Syd Mead, Visionary Conceptual Artist Behind 'Blade Runner' and 'Tron', Dies at 86

Syd Mead - Getty - H 2019
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

Across a wide-ranging, decades-long career, the "visual futurist" designed cars, worked on 'Aliens' and two Japanese films.

Syd Mead, the self-proclaimed "visual futurist" and conceptual artist who shaped the look of Blade Runner, Aliens and Tron, among other projects, has died. He was 86.

Mead died Monday morning at his home in Pasadena after a three-year battle with lymphoma, his spouse and business partner, Roger Servick, told The Hollywood Reporter

Born in 1933 in St. Paul, Minn., Mead grew up in multiple locations in the American West before graduating from high school in 1951 in Colorado Springs, Colo. Following a three-year period of service in the U.S. Army, Mead attended the Art Center School in Los Angeles, now the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, graduating in 1959.

Mead went on to design cars at the Ford Motor Co.’s "Advanced Styling Studio" for two years before he struck out on his own as a freelance illustrator for companies including Atlas Cement, U.S. Steel and Allis Chalmers. Given the success of his venture, he formed Syd Mead Inc. and from the 1970s through the 1980s worked for Philips Electronics and created architectural renderings for companies including Intercontinental Hotels and Don Ghia.

After his work caught the eye of Hollywood studios, Mead went on to produce conceptual artwork and other products on films including 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture; 1982's Blade Runner, where he first gained the credit "visual futurist" (a name he coined to describe his position); 1982's Tron; 1986's Aliens; 1984's Timecop; 2000's Mission to Mars; 2006's Mission: Impossible III; 2013's Elysium; 2015's Tomorrowland; and 2017's Blade Runner 2049.

In the 1980s, Mead worked for Japanese companies including Sony and Honda and designed for two Japanese films, The New Yamato and Crises 2050.

During a 2011 interview with NPR, Mead said that after he read a script for a futuristic movie he was set to work on, he turned to Google to flesh out his ideas. "You download different research tracts on that specific subject and find out that we're implanting cameras in people's eyes now," he said. "They're working on artificial nanoscale retinas. And so you start with that technology leap, or possibility, and then you design around that. To me, science fiction is reality ahead of schedule."

By 1998, Mead had relocated his studio from Detroit to Pasadena. In recent years, he was honored with the Visual Effects Society Award (2015) and the Art Directors Guild's William Cameron Menzies Award. The latter was set to be given to him during a Feb. 1 ceremony.

"Syd Mead has played a pivotal role in shaping cinema with his unique ability to visualize the future," the ADG said in a statement. "His visions and illustrations of future technological worlds remain as a testament to his vast imagination. While we are sorry he was not able to experience the celebration in person, we know his presence will be felt as we acknowledge his contributions to the world of design in all forms."

Survivors also include his sister Peggy and several nieces and nephews.

Carolyn Giardina and Mike Barnes contributed to this report.