We may not exactly be living in specific recreations of any of the futures so fluently illustrated by Syd Mead—but the man’s work did something arguably even more important. Unless you’ve somehow taken in zero science fiction in your lifetime, chances are excellent your view of the world has changed, even slightly, because of something that Syd Mead created. Sadly, the man passed away on December 30, 2019, at the age of 86, from complications of lymphoma. 

Mead started as an industrial designer, working with Ford, Volvo, and others, but what he’s most well-known for is his visual futurist work in Hollywood. He didn’t just design vehicles, but also built entire future worlds for so many important sci-fi films. For one, the TRON light cycles—used in the original film, TRON: Legacy, and animated series TRON: Uprising—wouldn’t exist without his vision. Even more important was his ability to translate that vision from what he saw in his head to art that people around him could see, and also act upon.   

Gallery: RIP Syd Mead

The imagined worlds that Mead created have had such an indelible impact on how we, as people who enjoy and refract pop culture, think about, well, everything. From the power loader and U.S.S. Sulaco designs in Aliens to the entire universe of Blade Runner, there’s just so much depth to wade through. The best art makes you think about it long after you’ve experienced it. By that criteria, Mead’s work spanned several lifetimes. 

“To me, science fiction is reality ahead of schedule,” Mead once said in an NPR interview. Maybe that’s why his work has such staying power—like we’re seeing half-remembered visions of things that haven’t happened yet, but might. Or waking dreams that feel more like premonitions.

TRON Light Cycle Design
A Syd Mead TRON Light Cycle sketch
Kaneda's Bike, by Katsuhiro Otomo
Kaneda's bike, by Otomo Katsuhiro
Honda Mural, 2004
Syd Mead's Honda mural from 2004

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of how Mead inspired that visionary quality in others was related by Ben Hsu over at Japanese Nostalgic Car. Otomo Katsuhiro, who famously designed Kaneda’s bike for the film Akira, said he was inspired by Mead’s light cycle designs from TRON. This, in turn, led Mead to create a mural for Honda in 2004 that marries his light cycle and Otomo’s Akira design in an unmistakable way.

In November 2019, the Art Directors Guild announced that it would honor Mead with the William Cameron Menzies Award at its 24th annual awards ceremony in February 2020. The award recognizes Mead’s lifetime of influential concept artwork. We at RideApart join with just about everyone in the world whose lives were touched by Mead’s art in some way, in saying thank you for everything. 

Sources: YouTube, SydMead.com, NPR, The Hollywood Reporter, Japanese Nostalgic Car, KCET, Jalopnik

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