Syd Mead, Designer for ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Alien,’ ‘Star Trek,’ Dead at 86
Syd Mead — the artist and designer who helped build the worlds of films like Blade Runner, Alien, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture — died Monday, Variety reports. He was 86.
Mead reportedly died from complications from lymphoma in Pasadena, California. A post on Mead’s Facebook page confirmed the death, although no further details were given.
Mead was already a very successful product designer when he began working in Hollywood in the late Seventies. On 1982’s Blade Runner, his second film, he was credited as a “visual futurist,” an apt title for a designer who would play a crucial role in crafting everything from the architecture to the vehicles that populated some of the biggest sci-fi hits of the next few decades.
In a 2015 conversation with Sunday Interviews, Mead spoke about trying to conceptualize the future while still grounding it in something real. “You have to unlink social from technical to get this kind of thing done,” he said. “Then, you have to feed it back into the social milieu. And that’s the tricky part, because if you’re doing a product, everybody has to like it and buy it. The difference between designing for industry and designing for movies is that, for industry, you actually have more of a chance to pre-load your recognition factor with the public. You don’t have that in movies, it has to explain itself visually pretty much instantaneously. You have to over-design, make it look really fantastic, past the point where you’d really have to do that in real life.”
Per a biography on his website, Mead was born July 18th, 1933, in St. Paul, Minnesota, although his family would bounce around the western United States throughout much of his youth. He served in the U.S. Army for three years before going to art school in Los Angeles and immediately scoring a job with the Ford Motor Co.’s Advanced Styling Studio. Within a couple of years, Mead was working on his own — designing and illustrating catalogs for major companies, and eventually launching his own design studio, Syd Mead Inc., in Detroit in 1970.
In the mid-Seventies, Syd Mead Inc. moved out to Southern California, and a few years after that Mead was tapped to work on his first movie, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His next film was Blade Runner, after which he partnered with director Steven Lisberger on the 1982 film Tron. Over the next decade or so, Mead would work on the 2001: A Space Odyssey sequel, 2010, as well as Aliens, Timecop, Mission to Mars, and Mission: Impossible III. His more recent credits include Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium, Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, and the long-awaited Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049.
Along with his projects in Hollywood, Mead continued to work for an array of corporate clients. His work was also exhibited in one-man shows around the world, and he frequently hit the lecture circuit. In 2007, Joaquin Montalvan filmed a documentary about Mead’s career, Visual Futurist.