Tag Archive: The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist


Review by C.J. Bunce

Some concept artists light the spark for the visuals of a film or television project.  A few create something truly novel, something that endures.  The late artist and designer Ron Cobb has something of both.  Fans of pop culture know his work even if they don’t know his name.  Now he’s the centerpiece of the next look at the greatest artists and artisans behind the scenes of cinema.  With Titan Books’ new work The Art of Ron Cobb, the publisher adds to the film enthusiast’s bookshelf of sci-fi designers like Cinema Alchemist: Designing Star Wars and Alien, The Artistry of Dan Curry, Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, and a stack of books on John Eaves, including Star Trek: The Art of John EavesThe Art of Ron Cobb is available for pre-order now here at Amazon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Syd Mead, the famed “artist who illustrates the future,” is an icon of visionary design and illustration.  No other creator has shown the world a utopian vision of a possible future in so many ways.  In the time he created a world we want to see develop that lies ahead, we have seen his future begin to be realized.  His aerodynamic designs have influenced auto design in recent decades from car makers including Chrysler, Ford, and GM.  He has created the look of space technology that we all accept as believable thanks to his concept art–art that has influenced the art direction of films for four decades.  A new book published this month provides an in-depth intellectual review of Mead’s style, influences, and impact on the history of design.  The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist is a college level, art design course book of sorts that takes movie concept art to an entirely new level, a serious look at his style that will appeal to serious artists in any field, and a popular work for fans of the films he has inspired.

“What makes Syd’s vision so compelling,” says the book’s author, architect/designer and professor Craig Hodgetts, “is not only the means he employs to convey it, but the acute physical and environmental awareness: the endless curiosity about how the world works; the precise level of detail and the practical engineering knowledge that he brings to even the most fantastic devices.”  Beginning with the look of the both geometric and organic mechanical villain V’ger from the year 2273 in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to a mid-21st century casino and hotel in this year’s Blade Runner 2049, Mead’s sketches, drawings, illustrations, and paintings have inspired and influenced the art design of dozens of movie productions.

   

Mead’s most groundbreaking and memorable cinematic visionary creations came in the 1980s with four films.  Returning to our theme of celebrating 1982 films, for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner Mead was influenced by Edward Hopper’s desolate cityscapes.  To translate author Philip K. Dick’s writings into visual form, Mead and Scott took an idea of sculpture artists Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Stankewicz and author William Gibson.  The filmmakers lay claim to be the first to use their ideas of “retro-fitting” on film–the process of creating a unique object by means of a strategic assemblage of allied components; by harvesting parts from abandoned or obsolescent “donors” and re-assembling them, a new entity is created.  In the same year as Blade Runner, Mead saw his designs realized in the very different world of Tron, modeling a convincing digital world by extrapolating from the patterns of computer motherboards and other now obsolete technology of the era.  The giant screen-filling image of Master Control, the labyrinthine pathways for the lightcycles, and Sark’s hefty transport vessel all hailed from the mind and pen of Mead.  Taking the look of James Cameron’s original Alien film and modifying it significantly, Mead skipped the “slick shapes of Star Trek” and the “greeblies of Star Wars” to create what he envisioned as a “highly-engineered, purposeful vessel” where each feature could have a function, for the 1986 sequel Aliens In the same year, Mead created what would become an iconic image of the 1980s, Number Five the robot, the friendly star of the film Short Circuit.

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