Beginning today, I’m going to jumpstart a short series of posts based on the life, art, and philosophies of the infamous ‘Visual Futurist’ – Syd Mead.

And here I thought the “Peter Chung Special” series of posts was tough to write due to the wealth of material written about him! It would appear that writing about Syd Mead would be a much more difficult challenge. Why? Because possessing a much larger body of work, it’s hard to actually talk about good ol’ Mr. Mead. His works can render you speechless at times... but more on that later.

The Hollywood Stuff Everyone Cites When Doing a Syd Mead Article

Star Trek: The Motion Picure. That thingy on the top is the alien
designed by Mr. Mead

Tron still looks pretty... nifty now, but
the image of Jay Maynard a.k.a. the "Tron Guy"
will forever look like crap.

Ah, how does one get to know good ol' Mr. Mead? Why, through his film projects! We’re talking about the guy who designed the V'ger entity for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He’s also the man who played a role in fleshing out what “Virtual Reality” looked like in that 80’s flop “TRON”!

But it was really Mr. Mead’s involvement in Ridley Scott’s cult-classic, Blade Runner, where the visual artist’s career took off. He followed that up by contributing some stuff on the 1980’s James Cameron’s Aliens ‘flick’. C’mon! Does any of this ring a bell??

Of course it does. I also assume you know this guy more than I do. (All this info came from older Syd Mead articles) But we’re not here to talk about what you know about Syd Mead. We’re here to talk about what I know and have researched about the guy. Okay? Sheesh!

Now I could say that Mr. Mead influenced a generation of artists with his work both in Hollywood and in concept design. I could also say that he’s the most prolific and renowned concept artist of our time. But I won’t... for the moment at least. Let the Man’s work speak for itself.

'Sulaco' Sleeping Chamber, used in James Cameron's Aliens

A futuristic city like no other

More of “Mead ArtistGuy’s” works below.

According to an article on, it spoke in detail (and with a far more eloquent use of the English language) how Syd Mean developed his artistic philosophy.

The article fascinated me because it spoke of how this Mead ArtistGuy (wow!) achieved his boundless creativity. It insinuated that growing up in a big, crowded and over-commercialized cities tended to stymie a child’s creativity. The hustle and bustle of city living somehow manages to spoil their young minds because all the “answers” were there. There was no ‘design’ dilemma, so to speak.

Mr. Mead however, grew up in a quaint rural-ish town, where the vastness of the country managed to cultivate the young boy’s imagination. It alleged that he spent days on end imagining, drawing and conjuring up fantastical images in his spare time.

According to an interview with Ballistic Publishing, Mr. Mead began as early as age six constructing scenario with perspective. Imagine that! A kid drawing scenes with vanishing points and all that jazz! By high school, Mr. Mead could draft the human figure and animal figures very accurately. He 'sold' his first artwork in fifth grade, and so on and so forth. He later worked for Ford, then went on to form his own design company.

Here’s my history with art. By 20, I can draw skinny anime chicks that look like a 15 year old drew them. By 21, I felt more confident in drafting big set pieces, but the perspective was awful and it hardly utilized the basic elements of art. Now that I’m 22, I have come to the conclusion that I may never reach the skills of Syd Mead. Or Peter Chung for that matter. Drat!


Flash Gordon comics, circa 1930's??

Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon stories influenced young Mr. Mead. The sleek, stark designs supposedly made quite an impression on the young lad. In fact, traces could probably be seen in some of his work today.

Chelsey Bonestell, who worked on the 1940’s classic “Citizen Kane” and on the first paintings that captured a realistic moon and Earth, and John Berkley, a renowned commercial artist, were a couple of old school science fiction artist that also made an impact on the young Mr. Mead. (all these were referenced from BladeZone) I’m sure Mr. Mead had a ton of other influences in his youth, but I won’t talk about that anymore. Bleah!

He worked for various companies since then, and I’m honestly not really in any mood to elaborate on them. It’s just that by the 1970’s, good ol’ Mr. Mead began designing stuff for Hollywood. All the while, he designed a lot of other stuff for theme parks, hotels. That kind of stuff. Stuff I hope to ‘cover’ in a future post.
Basics on Design

While Mr. Mead’s beginnings seemed almost ideal for him to become whatever he is today, it was also attributed to plain ol’ hard work. What? Did you think Mr. Mead became what he is today through sheer brilliance and talent? Well… maybe that helped. I mean, you can like train to be a good artist, but there’s a fine line to be a really great one. Anyway, forgive me for this senseless babble.

So while I hype up this Mr. Mead fellow, you might wonder what makes him unique? You might be saying right now, "This guy's art sucks! All the colors are washed out! His designs look out of date!" If you asked this very question, then you don't know Mead. Why has his work inspired so many artists until this very day? Is it because he draws women in thongs and various skimpy outfits? No! He's more than that!

What really has set Syd Mead from the rest has always been his ability to make the fantastic look possible. Mr. Mead definitely brings concept designing to another level.

Steel Couture Oblagon

Rather than rely on practical and real-life based designs, Mr. Mead approaches his work with vivid, almost surreal shapes and colors, and yet you feel like you could actually live there. (hence the ‘Futurist’ title) Many have said that this is what it should mean to be a true “Creative Designer”.

Of course, it helped that Mr. Mead was eduted in industrial design (both consumer product and transportation) In an interview by Illusion TV, Mr. Mead said, “I learned rotational and volumetric rationale. The trick is to create something absolutely startling (that's the end goal) that is recognizable for what it is, and that it looks like it would actually 'work' within the parameters of the technological world in which it exists, even if it is only a picture.”

My thoughts:

Syd Mead: “If you understand mechanical design, you can 'overlay' a mechanical rational onto anything you come up with and people will see it and say to themselves' ‘hell, that looks like it would work that way.’”

Yeah. This looks like it could fly. I ain't an engineer, but really, it does! Honestly...

My thoughts:
So none of that crazy Starwars fantasy claptrap? No over-the-top Flash Gordon-esque designs? (duh.)

Syd Mead: ”If left to my own curious devices, I first am usually inspired by a techno-article, a new investigation into some weird technological experiment or development. I then match that to a made up story of my own and come up with a visualized combination.”

My thoughts:
Why do these ultra-gifted artists always use very ‘duh’ philosophies behind their extraordinarily beautiful work? They always make em’ sound so profound and crap! Gah!

And so ends my first post regarding the great Syd Mead. I hope this has inspired you to take up your pencils or tablets, and start drawing something out of this world! If it hasn’t, then you're either not in the mood to draw, or I am simply talking to a Void. A Void which refuses to provide feedback and suggestions.

In any case, I could show you right now that five-minute preview of some old film about the life of Syd Mead. I could, but seeing as everybody who's written about Mr. Mead has already done that, I think I'll show something different... So how about this, a short battle sequence for a 2004 Korean film called Natural City? It's directed by Byung-chun Min, and I haven't heard about it until today.

This clip seems to be about these Troopers getting clobbered by a cheesy looking baddie that ran amok (It's in Korean, damnit!). B-movie sci-fi at its best!

1 Responses to Syd Mead: That Visual Futurist Guy

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. If one wants to truly grasp the respectability of Syd Mead, consider that Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise were willing to reach across the Pacific just to get his work in Turn-A Gundam. Comments on the results aside, when a Japanese company throws-up their arms and says "Someone from another country could do this better" it's a big event.

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