For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Syd Mead is a futurist and concept designer whose work has appeared in films like Bladerunner, Aliens, and Tron to name just a few. Last week he was in Rochester for a presentation at RIT. I made the trek out for the evening and was glad that I did. Though Mead is now entering his 70′s, the man is still very active in the industry today and has a lot of useful stories and bits of information to share. What I was truly amazed by was his futurist concepts that he did while he was working at Ford in the 1950′s. Somehow he was able to sit around all day creating these wild concepts for vehicles far in the future…I have a feeling that today that position no longer exists. (And not just because Ford is slowly going down the tubes.) Some of Mead’s designs from 50 years ago have become a reality; notably one that functioned much like a Segway. Not that any normal person really uses a Segway. (Which makes me wonder how willing people will be to adapt to new modes of transportation.)
Mead discussed some of his work on Bladerunner, which really sounds like a great project to have worked on. Though it was hampered by budget constraints and Ridley Scott being fired at one point in production, it remains as a high point in sci-fi movie history. You know how sometimes you’ll look at sci-fi concepts and not really understand what half the stuff is? Well Mead revealed that that is just part of the job. He will often throw some shapes together that have just the bare elements of a recognizable setting or object, but with plenty of extra features and dials and shapes to create a futuristic feeling. He showed one concept from Bladerunner of a bathroom in the future. You could tell that it was a bathroom because of the sink and the toilet-like device, (as well as the size of the room) but beyond that you’d be hard pressed to find anything else you’d recognize from a bathroom of today.
He also pointed out another concept (this one from a videogame) that had the classic ultra-detailed overly complex sci-fi look to it. He explained that in the future things would obviously be simpler and many tasks will be accomplished unseen (nanotechnology I assume), but for films and games people expect to see circuitry and pipes and wires and all that schmutz all over the place. To some degree I appreciate that classic look of “run-down and dirty sci-fi future,” but at the same time I think it has been overdone and doesn’t really reflect the way the future will probably be. (Whose to say, but as I mentioned before, there will probably be nanorobots that clean the streets and hopefully pollution will be eliminated.)
The only problem I found with Mead’s work is that it still looks the same today as it did in the 1950′s. His vision of the future has not developed as rapidly as technology has developed, but his rendering skills still blow me away. Mead recently released a series of DVD’s with the Gnomon workshop, as well as publishing a few books from his own publishing company. I picked up the latest one, “Sentury,” and got it signed by him. (Oh and I yanked these works from the net, thanks to whoever posted them.)