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Syd Mead, Visionary ‘Blade Runner’ Artist and Futurist, Dies at 86

Visual artist and futurist Syd Mead, who helped shape the look of influential sci-fi films including “Blade Runner,” “Tron,” “Aliens” and “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” died Monday of complications from lymphoma in Pasadena, Calif. He was 86.

Autoline journalist John McElroy first reported the news, which was confirmed by his spouse Roger Servick to several media outlets.

Mead was set to receive the Art Directors Guild’s William Cameron Menzies Award during the Guild’s 24th Annual awards in February for his contributions on “Aliens,” “Blade Runner” and “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

ADG president Nelson Coates said, “I am so saddened to hear of the passing of visionary illustrator and concept artist Syd Mead. His pivotal role in shaping cinema was unique, with a singular ability to visualize the future. As one of the most influential conceptual artists of our time, his visions and illustrations of future technological worlds will remain as a testament to his vast imagination.”

Mead started his design career in the auto, electronics and steel industries working for Ford Motor Co., Sony, U.S. Steel and Phillips Electronics. He then transitioned to film. His career began as a production illustrator working with director Robert Wise (“West Side Story”) to create Earth’s nemesis V’Ger in the 1979 “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”

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He continued fusing technology with creativity, bringing to life some of the biggest films in science fiction. In 1982, he served as a visual futurist on “Blade Runner,” before collaborating as a conceptional artist with director Steven Lisberger  on the 1982 “Tron.”

He explained his inspiration for “Blade Runner” to Curbed in 2015, “For a city in 2019, which isn’t that far from now, I used the model of Western cities like New York or Chicago that were laid out after the invention of mass transit and automobiles, with grids and linear transport. I thought, we’re at 2,500 feet now, let’s boost it to 3,000 feet, and then pretend the city has an upper city and lower city. The street level becomes the basement, and decent people just don’t want to go there. In my mind, all the tall buildings have a sky lobby, and nobody goes below the 30th floor, and that’s the way life would be organized,” Mead said.

Mead later designed the Leonov spaceship seen in “2001: A Space Odyssey” sequel “2010” before becoming a robot designer on the family film “Short Circuit,” starring Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg. More recently, Mead’s created designs for “Mission: Impossible III,” “Elysium” and “Tomorrowland” and consulted on “Blade Runner 2049.”

He was honored by the Visual Effects Society in 2015.

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