The Master Designer of Elysium, Blade Runner, and Tron

Syd Mead may not be a household name, but among genre fans he’s a god, the man who designed Blade Runner, Tron, Aliens, and many other titles, leading up to Elysium. (Director Neill Blomkamp is a huge Mead fan, which is why he hired him on to design Elysium. Just imagine what he could have done for the Halo film that didn’t come together.) 

Vulture just did an interview with Mead, who told writer Matt Patches, “I like to do what I call ‘supersonic baroque,’ a swirly patter on embroidery typical of the lush baroque era, superimposed onto slick, geometric shapes…Now with computer mapping of textures to objects, and laser printing, and 3D printing, all you have to do is press the button. But you still have to think up the original idea.” 

As far as how realistic he likes his work to be, he said, “Star Trek’s Enterprise would never work. It would topple over because the center of gravity is considerable distance from their thrust vector (Laughs) It’s a movie.” For the first Star Trek movie in 1979, “It was a stylistic invention that had to look organic and mechanical at the same time. Robert Wise wanted something looked utterly strange. By combining organic organization with a mechanical overlay, it really did look quite different.” 

With Blade Runner, Ridley Scott said, “This is not Logan’s Run, where everything is slick and clean,” and Syd got that it had to be “gritty, noir style.” When working on Aliens, Cameron was famously hands on, knew exactly what he wanted and could also explain it in great detail. As Mead told Vulture, “Directors are very different than you or I. They think in their heads and have the movie page by page. When I worked with Ridley, he only slept four hours a night. He was thinking all the time.” 

It’s good to see Syd Mead still active, and designing incredible futures for sci-fi movies. Yes, perhaps the Enterprise wouldn’t really work in real life, but with the wonderful work of people like Mead, we can very easily suspend our disbelief.