By Jonah Morgan
Forget about anime for the next few paragraph’s…… Syd Mead’s (www.sydmead.com) visual creations have been translated to represent some of the most recognizeable characters, machines, settings, landscapes and props in modern western cinema. In 1978 he designed the V’ger entity for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in 1980 the world Tron and Blade Runner with director Ridley Scott. In 1984 he designed the props and sets for 2010 based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke. In 1985 he worked with Director James Cameron on designs for 20th Century Fox’s Aliens. In the same year he designed the number Johnny Five robot in Short Circuit. In the 1990’s he collaborated on the film adaptation of cyberpunk culture creator William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic and the futuristic experience drug headset seen in the movie Strange Days.
Syd has a love of Japan too and has done design work there in live action and animation formats. Unknown to probably every anime fan he did mecahnical renditions on an aborted Mobile Suit Gundam Hollywood movie project for Lion Gate Film. 1989-1995 saw his first dive into anime as he worked on ship exterior/interior, prop, costume and setting designs for Leiji Matsumoto’s Yamato. Probably his best known design role to anime fans came in 1998 when he worked closely with studio Sunrise and director Yoshiyuki Tomino on a mecahnical revamp for the 49 episode Turn-A Gundam TV series.
Beyond his entertainment work Syd Mead is a visionary, futurist, artist, illustrator, conceptual designer and posses many, many other special qualities which can be not relayed through words. ANS is elated to bring you our interview with him:
1. Thank you for accepting our interview Mr. Mead. What have you been doing this summer? (Work and/or non-work related)
I was on a retrospective celebration panel related to the original TRON feature release, linked to the recent release of TRON2.O, the game. I designed the new LIGHTCYCLE for the TRON2.O game release.
I was part of the annual president’s advisory board’s session in San Francisco, for the San Francisco Art Institute, a three day event with review sessions celebratory dinners and gallery reviews.
I completed an illustration of a future HONDA motorcycle arena race scene for the U.S. HONDA MOTORCYCLE division design headquarters in Torrance, California. The 72X56cm gouache illustration was scanned in and enlarged to a 8 X1 foot wall mural.
I produced a digital presentation to the faculty, students and Hollywood professionals at the Gnomon school of special effects in Hollywood.
I have been finishing a series of illustrations of my current theoretical high-speed private transport vehicle called: HYPERVAN.
The third illustration, HYPERVAN IN COURTYARD will be the subject of a four or five DVD series ‘how to’ collection to be announced and offered for sale in the fall.
Just last year I completed several watch designs for the NUTS studio in Tokyo as part of a celebrity design scheme. The watch I designed was called ‘ESSENCE’ and is visible on www.rakuten.co.jp/nuts/427131/285534/.
Personally, I have enjoyed several weekends at my Orange County condo overlooking the Pacific, and several evenings with friends in the movie industry and students from Art Center, Pasadena City College and young fans in the area.
2. Looking back at your biography, it appears you have had a personal affinity with Japan throughout your life. You were stationed in Okinawa from 1954 with the US Army, was this your first real exposure to Japanese culture?
My US Army years in Okinawa exposed me to oriental culture in general. Okinawa has its own dialect and is a composite of Japanese and Chinese cultures. I enjoyed that experience immensely. I was training sergeant for about 2OO men in the 59Oth Engineering Company. Just before I was discharged from the Army, I took a one month vacation in Hong Kong with a buddy of mine. We had the good fortune to meet up with a millionaire Chinese man who owned an insurance company in Hong Kong and Macao. With that connection, we were his guests at the Polo Club, had several dinners with the Mayor of Hong Kong (Portuguese, at the time) and made a two day trip to Macao and spent the first night ‘out’ at sea with the ship’s captain, destroying, between the four of us, two bottles of single malt scotch.
That exposure to oriental culture fascinated me with its exotic geometry and pattern arrangements, the architecture and the elevated sensibility to color and graphics.
3. Did your stay there kindle a fire of interest in Japan of sorts? Upon your return to the USA did you know you were destined to return there?
Referring to my answer to question number two, yes, if you consider that Japanese culture is classically related to Chinese culture.
Upon my return to the United States, I had no idea whatsoever that I would ever return to the orient. I spent three years going through the Art Center School (then in Los Angeles, now in Pasadena) and met two guys who were Japanese exchange students. We got along famously. They returned to Japan to take up positions as teachers.
4. In 1961 you returned to Japan and this time visited the cities of Nagoya, Tokyo and Kyoto. In relation to Okinawa, what was your impression of that visit and which city in particular left a lasting impression on you?
I graduated from Art Center, went to work with the Ford Motor Company’s Advanced Design studio, and quit after twenty six months and took a position with a promotional company in Chicago. Between accepting that job, and leaving Ford Motor Company I took my first trip to Japan. I flew first class from San Diego to Tokyo’s Narita airport and spend two weeks exploring and enjoying Tokyo’s atmosphere including several meals at neighborhood restaurants, an incredible massage session and a trip up into the then NEW Tokyo Tower. Then, I took a train to Nagoya to meet one of my Art Center friends. He was teaching ceramics for export. I still have the Noh mask he gave me! (The Shinkanzen