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Syd Mead - Concept Art

Updated on January 7, 2015
Blade Runner Spinner art by Syd Mead
Blade Runner Spinner art by Syd Mead

Renowned concept artist and self-proclaimed "visual futurist", Syd Mead was born in Minnesota in 1933. After graduating at the Art Center College of Pasadena in 1959, he worked on various assignments including Ford Motor's Advance Styling Studio, U.S. Steel and Atlas Cement illustrating books and catalogues.

He also provided designs and illustrations for European clients and formed his own company in the 1970s. He moved to California in 1975 and started working for the major film studios on films such as Star Trek the Motion Picture, Tron, Blade Runner. 2010 and Aliens. More recently he worked on the films Mission to Mars and Mission Impossible III, he is currently set designer on the upcoming science fiction movie Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.

Mead also worked for various Japanese companies designing robot toys and contributing vehicle and spaceship designs for anime studios.

Tron concept art by Syd Mead
Tron concept art by Syd Mead

Transportation design was Syd Mead's first love, designing cruise ships, solar powered unicycles, show cars or spaceships, each receiving the same attention to detail and setting in what has become a Syd Mead trademark. An advocate of new technologies, Mead has expanded his horizons to include computer illustrations and graphics by mastering a variety of software. He has also branched out into the world of videogames.

In 2004 in response to many requests, Mead cooperated with the Gnomon School of Visual Effects to produce a DVD series titled, “Techniques of Syd Mead” which continues to be sought after by designers around the world.

In 2007 Mead finished work on a documentary of his career "Visual Futurist" with director Joaquin Montalvan. It is available on DVD through the virtual Oblagon bookstore on the Syd Mead official webpage

Syd Mead interviewed by Sci-fi Now Magazine (excerpt)

What were your biggest influences growing up?

I started drawing when I was two and a half. I discovered if you put a tumbler upside down and draw around it you get a perfect circle! And I made faces. My father was getting his degree in early creativity with children, and used me as his poster child! So I have all my drawings from my early years, which is crazy because I’m now writing my autobiography. But I didn’t actually have an idea for a career. I started professionally before the army, in 1951 working for a company in Colorado Springs doing backgrounds and character design. I was only 19 and I was being paid to essentially create iconic characters for advertising animation, so I’ve been at this for a long, long time.

How does working on videogames compare to working on movies?

Well, now of course the videogame industry dwarfs the movie industry – the economics are phenomenal. I started working on videogames when they were still 4-bit, and you had to use only 8 colours, which was… sad. Now, the number of colours is so high, and the processing power… well, these games machines are like supercomputers compared to ten years ago. So you can design for a game as if you’re working for a movie, and they often do parallel design on a game and a movie. I don’t treat it differently either way.

You’ve been working on Elysium with District 9’s Neill Blomkamp - how has that been going?

Neill flew down from Vancouver. We talked about the story, and at that time he had the treatment but not the script. And I worked on three action sets, which were than submitted to him. So that’s preproduction from the very start of the film. But I admire so much of District 9, which was allegorical, and so is Elysium. Neill’s a cool guy, young for that industry. And it was a lot of fun. It was a compliment to be asked to work for him.

The Sulaco from the film Aliens art by Syd Mead
The Sulaco from the film Aliens art by Syd Mead
Light-Cycles from Tron designed by Syd Mead
Light-Cycles from Tron designed by Syd Mead
Police Spinner from Blade Runner art by Syd Mead
Police Spinner from Blade Runner art by Syd Mead
Toyota Advert - art by Syd Mead
Toyota Advert - art by Syd Mead


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    • PhoenixV profile image

      PhoenixV 6 years ago from USA

      This is excellent and cool art, loved this hub thanks!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thanks Cogerson, Blade Runner is one of the most influential films ever made, Syd Meads designs were great. There are other concept artists out there that also merit recognition, I may do hubs on them too. :)

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      Great hub on a great artist. I enjoyed reading the interview you included. My favorite movie work of his is the classic Bladerunner. As for the pictures you included...I really like the one at the Grand Canyon. Very informative and interesting hub....voted up.