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Blade Runner and Tron futurist designer Syd Mead dies at age 86

The Future Remembered

Blade Runner and Tron futurist designer Syd Mead dies at age 86

A preliminary illustration of Blade Runner's dystopian Los Angeles. (Courtesy Syd Mead)

Sydney “Syd” Mead, the industrial designer, concept artist, and futurist, has died at the age of 86, according to the Los Angeles Times

Born in 1933, Mead began his career in the late 1950s and early 60s at Ford Motor Company before going on to create designs and illustrations for brands like U.S. Steel, Phillips, Sony, and others, including architecture firms. He is perhaps best known, however, for his enduring, iconic designs on sci-fi films like Tron, Star Trek, Alien, and most famously, Blade Runner.

His elaborate cars, spaceships, robotic suits, and cities—all hand-drawn and colored—presented futures that were utopian and dystopian at the same time, sleek and gritty, fantastical and real. As he told Curbed in a 2015 interview: “I painted architecture as a visual romance.”

A painting featuring an array of plants and water inside a swooping white space station.
For a 1980 issue of National Geographic, Syd Mead created this vision of hydroponic agriculture in space. (Courtesy Syd Mead)

Not just popular in commercial design and cinema (he also influenced numerous video game designers), Mead was well-regarded in art, architecture, and fashion circles. His first solo show at documenta 6, the contemporary art exhibition, was held in 1973 and exhibited repeatedly in the following decades. In 2016, Mead collaborated with Opening Ceremony on a futuristic fashion line. Numerous books of his work have been published as well and Mead reportedly continued working up until his retirement this past September.

He is survived by his husband and business partner Roger Servick, his sister Peggy, and several nieces and nephews.