying to expand their design departments, and Mead was among the first creatives to receive the call.

He worked more sporadically after this sudden resurgence of interest in all things SF, though he continued to work wonders on a big budget, making contributions to Jean-Claude van Damme vehicle Timecop (1994) and the William Gibson adaptation Johnny Mnemonic (1995); he came up with the SQUID headsets the lovelorn Ralph Fiennes clung to in Kathryn Bigelow’s tough, terrific futureshocker Strange Days (1995) and the latex disguise masks sported by Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III (2006). Later credits included Elysium (2013) and the more optimistic Tomorrowland (2015) before a final return to the universe that made his name with Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

He published several collections of his work – Sentinel (1979), Oblagon (1996), Sentury (2001) and Sentury II (2010) – and an overview of his screen assignments, The Movie Art of Syd Mead (2017). He was the subject of the 2006 documentary Visual Futurist, won the Visual Effects Society Award in 2016, and saw exhibitions of his work staged in Tokyo and Berlin in 2019. In February 2020, Mead will receive a posthumous lifetime achievement award from the Art Directors Guild.

He is survived by a spouse, Roger Servick.

Syd Mead, born July 18 1933, died December 30 2019.

No comments:

Post a Comment