Saturday, June 18, 2016

Syd Mead

Although I've been a SF fan ever since I was a kid, and even though some of those films along with some of the horror films I watched as a kid gave me nightmares, I still remain a big SF fan today.  I'm not real sure why, other than I just like that world of wonder that you enter that entertains the thought that humans are witnessing something extraordinary, beyond our current "real" world.  It's an intoxicating melange for sure.   Plus there are so many aspects of it that you can get into as well:  comics, movies, (which may have been my start point), collecting  DVDs, collecting the soundtracks from SF films, books, book covers, collecting memorabilia, collecting autographs or pictures of some of your favorite stars that have appeared in those movies, blogs about SF, magazines devoted to it,  SF posters (I have one from Barbarella),  collecting props, movie art,  or art work in general.

That leads us to Syd Mead.   After training in industrial design at the Art Center School in Las Angeles, he began his career as a staff designer for his paintings for the 1961 book Concepts for the U.S. Steel Corporation earning him national attention.  Among the concepts that Mead visualized was a quadrupedal vehicle that ultimately became the inspiration for At-At's (All Terrain Armored Transports, or elephant-like walking tanks) that appeared in Lucas's Star Wars sequel,  The Empire Strikes Back.

Mead is now in great demand as a production designer for SF movies and has collaborated on such films as Star Trek-The Motion Picture (1979) Blade Runner (1982), 2010 (1984), Short Circuit (1986),  and Aliens (1986), among others.   In addition to his handsomely stylish artifacts, Mead has also pioneered the look on film of a well-worn, gritty future--as if it had evolved from some real world.  Mead's designs of the ruined 21st century Los Angeles for Blade Runner, as a prime example, project a startling vision of urban decay and cultural decadence that is all to chillingly plausible.

There is currently a documentary or DVD on Syd Mead, but I haven't watched it yet or really know where to look for it.  I was hoping to watch it off Netflix or some other streaming service, but I haven't tracked down an available copy.  Perhaps Amazon has a copy, I'm still looking.  I did find a trailer for it on Youtube, and on it Mead says he started drawing and making art as a small child (you can sure tell).  

The soundtrack by the way for the Syd Mead documentary comes from the electronic composer, Richard Souther, who also goes by the name of Douglas Towbridge on some of his other CDs.  It seems the right fit for the documentary, you can hear snippets of it while watching that first YT video.  Souther has been around for a while too, generally his albums are found on smaller recording labels.  One of the earliest albums by him is on the budget Laserlight labels, called Heirborne (1985).  Although one might pass over that particular album due to it being a budget label, Laserlight have actually issued some pretty good albums in many genres. 

Heirborne came out in just about the peak of the New Age phenomena, and has those hallmarks.  I'd also say some people tend to dismiss New Age music as well.  I know at one time many referred to New Age music as "wallpaper music"  I guess referring to it being pleasant, but somewhat uninteresting and not worth paying attention to or that it tends to blend into the background.  I guess I'd say that is their loss since I enjoy a lot of it.  I probably should do a Top Ten New Age albums list.  I'd agree that it is pleasant, most of the time,  but disagree that it is of any less worth, or not deserving of one's attention.  If fact due to its pleasant nature, I find it's the perfect type music to listen to when helping to unwind at the end of a day.   At any rate, below is a song from Richard Souther's album, Heirborne.


At 11:00 AM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

SF, as you say, is multifaceted. While I’ve always argued for the primacy of script and prose, the visuals and sounds at the very least enrich, and might be more influential on the world at large. To take one example, new cityscapes such as that of Shanghai (old city, new cityscape) look futuristic – they look the way past SF artists envisioned future cities. Let’s hope the urban decay in much SF since Bladerunner is not equally farsighted.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Hard to say what the future will bring Richard. I remember a drawing class I had in college and we were told to draw a futurist cityscape. The instructor had told us earlier in the year to be open to change things. I'd modeled my city after the city in the film Metropolis, and was pretty happy with the way it turned out. The first thing he did when he saw it was point and say, change it. That threw me a ego crushing, curve ball, and instead of tweaking it, which is what I should have done, I did a complete do-over. Sometimes cities might just need a facelift here and there too. Yeah, I hope you're right about the Bladerunner scenario.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Roman J. Martel said...

Yeah Mead is one of those guys who really influenced the way the future was going to look - from an 80s perspective. HIs work on "Bladerunner" and "Aliens" is what brought him to my attention. He also did a lot of work on "Tron" and I believe they even got him to revamp some of his designs for "Tron Legacy". All those movies made huge impressions on me when I was a kid, so I tend to see Mead's view of the future that the default one when I'm working on my own futuristic fiction. Well that or the anime versions based off his vision like stuff from "Bubblegum Crisis" or "Ghost in the Shell".

At 3:14 PM, Blogger El Vox said...

I've not seen Bubblegum Crisis. I may have to check into those.

Ralph McQuarrie is another extraordinary artist whose work on Star Wars created a lived in, evolved type worlds. They are complex by their design and have bumps and dents on some of the ships and cars, much like our own. Both he and Mead were exemplary in their designs and depicting worlds, ships, mechanisms, and things that shaped the feel to worlds and environments that added to the immersive landscapes and made them all the more believable.


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