The EXPOSÉ 6 Grand Master Award winner in 2008 was none other than Syd Mead. Syd’s extensive career reads like an artist’s wildest dream being launched into prominence in the early 60s for his futuristic vehicle designs for U.S Steel. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Syd worked at the forefront of science-fiction film with concept work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Tron, Aliens, 2010, and his best known work on Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner. Syd was asked what title he’d like for the film’s end credits and came up with ‘Visual futurist’. Though it was an off-the-cuff suggestion, the title perfectly describes the work for which Syd Mead has become synonymous.
Syd Mead’s earliest creative memory wasn’t set in the future, but a little closer to his surroundings in South Dakota: “It was a stencil illustration of a guy skiing down a slope when I was in the second grade. I used brown paper, cut out the stencil, and then sprayed it with a white paint supplied by the ‘arts’ class teacher.”
With a Baptist Minister father, the Mead family was often on the move through Syd’s childhood before they settled in Colorado. Syd’s first job out of high school was for Alexander Film Co. as an animation cell-inker, character originator, and background illustrator. Shortly after, he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers serving two years in Okinawa Japan: “Okinawan culture is a mix of Japanese and Chinese. I became fascinated by the decorative geometry and the stylized depiction of scenario. Then, before I checked out of the Army I spent a month in Hong Kong with a buddy on ‘R and R’ and got more exposure to the oriental culture.”
On his return to civilian life, Syd presented his portfolio at Art Center in Los Angeles and was accepted for the fall semester. In the interim, he was asked to work at a new studio in Albuquerque by the former head of studio at Alexander Film Co. He instead took a position designing window displays at the Lerner Shoppe (a chain of women’s wear stores). The three-state manager wanted Syd to take over as the three-state head of display design, but Art Center beckoned.
After graduating from Art Center with Great Distinction Mead joined Ford Motor Company’s Advanced Styling Center at Dearborn Michigan where he worked for just over two years. His next position was the chance of a lifetime with Hansen Co. in Chicago where Syd was commissioned to illustrate future vehicle scenarios for a variety of corporate clients. “The highlight of this time was the complete creative freedom I enjoyed doing the series of advertising books for U.S. Steel, Celanese Corporation, Allis Chalmers. The U.S. Steel books went worldwide and definitely launched my career.”
At the beginning of the 1970s, Syd started his own company, Syd Mead Inc. which started a twelve-year account with Philips C.I.D.C., and also worked with Raymond Loewy in Paris and New York in addition to other contract work. Syd’s first standalone book was published in partnership with Roger and Martyn Dean in 1976 titled Sentinel.
In 1975 Syd headed to California while continuing his work for the automotive industry and other clients. The next chapter of his career in film began in 1979. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was Syd’s first movie project: “I worked with John Dykstra at Apogee in post production designing the V’ger entity—the climax of the film. I had to accommodate an existing hexagonal construct which Paramount had bought from a professor of mathematics at Boston University. The device created a hexagonal orifice when the periphery of the mechanism was rotated.”
Syd’s next movie with director Ridley Scott made Syd a household name for sci-fi buffs around the world: “Bladerunner happened through a series of links to other people in Hollywood, and the book that Roger Dean printed using U.S. Steel illustrations,” he explains. Though it was Syd’s second movie, it was the first he worked on from the beginning of production. In Bladerunner, Syd’s time in Japan and Hong Kong helped him to envision the memorable future cities complete with backgrounds, interiors, and the now famous Spinner flying police vehicle. “While I was doing post production matte painting preliminaries for Bladerunner, I started work on TRON for Steven Lisberger at Disney,” explains Mead. His work on TRON included the design of the Sark’s carrier: tanks, light cycle; the CPU; Sark’s camp; various scenic sets and graphics; the title graphic; and alphanumeric TRON typeface. After Bladerunner was nearing completion, Mead was asked by his agent what he’d like to be called in the end credits to which he replied: “Visual futurist.” Mead’s body of work revolves around visions of the future, however, he goes beyond simply painting outlandish futuristic scenes: “I read lay magazines and try to keep up with the technological ‘wave front’ so that when I concoct some fantasy device or scenario, it has some basis in rational concept.”
There's more interview content and imagery in the book! Syd Mead continues to present his work and thoughts to audiences worldwide. He is a truly talented and thoughtful artist and thoroughly deserving of the title Grand Master for EXPOSÉ 6. Be sure and order your copy of this landmark Digital Art Annual at our own online story or good book sellers worldwide.