The Gnomon Workshop

Interview with Syd Mead

Illustrator and concept artist, Syd Mead, is regarded as one of the most accomplished and widely respected artists and industrial designers alive today. With a unique vision for forward-looking designs, Mead’s artwork can be found in various beloved intellectual properties such as Blade Runner and Aliens. Syd Mead is considered a visual futurist and is constantly challenging the boundaries of the art experience. One example of this is an augmented reality app, OBLAGON, which will be featured in conjunction with Syd Mead’s PRORESSIONS exhibit at SIGGRAPH 2018. To learn more, visit SydMead.com; Siggraph.org; and search “Oblagon AR” in the Apple or Google Play stores.

GW: One of the highlights at SIGGRAPH this year is the PROGRESSIONS exhibition. What excites you about this exhibit?

SM: The PROGRESSIONS exhibition is a celebration of my career creating images for a wide range of clients, starting with some images from my design school assignments, so it really is ‘progression’ from initial beginnings to professional career. Oddly, viewing the exhibition as mounted was the first time I’d seen the full range of my work all at once!

GW: How did the downloadable app, OBLAGON, come about, and what does it offer?

SM: OBLAGON has been working with STUDIO ORB to create an application OBLAGON APP that completely expands the viewing experience of artwork making it a visual journey into the three-dimensional components of that picture. My work has always been a precise depiction of alternate ‘futures.’ Now, with the downloadable application, you can rotate items in the picture, see how the picture was created, and even the opportunity to hear the story behind the picture’s creation. The remarkable thing about the application is that it makes the picture a PORTAL into the picture’s creation. We are excited to have the expanded version of the OBLAGON APP available with PROGRESSIONS for everyone to experience at this year’s SIGGRAPH Exhibition in Vancouver BC, Canada from August 12th – 16th.

GW: The PROGRESSIONS exhibit features work from your art-school days to 2012. Do you feel your personal view or approach to design and illustration has evolved during that time?

SM: My personal approach to solving design problems over the last fifty or so years has not changed that much. The technique of problem solving was learned well. It has successfully worked in all of the problem solving challenges I’ve encountered. As they say, if it works, don’t screw with it!

GW: You have worked on beloved films such as Blade Runner and Aliens. How easy or difficult did you find the work on these projects?

SM: Working in film, for me, is essentially solving design challenges. The script is the manual for the duration of involvement, the Director is the client and all solution technique applies as in any other design challenge. You are, essentially, designing stuff for an imaginary world. The toughest movie design jobs were those where the Director didn’t know exactly what he wanted! Without clarity of concept, the ‘problem’ becomes a frustrating and time-wasting process.

GW: What are some key moments or influences you’ve gained over the years when designing for industrial giants in architecture and automotive?

SM: The main thing I’ve learned over the years working with large global clients worldwide is that design problems, no matter how complicated or insistent, always break down to understanding what the problem actually is.

GW: You have also collaborated with Gnomon. What stands out to you about your experience with Gnomon?

SM: The Gnomon Workshop tutorials are a remarkable assembly of designers and artists who offer expert ‘experience’ to students learning technique to compete in the professional world. Our involvement in the several demonstration videos was a totally enjoyable cooperative opportunity.


 

GW: Your vast number of varied projects reflect both fantastical and pragmatic futuristic designs. Is there a method to your thought process when it comes to homing in on the present and rethinking “the now” for the future?

SM: Design is a deliberate process. My general appreciation is that ‘if it’s a good idea, it will eventually happen.’ The future is the result of accumulation of the past and present, and what I do is to postulate what variation might be the case for ‘that world,’ It isn’t really a very complicated premise.

GW: How do you find motivation if inspiration seems to be sparse?

SM: If I’m at a choke point for solution and I have the luxury of time, I’ll simply put it aside, maybe for just overnight. If you’ve fed your brain with stuff, it will work for you even when you are not deliberately directing specific thoughts or ideas. I’ve actually woken up the next morning after maybe watching a movie the night before, or maybe an enjoyable dinner with friends, and ‘voila!’ the solution is there.

GW: Are there go-to tools for artists and creatives you’d recommend? Or art books or other resources you’ve found to be universally valuable?

SM: ‘Go to tools?’ Inside your head! Sophistication is, essentially, a good memory. Notice everything. Hang with other professionals who do something different than you do. That way, you don’t ‘ghettoize your skill set for one defined field of expertise. Hopefully everyone will find my currently available publications, SENTURY II, A Future Remembered (my autobiography) and the MOVIE ART OF SYD MEAD from Titan press, inspirational and a true value. All my previous publications that are now out of print sell for prices much higher than they sold for originally.

GW: Thank you so much for sharing your inspiration and outlook with us, Syd! We are so grateful for your vision and passion for art and its future.

SM: Thank you, and best wishes for continued success at the Gnomon Workshop.
Syd Mead, Visual Futurist
Pasadena, CA - August 8, 2018

 

Check out Airship Arrival with Syd Mead