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Artist And Visual Futurist Syd Mead Dies At 86

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Syd Mead couldn't see the future, but he could create it.

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CORNISH: Mead was the artist and designer who helped build the world in sci-fi classics like "Blade Runner," "Aliens" and "Tron."

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Syd Mead started drawing when he was just 3 years old. His imagination was sparked by his father reading to him "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers." After a stint in the Army and then art school, Mead worked in industrial design, starting with Ford and later, US Steel.

CORNISH: In 1979, Mead worked on his first movie, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." There he helped design V'ger, a massive cloud creature threatening Earth.

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CORNISH: And that started a decades-long relationship with film that lasted until Mead's retirement last September.

CHANG: Mead's forte was incredible landscapes with brilliant colors as backdrops to mundane daily activities. He grounded the fantastic in the real world and made it all seem possible.

RYAN CHURCH: I worked in a lot of studios, the most influential blockbuster directors, and there's always a Syd Mead book on the bookshelf.

CORNISH: Ryan Church is a concept design supervisor at Lucasfilm. He says that accessibility made Mead's work indispensible.

CHURCH: Just to leaf through and inspire, to just show what is kind of possible - you know what I mean? - the scope of what's possible. We're - you can kind of think of these things and, you know, these tropes and ideas, but you crack open a Syd Mead book, and it's mind-blowing.

CHANG: Not surprisingly, the man who made the future accessible was also approachable in person.

CHURCH: When I was a kid, you know, he put out a lot of these books. And on the back of the book, he posted his address in Hollywood. And one day I just on a fluke said, well, I'm going to drive up there and knock on his door and see if Syd Mead is home.

And I knocked on the door, and he was home. And he spent the afternoon with me just talking about painting and composition and art. And it was an incredible experience. And that's why I do what I do today, basically. I owe it all to him. There's plenty of people - that story is not rare. You talk to people who know Syd, and that's what he did.

CORNISH: Syd Mead died of lymphoma this week at the age of 86 surrounded by loved ones and his artwork. According to his website, his last words were, I am done here; they're coming to take me back. Maybe Syd Mead could see the future after all.

(SOUNDBITE OF VANGELIS'S "BLADE RUNNER BLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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