Well, here's the next in line of BladeZone's
Exclusive Interviews conducted by our very own RepDetect, aka Gerry Kissell.
Gerry has been a published artist, writer and a syndicated film columnist for many years.
He is now the art director for TN, Inc. and for Beckerfilms.com, the official site of Panoramic Pictures.
To find out more about Syd Mead and his work, go to his official website at www.sydmead.com
EXCLUSIVE! Coming Soon to BladeZone, never before published production art by
For now, we have below some clickable thumbnails of Mr. Mead's art from
All original art property of Syd Mead, Inc. and used by
amidst scavenged retrofitting materials, Syd Mead surveys the work in progress on The
Burbank Studios backlot.
| Scott discusses a matte painting concept with futuristic
designer Syd Mead and effects supervisor David Dryer. Dryer took over for Trumbull and
Matt Yuricich midway through principal photography and saw the project through to
large-scale closeup spinner -- photographed primarily by Don Baker and assistant Tim
McHugh -- was an exact replica of its full-size counterpart. Complete with articulating
wheel covers, liquid nitrogen exhaust ports and rotating beacons. The finished product was
a perfect rendering of Syd Mead's design.
All the matte paintings were designed by Syd Mead. Working directly over photographic
prints derived from the live-action photography. Mead prepared detailed watercolor
renderings which were approved by Ridley Scott and then followed precisely. Though his
designs generally met with no resistance. Mead's first attempt at one rooftop scene was
rejected because it looked too open.
He then prepared a more
claustrophobic alternate which was approved and eventually translated into a matte
painting by Rocco Gioffre.
Captioned images from Cinefex #9
To begin this interview, I would like to extend a warm welcome from everyone at BladeZone!
Syd Mead Thank you!
RD For 12 years now, I have been a professional
artist. And I can say without a doubt that you are truly the greatest inspiration when it
came to my doing concept art. Who were some of your inspirations?
SM My first recollection of 'science fiction' was my father
reading Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon stories from 'big-little' books in the early 4O's. I
appreciated the artwork, and became very upset when Flash couldn't rescue Dale from the
evil Emperor Ming. My next big rush came when I met Robert Heinlein at his home in
Colorado Springs during my high school years, about 1949. And, of course the illustrations
of Chesley Bonestell, finished long before we had orbital pictures of earth. Currently, my
favorite artist is John Berkey... his stuff is so explosive..you couldn't build a model of
it, but the emotive illustration is dynamite..and he also does regular old commercial
illustration.all in his expertly brushed textural technique..
RD I too was a fan of Chesley Bonestell. His work on
films like Citizen Kane was so good that you really can't see where the painting starts
and the live shot ends. He was also one of the firts artists to render the moon correctly
before we'd ever even seen the surface as well as painting shots of Earth with clouds.
Something that other SF artists didn't really start doing until around the early 1960's.
You, he, Joe Johnston and Ron Miller were the four greatest influences on my career. How
old were you when you decided that you were going to be an artist as a career?
SM I knew in the fifth grade that I would eventually make my
money drawing, or something to do with drawing.
RD What is your impression of all the SF films seeming
to have carbon copied environments like that of Blade Runner? I cite Lost in Space
and Total Recall 2070 as prime examples. Do you see this as homage or as
unoriginal borrowing of what really comes down to being your concepts? This wouldnt
be the first time someone has borrowed your ideas without giving credit. In fact, on that
subject, I recall reading years ago something about the imperial walkers used in the
Empire Strikes Back.
SM BLADE RUNNER was one of those chancey accidents that
turned into a cult event. Ridley Scott deserves eternal admiration for creating the film
under all kinds of duress; financial, time constraints and his own flawless creative
vision. It is no surprise at all that the style, the artifact designs and the scene
designs have been copied...we labled our assembly style 'retro-deco' and added the
additional label of 'trash-chic.' The visual style followed Ridleys original intent
to make a 'noir' type movie from Philip K. Dick's story. The eventual film images, with
Lawrence Paull as production designer and David Snyder as Art Director were all cobbled as
best as money, time and ingenuity could manage.
yes, my original 'snow walker' was done in 1968 for United States Steel. It was definitely
'copied' as an articulation model for the Imperial Snow Walker machines.
If you raise an idea or a 'style' set far enough above the average, it will establish
its own 'style.' This is what has happened with the BLADE RUNNER phenomenon. As one of the
BLADE RUNNER creative team that accomplished this, I am very complimented.
RD You were also working on Disney's Tron
when you joined the Blade Runner team. How much different was it for you
working on the more organic look of Blade Runner from working on the smooth
tech looking Tron?
SM The two movies are, obviously, completely different; in
style, in story, in the entire theatrical intent. It is a mystery to me why someone will
say (they've said it) "well, Mead has this dark, mechanical view of...ya da, ya
da." Of course, working on BLADE RUNNER and TRON simultaneously makes that opinion
completely invalid. Comments like those are made by producers and others who don't have
any idea of what constitutes creativity. Many creative people are subjected to this kind
of naive 'type casting' all through their careers. BLADE RUNNER was in pre-production for
about eight months, without even being funded for full production! TRON was a studio,
on-lot production from the start at Disney. The director, Steven Lisberger, had previous
designs and artwork which I was hired to replace, or re-vamp. After I finished work on
TRON, I went back into the BLADE RUNNER process with David Dryer and finished the matte
painting preliminaries for Doug Trumbull's SFX facility in Marina Del Rey. Besides all of
this, I was going back and forth to Europe for consumer design projects, and finishing
architectural illustration contracts for architects in New York, Texas and Chicago.
RD How was it working with Mr. Trumbull on Blade
SM I really didn't 'work' with Doug Trumbull. Actually, I
was working one on one with Ridley first, Lawrence Paull second, Dave Snyder
third...Trumbull was workilng for Ridley.. Since then, I have had several visits with
Doug, and we both have a great liking and a great admiration for each other's abilities.
RD What were some of the inspirations you used to
create the buildings, vehicles, and props for Blade Runner?
SM Buildings: I took the two world trade towers in New York
City and the New York street proportions as a 'today' model, and expanded everything
vertically about two and a half times. This inspired me to make the bases of the buildings
sloping to cover about six city blocks, on the premise that you needed more ground access
to the building mass. I later continued this idea in the city matte painting because the
slanting sides of the mega-structures did not line up with the scale models used for the
moving street shots. In this way, the cityscape matte could be dropped into the shot
without upsetting the perspective.
Vehicles: I had read about an internal lifting system called an 'aerodyne'.
Essentially, this is a ducted venturii system much like the Harrier Jet Fighter. Of
course, we had to assume a massive thrust, small source configuration...a nicety one can
'get away with' in a sci-fi film. The SPINNER had that odd, split front wheel look because
I thought that the driver / pilot would need to see 'down' when landing the machine. The
finished model also had transparent plates on the floor board area. Deckard's sedan was a
de-commissioned luxury 'flying' limo. Hey, if cars could fly, it was a mature technology.
What do you do with a de-commissioned flying limo? Why, you take off the aerodynamic
exterior panels, add big bumpers, a traffic lighting package, plaster your paranoidal
anti-theft stuff all over it, and you end up with this truncated, really weird looking
street vehicle. Essentially, the process was industrial design in reverse!
RD Anything subtle in any of the matte paintings or
sets that you might have added in humor or such that we might look for in Blade Runner?
SM The matte paintings were done directly, in qouache, over
the approved 7Omm print blowups, so there wasn't that 'in studio' deal going on with
them...the actual glass mattes were done at Doug Trumbull's place by Matt Yuricich and a
wonder guy named "Rocco."
RD Did you work closely with Ridley Scott on the
design of any of the objects and scenes we see in Blade Runner?
SM Yes. Ridley only sleeps about four hours a night when
he's on a film. He would produce these continuous line sketches for street scenes, and set
ideas. The SPINNER, TAXI, SEBASTIAN VAN AND SMALL CAR vehicles were totally mine. The
others were done by Paull's staff guys. But for the sets, Ridley handed me some line
drawings, I went with Paull to Warner's back lot for a look, and then proceeded to paint
the small views of the street sets. The bulk of my design idea submissions to Ridley went
into immediate production with no changes at all.
RD So, does that mean Ridley Scott already had his own
vision of L.A. 2019, or was it left entirely up to you to realize it?
SM Ridley had his London staff round up available books by
'futurists' and sci-fi illustrators. My first book, SENTINEL, had just been
published by an English publishing group. That was the link. Ridley specifically liked one
rainy, mega-structure city expressway view, and when he came to Los Angeles to start the
film, called me, we had a meeting and I was hired on the spot. He had a very definite
vision of how he wanted the film to look from the start.
RD Do you take a totally different approach to each
project, or do you sort of do your own thing, then tweak it to fit the specifics of the
director or the film?
SM I'm working for the director on a film. And the director
is working for the script. So, I'm really helping the director to illustrate a story. The
design process is to treat a movie prop like a design problem in that particular 'world,'
...the story world. Regardless of how weird or preposterous that story world might be, it
has its own logic and its own rules. You design to fit those rules.
RD Did you rely on previous designs of Blade
Runner, or did you "start from scratch" when creating the L.A. 2019 we
see in the game?
SM The game was a production with Westwood studios in Las
Vegas. They got the rights to use BLADE RUNNER as a premise... Lord knows with how much
leverage with Warner Brothers, the Blade Runner Partnership, and others. Anyway, I was
involved as a visual consultant to look at their frames and set designs to make the visual
'fit' match what we would have done, had we been doing it again with the game story
base... That sounds a bit vague, but that was essentially my contribution to the game
production...as a stylistic critic.
RD The visuals in the Blade Runner game
were what set it apart from any other game on the market. Do you feel the storytelling
element of the game coincided with the visuals in a successful way, just as the film had
SM I have seen only limited 'scenes' from the BLADERUNNER
game. Because it didnt come out in a MACINTOSH format, I have never been able to run
it. Anyway, it got rave reviews and if some of my comments to the creative staff helped,
RD How was the experience of working on the Blade
Runner game, and how much did you get to contribute to Westwood?
SM I guess I jumped the question gun on this one.
Previously, I said that my role in the BLADE RUNNER game was that of visual style
consultant...I would look at some of the sets and criticize based on 'what would have we
come up with...at the time...if the same scene requirements were presented to us..' That's
pretty vague, but that was my contribution.
RD How much of your work on Blade Runner
was based on real theories and how much was fantasy? For example, do you think something
like a spinner would really be possible by 2019?
SM All of my 'work' on BLADE RUNNER was based on real
theories, twisted a bit to fit the problem solution base, which was the time frame for the
film's story, and the dramatic demands from Ridley and Paull. For instance, Sebastian's
truck was a patched together vehicle from bits and pieces that you might find in a
theoretical junkyard in the year 2O19....! Well, you have to postulate what would be IN a
junkyard in 2O19...left over turbine rotors, allow pieces from machines we don't know what
they look like, odd portions of machines that don't exist now...It was enormous fun.
And the street sets, the architecture. In my effort to create a jammed look to everything,
I borrowed shape cues from Byzantine (the thick, twisted columns) deco, temporary
scaffolding, and certainly the curious slanted sidewalls of Mayan architecture. It was all
forced together to create the 'look' of the BLADE RUNNER world. The fact that real
architects are fascinated with the 'look' of the film still blows me away!
RD The Blade Runner game keeps to the same visual edge
that we saw in the movie; did they alter from your methods in any way for creating ideas
for an interactive world?
SM Since the actual production was all done by the Westwood
studio staff, I would say thay their methods worked very well. One interesting item; I was
told that they found out that hiring artists and training them to use computer programs
was far superior than hiring 'computer wonks' and trying to train them to draw, or be
'artistic.' Confirms everything I've ever discovered about the 'art' versus 'computer'
design trade-off. The BLADE RUNNER game, being recent, was a re-stroke for the electronic
game market. A smart business idea.
RD A fan of yours wrote to BladeZone and asked me to
ask you if you have any cool BR models or know of any places to get replicas of your Blade
Runner work? I know that TVC-15 in Japan has an excellent 1/16 scale
replica of your spinner. Were you aware of this?
SM Who knows what happens to all that movie stuff? It seems
to wander off into really weird collections. The cars, which were built by Gene Winfield,
ended up on Hollywood boulevard, then in Florida, and wherever. The smaller models
disappeared... There was a five foot long fully articulated and lighted model as well as
an eleven inch long lighted model, and a tiny model about an inch and a half long (for the
police station landing shot...the top of the police station model was only about ten
inches in diameter...) I was not aware of the Japanese model issue... There are a LOT of
scratch built and various kit makers in Japan, who probably never paid a royalty or
license fee to anyone.
RD Speaking of Japan, I heard you were working on a
huge self-contained living environment -- like a mega tower that has offices, shops,
living quarters. Is this true? If it is, how is it working in Japan for you?
SM Stories do get started, don't they? I have
designed two nightclubs in Japan, and a major theme park attraction on the island of
Shikoku for Dentsu, Osaka. I have worked on numerous projects for themed entertainment
installations. The huge living environment deal might be one of those repeated stories
that gets better each time around. I did start a multi use project with Japan Rail East in
Osaka, which was cancelled when the real estate "bubble" ended a lot of big
projects in Japan.
RD You know your doin' well in this world when
the rumor mill starts working your schedule.
Now, in regard to the (scrap kits) I think that much of the fault for them being
out there falls back on the part of the BR partnership and WB, and the lack of interest
they show in the Blade Runner phenomenon and the ever growing culture. The Star Wars and
Star Trek fans had kits that were put out almost from day one, while fans of your work for
Blade Runner were left with really nothing. Unless they wanted to take it upon themselves
to do it. I remember going to the local hobby store every Saturday back in '82, looking
for a kit to come out from Blade Runner. I was utterly disapointed. Today it's different,
I now have them. Sadly, none were created by licensed companies. What is your general
reaction to the lack of licensed kits and the lack of interest thus far in Blade Runner
SM When BLADERUNNER was released, the studio (LADD) was on
its way to bankruptcy, Warner Bros treated it as just another troublesome production
taking up space in their soundstages, and VANGELIS was being bitchy (either through his
representatives or whatever...remember? the sound track albun wasn't released until AFTER
the movie was out for a while, and THEN it was simply a studio orchestra in New York...!)
anyway, the movie was horribly 'merchandised,' if you can call the cheap little die-cast
vehicles as 'merchandising.' Warner Bros didn't really have a merchandising group in the
first place... So none of the lack of attention to the movie's release surprises me..
RD I would be remiss in my duties if I didnt ask
this next question: Our content administrator Nate, who is also a huge fan of yours, wants
to know if you have any original art that hasnt been seen anywhere else that we
could post with this interview or on the BladeZone site?
SM Here's what I'll do. I just upgraded my system to a new
'baglady' MacG3 with a tabloid scanner (with slide attachment) and tabloid printer...I'll
scan in and jpeg to you some of the set preproduction art views that were never used for
the film. Give me a kind of deadline idea...my schedule is packed between now and April
13th when I'll be back from Japan.
RD No problem. You can bet real money on that.
Now, Forgetting for a moment your involvement in the film (if that's possible), would
Blade Runner be on your top ten list of favorite films?
SM Yes, and of course it is one of THE few sci-fi films of
the 80's to be put into the Library of Congress.
RD What was your reaction to the finished production?
Were you happy with the over all look?
SM The premier screening in a public theater was at the
(then...gone now) Hollywood Theater...(how appropriate, huh?) on HOLLYWOOD boulevard...IN
HOLLYWOOD! Yea! So, about twenty of us walked from my house to the theater..(I then had a
big house about six blocks from the theater) watched the movie in a special reserved
section, then walked back to the house and had chili, drinks, and like that. FABULOUS! I
didn't 'get' the story at all...I had been seeing dailies during the movie's extended pre
and production run...I didn't really enjoy the movie as a sequential story event until
about the third time I saw it.
RD It took me two viewings to decide if I liked the
film. My friends and I just sat quietly in the car on the way home from the theater. This
was the same bunch of guys who couldn't shut up after seeing Raiders and Star Wars.
Anyway, we went back the next weekend and saw it again. This time we talked for hours
after seeing it. After that, I was hooked for life.
Anyway, is there any word on your working on another Blade Runner film or
game? Heat magazine in Great Britain has reported that Ford, Scott and Hauer have all
signed on to do the sequel.
SM There is a perennial rumor here in Hollywood that there
is a BLADERUNNER sequel in the works...a kind of urban myth thing, I guess. Would they
hire me to work on it? Probably not. Directors hate to be burdened by another director's
choices in anything...plus the below fee structure in Hollywood has become so perverted
that no one would pay me, in proportion to the original movie's budget, what I received
the first time around. An example: I worked on pre-production on a Joel Silvers film
'SANDBLAST' which was to star Wesley Snipes. The budget was about $42 million. They were
going to pay Snipes about $18 to $22 million! Weird, huh?
RD Any upcoming film projects?
SM I have just finished designing all of the robot characters
for the new generation anime series, GUNDAM MOBILE SUIT produced by Sunrise, Inc. and
Bandai in Japan. The first episode airs on Japanese network TV, channel 8, on Friday,
April 9. About five years ago, I finished work in another Japanese anime icon, the NEW
YAMATO, re-designing an existing design of the hero space battleship for that TV series.
That went into its own demise. The GUNDAM MOBILE SUIT new series will proceed, and Bandai
will produce a series of toy doll products as merchandise.
RD Well, Mr. Mead, I appreciate your taking the time
to chat with us. I hope that we can stay in touch with you well into the future.
SM My pleasure Gerry, guy.