Sydney Jay Mead was born in St. Paul Minnesota, on July 18th, 1933 but spent only a few years there before moving to what would be the second of many homes throughout the western United States prior to graduating from High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1951. After serving a three-year enlistment in the U.S. Army, Syd Mead continued on to the Art Center School in Los Angeles, (now the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena) where he graduated with great distinction in June of 1959. He was immediately recruited by the Ford Motor Company’s Advanced Styling Studio under the management of Elwood Engle which he left after 2 years in order to accept a variety of assignments to illustrate books and catalogs for large corporate entities such as United State Steel, Celanese, Allis Chalmers, and Atlas Cement. In 1970, he launched Syd Mead Inc. in Detroit, Michigan to accommodate the high caliber of offers he received, most notably the PHILIPS ELECTRONICS. As the principal of his newly formed corporation in the 1970’s, Syd Mead spent about a third of his time in Europe primarily to provide designs and illustrations for Philips of Holland. Together with his roster of major American clients, he continues to make his creative mark, internationally. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Syd Mead, Inc. provided architectural renderings both interior and exterior, for such clients as Intercontinental Hotels, 3D International, Harwood Taylor & Associates, Don Ghia, and Gresham & Smith, to mention a few. His architectural clients have recently expanded to include the New York firm of Philip Koether Architects for which he designed the interior of a Manhattan eatery. Design activity accelerated after the corporate and personal move to California in 1975.
In 1979, projects began to include work with most major studios, on such feature films as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, followed by, Blade Runner, TRON, 2010, Short Circuit, Aliens, Time Cop, Johnny Mnemonic, Mission Impossible-3, and most recently Elysium starring Jodi Foster and Matt Damon, directed by Neill Blomkamp. Beginning in 1983, Syd began to develop close working relationships with a number of major Japanese corporate clients, including; Sony, Minolta, Dentsu, Dyflex, Tiger, Seibu, Mitsukoshi, Bandai, NHK, and Honda as well as contributing to two Japanese film projects, The New Yamato and Crises 2050. In the 1990s’, Syd supplied designs for two Japanese toy icons, “The New Yamato” and all eight robot characters in the new Turn-A Gundam mobile suit series which were also seen as characters in Television shows.
With transportation design as his first love, Syd Mead seldom misses an opportunity to provide his unique blend of futurism and believability to those projects consisting of a vehicle that travels from “A” to ‘B”. Whether it be designing solar powered unicycles, show cars, luxury yachts, cruise ships, the interiors of private 747’s, or interplanetary spacecraft, each receives the same attention to detail within a perfectly designed scenario. This combination has become a Syd Mead trademark and has been seen in everything from concept cars for Ford Motor Company to futuristic “Hypervans” which have been the subject of his latest full-color illustrations.
Syd Mead continues an active schedule of one-man shows, which started with an invitation to exhibit at Documenta 6, Kassel, West Germany in 1973. His work has since been exhibited in Japan, Italy, California, and Spain. In 1983 in response to an invitation from Chrysler Corporation to be a guest speaker to their design staff, Syd Mead assembled a selection of slides to visually enhance his lecture. The resulting presentation was a resounding success and has since been expanded and enhanced with computer-generated imagery specifically assembled at the requests of such clients as Disney, Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue, Pratt University, the Society of Illustrators., and many others both academic and corporate around the world. In March of 2010, Syd completed a four-city tour in Australia to capacity audiences at each venue.
Always an advocate of new technologies, Syd Mead has expanded his horizons to include computer illustrations and graphics by mastering a variety of Softwares. Beginning with the official poster of the 1991 Concours d’Elegance “Eyes on the Classics” in Detroit, Michigan, Mr. Mead has attempted to utilize the latest in available techniques to their best advantage. In 1993, a digital gallery comprised of 50 examples of his art with interface screens designed by Syd Mead became one of the first CD ROM’s released in Japan in 1992 and in 2004 in response to many requests, cooperated with the Gnomon School of Visual Effects to produce a 4 volume, “How To” DVD series titled, “TECHNIQUES OF SYD MEAD” which continues to be sought after by designers around the world.
His one-man show, “Cavalcade to the Crimson Castle” consisting of 114 original paintings and illustrations, enjoyed a three month showing at the Center for the Arts in San Francisco in the Fall of 1996. The highlight of the show turned out to be Syd’s presentation and lecture attracted an audience that exceeded the available capacity of the auditorium. Subsequent personal appearances at schools across the country have attracted record numbers. “SYD MEAD PROGRESSIONS” a traveling one-man-show of his work, is now in the planning stage to mark the 40th anniversary of his work. This touring exhibition is currently scheduled to premiere in Glendale, California at the Forest Lawn Gallery of Fine Arts in January 2012.
In February 1998, Syd Mead relocated his studio to Pasadena, California, where he continues to be involved in a variety of design projects. He recently completed work on a documentary of his career with director Joaquin Montalvan, “VISUAL FUTURIST”, was released in May of 2007 on DVD and is available through the virtual Oblagon bookstore on the Syd Mead official webpage WWW.SYDMEAD.COM. Mead attributes success in an astonishing range of creative activities to the premise that imagination…the idea supersedes technique. “There are more people in the world who make things than there are people who think of things to make.”
On December 30th, 2019, Syd Mead passed at his home in Pasadena at the age of 86. He left us peacefully accompanied by his partner Roger Servick surrounded by a gentle fire, Christmas decorations, and a wonderful array of his artwork. His final words were, “I am done here. They’re coming to take me back.”