Sunday, August 22, 2010

Syd Mead How did you get started with the movies?

SM: [Star Wars special effects wizard] John Dykstra had used some of the books that I had illustrated for U.S. Steel in the early and middle 1960s, as sort of inspiration material.

So he knew my name, and he called me, and we met for lunch and discussed my being involved with doing the V-Ger entity for the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which I subsequently designed.

So that was my first movie entrée. And then in ’80 Ridley Scott and his people went out into book stores to get fantasy artists, science-fiction books, and picked mine and liked some of the illustrations and I had a meeting with him in Hollywood, and that started the Blade Runner involvement.

SC: Originally, you weren’t going to design the sets for Blade Runner, you were just gonna design the cars, right?

SM: The vehicle, yes. Then, when he saw what I was doing, he liked what he saw, and put me onto the street sets and then later on to artifacts.

SC: When you’re designing what it will look like in space for 2010 and Aliens, and even Star Trek, what sort of models or concepts do you use?

SM: As in industrial design, the problem defines the solution. The problem sets up your common denominator parameters, and then you start designing inside the desired end result.

My constraints are always the story, and in the case of classic industrial design, it’s pretty much the same. The story becomes the marketing studies or whatever parameters are driving the desired direction toward the solution. And then you just have to wait for the public to react.

SC: On Aliens, did you design the Sulaco?

SM: Yes. I stayed up all night [reading the script], it was very exciting, [Jim Cameron’s] a great scriptwriter, I must tell you.

SC: What sort of models did you use? It looks kind of like a combination of part gun and part Battleship Yamato.

SM: The script describes this array of antennae coming into frame from the left, moving right, and then this volume comes through the frame, and I thought, "a sphere is nature’s most neutral volumetric shape," so I did this huge ball with this forest of antennas sticking up.

So I get back to Hollywood, and I go to Jim’s house, and he says, "we have a problem here, because when you move a model past camera, you have to stay in focus. We’re gonna be photographing this pretty close, the model’s only five feet long."

So, he said we needed to make it longer, sort of more narrow, and flat, like a wall of detail moving past camera. So, I reconfigured it into this long, sort of vertical blade-like, bumpy design. Made it look very severe -- huge, huge armament -- and it in effect was a kind of cargo ship also. Much like the Nostromo was in the first Alien that Ridley Scott directed.

SC: For 2010, you obviously didn’t do the Discovery?

SM: No. When Kubrick [finished making] that film [2001, in which the Discovery originally appeared] he had sort of a fetish of destroying everything that had to do with making one of his films.

But when the design for the Leonov was constructed, it was a Russian ship, so we went backwards and sort of deconstructed industrial design, thinking that the Russians wouldn’t be concerned about making it slick.

I created essentially a pressurized living environment with all the tubing and the wiring and so forth exterior to the living space, so that if you had to fix everything, you just go out onto a EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) and get to it without having to tear the inside apart.

It became again a very logical industrial design process. The rotating cabin block was because Peter Hyams did not want to have to wire everything and suspend actors on harnesses throughout the entire film. So the rotating cabin block gave some excuse for things setting down on surfaces.

SC: Have you had people from NASA and other aerospace folks coming and looking at your designs and commenting on them?

SM: They did. Peter had a meeting with some people from JPL. Originally we [planned to have] an ablation shield that was carried on the Leonov for entry into the atmosphere of Jupiter, and they said no, you wouldn’t do that, you’d turn the rocket around and retrofire.

So that was a change specifically caused by the comments from the people at JPL, and involved retrofitting existing prop design to make it all look logical.

SC: Lets skip ahead to Mission to Mars.

SM: So on Mission to Mars the directions I got were to design the Mars recovery vehicle, the long duration vehicle [and] the Mars rover -- which was the surface vehicle -- to look like they would be NASA designed for, let's say five to eight years from now.

I proceeded to do that. They liked what they got. Then when Disney finally assigned John McTiernan to be director, he didn’t like anything I’d done. What they are doing now in the movies, is to assign design and prop building to a single source. I’m sort of an extra, assigned directly to the director, which is the only way I’ll work.

SC: If NASA came to you and said, "we want you to design the next Mars craft, we’re actually going to put humans in it and send it to Mars," do you think you could do it?

SM: I would work with their experts. What they sometimes lose sight of is how exciting their business really is, and somebody can come in from the outside, outside of their box, and literally reinvent their industry with their expert help, and come up with something they would never have come up with themselves.

SC: Because the future is your business now, what are you looking for right now? What ideas excite you about the future? What captivates your imagination?

SM: The totality and the philosophical impact of what’s happening with computer-generated intense alternate reality, virtual reality. Because what I’ve been doing for 40-some years is inventing scenarios, visualizing scenarios that are a future. Not the future, but a future.

SC: So what’s next for you?

SM: I’m working with several sources on this whole virtual world creation, and the trick seems to be creating a world that’s just familiar enough so you don’t get scared out of your wits or disoriented, but is still weird or interesting or nouveau or fascinating enough to hold the interest and be a success, a commercial success.

SC: Any movies that you’re working on?

SM: I’m starting to work with [director] Buzz Alexander on Ray Bradbury’s "Frost and Fire" story. Apparently they finally got funding, so we’re supposed to start that in July. I’m going help him do the crashed spaceship.

SC: Is there a Syd Mead signature? And what is it?

SM: People tell me that, and I don’t know what that is. People call me up and they say, "did you work on that?," and I’ll say "no," and then I’ll find out that maybe some of the people that did were using our books as reference.

I don’t really know what that is, and maybe I shouldn’t know because I’d become stale. I’d start recreating myself over and over, and that’s called being in a rut, I think.

Found Here:

Sydney Jay Mead, commonly Syd Mead, (born July 18, 1933 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States) is visual futurist and concept artist. He is best known for his designs for science-fiction films such as Blade Runner, Aliens, and Tron. Of his work, Mead was once moved to comment: "I've called science fiction 'reality ahead of schedule.'"[

Mead was born in St. Paul Minnesota, July 18th, 1933 but spent only a few years there before moving to what would be the second of many homes throughout the western United States prior to graduating from High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1951. After serving a three year enlistment in the U.S. Army, Syd Mead continued on to the Art Center School in Los Angeles, (now the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena) where he graduated with great distinction in June of 1959. He was immediately recruited by the Ford Motor Company’s Advanced Styling Studio under the management of Elwood Engle which he left after 2 years in order to accept a variety of assignments to illustrate books and catalogues for large corporate entities such as United State Steel, Celanese, Allis Chalmers and Atlas Cement. In 1970, he launched Syd Mead Inc. in Detroit, Michigan to accommodate the high caliber of offers he received, most notably the PHILIPS ELECTRONICS. As the principal of his newly formed corporation in the 1970’s, Syd Mead spent about a third of his time in Europe primarily to provide designs and illustrations for Philips of Holland. Together with his roster of major American clients, he continues to make his creative mark, internationally. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, Syd Mead, Inc. provided architectural renderings both interior and exterior, for such clients as Intercontinental Hotels, 3D International, Harwood Taylor & Associates, Don Ghia, and Gresham & Smith, to mention a few. His architectural clients have recently expanded to include the New York firm of Philip Koether Architects for which he designed the interior of a Manhattan eatery. Design activity accelerated after the corporate and personal move to California in 1975. In 1979, projects began to include work with most major studios, on such feature films as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, followed by, Bladerunner, TRON, 2010, Short Circuit, Aliens, Time Cop, Johnny Mnemonic, and most recently, “Mission Impossible-3” starring Tom Cruise for director J.J. Abrams. Beginning in 1983, Syd began to develop close working relationships with a number of major Japanese corporate clients, including; Sony, Minolta, Dentsu, Dyflex, Tiger, Seibu, Mitsukoshi, Bandai, NHK and Honda as well as contributing to two Japanese film projects, The New Yamato and Crises 2050. In the 1990s’, Syd supplied designs for two Japanese toy icons, “The New Yamato” and all eight robot characters in the new Turn-A Gundam mobile suite series which were also seen as characters in Television shows.

With transportation design as his first love, Syd Mead seldom misses an opportunity to provide his unique blend of futurism and believability to those projects consisting of a vehicle that travels from “A” to ‘B”. Whether it be designing solar powered unicycles, show cars, luxury yachts, cruise ships, or the interiors of private 747’s, each receives the same attention to detail within a perfectly designed scenario. This combination has become a Syd Mead trademark and has been seen in everything from concept cars for Ford Motor Company to futuristic “Hypervans” which have been the subject of his latest full color illustrations.

Syd Mead continues an active schedule of one man shows, which started with an invitation to exhibit at Documenta 6, Kassel, West Germany in 1973. His work has since been exhibited in Japan, Italy, California, and Spain. In 1983 in response to an in invitation from Chrysler Corporation to be a guest speaker to their design staff, Syd Mead assembled a selection of slides to visually enhance his lecture. The resulting presentation was a resounding success and has since been expanded and enhanced with computer generated imagery specifically assembled at the requests of such clients as Disney, Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue, Pratt University, the Society of Illustrators., and many others both academic and corporate around the world. In March of 2010, Syd completed a four city tour in Australia to capacity audiences at each venue.

Always an advocate of new technologies, Syd Mead has expanded his horizons to include computer illustrations and graphics by mastering a variety of Softwares. Beginning with the official poster of the 1991 Concours d’Elegance “Eyes on the Classics” in Detroit, Michigan, Mr. Mead has attempted to utilize the latest in available techniques to their best advantage. In 1993, a digital gallery comprised of 50 examples of his art with interface screens designed by Syd Mead became one of the first CD ROM’s released in Japan in 1992 and in 2004 in response to many requests, cooperated with the Gnomon School of Visual Effects to produce a 4 volume, “How To” DVD series titled, “TECHNIQUES OF SYD MEAD” which continues to be sought after by designers around the world.

His one man show, “Cavalcade to the Crimson Castle” consisting of 114 original paintings and illustrations, enjoyed a three month showing at the Center for the Arts in San Francisco in the Fall of 1996. The highlight of the show turned out to be Syd’s presentation and lecture attracted an audience that exceeded the available capacity of the auditorium. Subsequent personal appearances at schools across the country have attracted record numbers. A touring exhibition of his work is now in the planning stage to mark the 40th anniversary of Syd Mead Inc.

In February 1998, Syd Mead relocated his studio to Pasadena, California, where he continues to be involved in a variety of design projects. He recently completed work on a documentary of his career with director Joaquin Montalvan, “VISUAL FUTURIST”, was released in May of 2007 on DVD and is available through the virtual Oblagon bookstore on the Syd Mead official webpage WWW.SYDMEAD.COM . Mead attributes success in an astonishing range of creative activities to the premise that imagination…the idea, supersedes technique. “There are more people in the world who make things than there are people who think of things to make.”

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