Monday, October 01, 2012

CGAA Design: Syd Mead

Many in the CG Arts community may, like myself, have come from a slightly different background. Whether it be Fine Art, Industrial Design or something completely unrelated, it's important to remember that some of the greatest in the industry once dreamt of a different future. This series of posts will explore and detail some of those greats; Industrial Designers, Architects, Sculptors and many more.

Syd Mead
Many will know of Syd Mead, maybe through his work, or possibly through his series of Gnomon Dvd's. He is regarded as one of the key concept designers of the era, with work spanning some of the most recognised Sci-fi films of the modern age. From Blade Runner to Tron, he has forged inspirational worlds with a logical and mannered approach.

Syd started as an industrial designer, most famously designing cars for the Ford Motor Company and then working for U.S Steel. A background that grounded him firmly in using logical and thought-out design. This logic would later help create the world of Blade Runner, a mix of Philip K. Dick's nightmarish future and a design antithesis that makes it all the more real.

"Though computer processing continues to increase in speed and functionality, they still don't compete with the human brain, nor are they capable of feeling emotion - at least not year" [1]

His work has a beautiful mix of traditional and digital skills, crafting a unique style that set the tone for the 80's science-fiction aesthetic. Mead's style is still fitting today, not because of the medium, but because there is an intelligence to the world. The cars are not simply cars in a futuristic landscape, they have a design, a form and a history that make them fit. This creates an almost timeless sense of design, something so thought-out it rivals reality. This sense of design is what helped make films such as Blade Runner feel so grounded and ultimately more affecting.

What becomes apparent with the work of Syd Mead is his ability to span completely different areas of study. He is not simply an environmental artist or a vehicle designer, but the owner of all these things. He is a concept artist in the truest sense. This level of commitment and intelligence around design ultimately made Syd Mead, and it is for that reason he still remains one of the best in the industry.

"First, have a grasp of context, detail and the rationale which makes design and image-making worthwhile to yourself and commercially, to someone else. Try not to become a "linear" professional. Learn a variety of technique, of thinking methodology and most of all, don't become complacent. Honestly, I get scared shitless every time I start a new, big job. I read, I gather information and push the client to tell me what they want." [2]

So what is to be learnt from such an artist? It seems clear that to really create interesting and unique work you first need to understand your world. What is the culture and society behind this design? What are you trying to tell the viewer? How would the world and object therein be formed? It always helps to sit down, research and ask yourself every possible question about the world surrounding your designs. This logic should drive your design and prevent you from falling into tired old ideas.

References and Further Reading:
[2] A Visionary Ethic: The Life and Work of Syd Mead, p.3,
Visual Futurist - The Art and Life of Syd Mead Trailer -


  1. A copy of "Visual Futurist - The Art and Life of Syd Mead" is in the office if anyone wants to borrow it.

  2. I did not know this, but I'll definitely being checking it out next time I'm in uni. He has so much superb artwork it's hard to sum up in one post.