Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Syd Mead: Famous Designer of Unbuilt Cars

So far as I can tell, car stylist, industrial designer and visualization renderer of future environments Syd Mead (born 1933) never had any of his automobile designs enter production. It's possible that some of his industrial designs were produced, but I don't know of any offhand.

Yet Mead is well known by styling and design practitioners and some of his efforts are famous to groups of the public at large. For instance, he designed the future Los Angeles for the movie Blade Runner and the vehicles for the original Tron. More recently, he has been involved with computer game settings. Mead's web site is here; it contains many examples of his work and even t-shirts that you can buy from his on-line shop.

I first came to be aware of Mead back in my army days at Fort Meade (of all places!) when a buddy of mine showed me a copy of a brochure with Mead's designs commissioned by U.S. Steel. Many of those illustrations were included in his first Sentinel book, a copy of which I own.

One aspect of Mead's work that interests me is that it's hard to distinguish which designs and renderings are recent and which were done when he was working on the U.S. Steel project in the early 1960s. (As can be seen below, his very earliest efforts are easier to spot.) So Mead seems to have attained a personal version of the future that was strong enough to serve him for a career of 50 years. Let's take a look.


Blade Runner visualization
His Blade Runner designs are probably his best-known work so far as the general public is concerned; but they likely would not know who Syd Mead is.

Student design while at Art Center School

Illustration of Ford Gyron show car - 1961
These are examples of Mead's work from when he hadn't attained his mature sensibility.

Concept car for U.S. Steel

Design for U.S. Steel

U.S. Steel project scene
It's a little hard to believe that these designs and renderings are nearly 50 years old.

Commuter car designed for Philips
This design could be produced; it's not very futuristic, which Mead acknowledges by placing a black contemporary car in the near-background.

Futuristic scene
This was done more recently than most of the illustrations above.

Future horse race

Automobile design
Another design that's not totally blue-sky futuristic; note the costumes of the background figures aren't as wild as in the image directly above.


auto body said...

This images are Awesome...I don't think there is one person out there that with a car interest who hasn't had great ideas for a car design. It's like we have it in our head and we can almost see the whole designed car in front of us, yet once we try to apply this car to a sheet of paper, it more often than not ends up in the trash.
auto body

mike shupp said...

Interesting .. but he's got a thing for small front wheels and hidden rear wheels which makes me wonder what sort of gas mileage these buggies would get. Also, it looks like there'd be a lot of unusable space at the front and back of those curved shells. And while the bodies are beautifully arced on top, there's nothing available to suggest air flow along the bottom would be streamlined; I also wonder about the streamlining along the sides.

Pretty drawings, IOW, but I doubt the vehicles could be operated economically. Maybe as sports cars .... but human figures suggest these are to be viewed as ordinary passenger salons of the distant future -- 1985 perhaps.

Anonymous said...

While it is true that Sid Meade's designs have never come to fruition the argument is a little unfair. Many of the styling cues in his designs have been introduced into real cars. Look a any number of the early to mid sixties Ford products and some Chrysler designs and the influence is there. To be fair, most designer and concept vehicles never see the light of day either but they often lead to other real world implementations. Any time I run into a design that reminds me of one of Syd Meade's designs I strongly suspect that the designer may have been influenced or even a full fledged fan.