Syd Mead is an illustrator, designer, and conceptual artist most famous for his design work on films such as Blade Runner, Aliens, and TRON.
He was born in 1934 Minnesota and spent his youth living in various areas of the western United States. His first job came as a cel animator in Colorado Springs, Colorado at 19. After a brief stint in the Army serving in Okinawa, Syd returned to the US and entered the Art Center of Los Angeles. Upon graduation, his design skills and streamlined eye were a welcome commodity in the shiny, progressive post-war America, and he quickly moved up the ranks from junior designer to design executive at Ford Styling, where he helped conceive many of the stylistic touches of cars such as the Ford Mustang. Over the years he did very well for himself, and eventually opened his own company, Syd Mead Inc., in 1970.
His lifelong obsession with cars and modernism eventually led him to the movie industry, where his clean and innovative designs were quickly put to use on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Part of Syd's charm was his knowledge of Japanese technophilia, which informed much of his forward thinking, and his technical knowhow and precision were a sharp contrast to the abstract futurism of films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and THX 1138. After Star Trek, Mead began work on his most famous projects, Blade Runner and Tron. His work can be seen all across both films, from the famous Tron Light Cycles to many of the futuristic transports and environments that litter the dark scenes of Blade Runner.
Since 1980 Mead has been a steady influence on Hollywood science fiction, performing work on 2010: A Space Odyssey, James Cameron's Aliens, Johnny 5 of Short Circuit fame, Solar Crisis, Johnny Mnemonic, Strange Days, Jetsons: The Movie, Mission to Mars, The Core, and most recently 2005's The Island. In addition to his movie work, he has provided technical and design assistance to among others Disney, Lego, Bandai, Playboy, Honda, Mattel, Toyota, and LucasFilms. He has designed watches, yachts, buildings, Hot Wheels, golf courses, action figures, robots, video games, album art, scooters, the poster art for DragonCon, and the Planet Express ship for Futurama. His legacy is captured beautifully in the numerous art and design books he's released over the years.
The chief aspect of Syd Mead's work is its sense of realism. Many conceptual designers like to delve in worlds we've only imagined, but Mead's work is grounded even in the face of the sheer unreality of the work that surrounds it. His reimagining of the Gundam Mobile Suit, for example, seems to simply be providing the inevitable extension of robotic structures already in place in today's society. Mead's future is the best of both worlds: it's so plausible that it seamlessly integrates with the story elements, and yet still inspiring to other designers and dreamers looking for a glimpse into what could be with a little ingenue and elbow grease.
Highly recommended is his book Sentury, a fairly comprehensive look at his art over the years.