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Meet the Army veteran artist and designer of ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Aliens’ and ‘Tron’

Joel Searls Avatar
la 2013 syd mead

"Los Angeles 2013", optimistically imagined by Syd Mead in 1988.

Syd Mead was responsible for many of our pop culture’s designs and thoughts of the future expressed through such franchises as Blade Runner, Aliens and Tron. He was described as “the artist who illustrates the future.” Mead was considered one of the most influential conceptual artists of his generation. He grew up enjoying Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon pulp magazines and liked science fiction, which are fitting passions for his youth and would lead to collaborations with such directors as James Cameron and Ridley Scott. He served three years in the U.S. Army in the early 1950s and afterward went to art school in Los Angeles.

syd mead in 2007
Mead in 2007.

After his art school education, Mead worked for Ford Motor Company in their Advanced Styling Studio for Elwood Engel. Engel had been the designer for such cars as the 1958 Thunderbird which led to the design of the iconic 1961 Lincoln Continental. Engel oversaw the design and development of muscle cars at Chrysler in the 1960s. Mead then left Ford to illustrate books and catalogs for U.S. Steel, Celanese, Allies-Chalmers and Atlas Cement.

Through his work in the 70s and 80s, his clients included Phillips Electronics, Sony, Tiger Corporation, Bandai, Honda and Intercontinental Hotels, which you may know as IHG. He was invited by Chrysler Corporation to speak with their designers, which was a success. He collaborated with Disney, Purdue University, Carnegie Mellon University, Pratt Institute and the Society of Illustrators for further presentations. Mead was known to call science fiction being, “reality ahead of schedule.”

syd mead doha, qatar
Doha, Qatar (2008).

His film work for major studios includes the first Star Trek feature Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Tron, 2010, Short Circuit, Aliens, Blade Runner, Timecop, Mission: Impossible III, Elysium, Tomorrowland and Blade Runner 2049. The films were directed by such legends as Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Robert Wise, J.J. Abrams, Neil Blomkamp, Denis Villeneuve and Peter Hyams. Mead’s artwork was the inspiration for George Lucas’s creation of the AT-AT for Star Wars. Mead worked on Japanese Anime shows such as Turn A Gundam, Yamoto 2520 and the Japanese film Solar Crisis.

There has been a documentary about his work called Visual Futurist: The Art & Life of Syd Mead and a short doc named 2019: A Future Imagined also covered his artistry. He appeared in documentaries such as Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner and On The Edge of Blade Runner. He did the promotional materials in the DVD extras for Aliens and the short about the making of 2010. It is easy to say that Mead helped in founding and creating high-tech, futuristic worlds that have reached across the globe into audiences’ hearts and minds. Further trailers for project he worked on are listed.