July 18, 2006
Syd Mead: The man who created the look and feel of 'Bladerunner'
Linda Hales interviewed him for a story that appeared in this past Sunday's Washington Post.
Easily in my all-time top 10 pantheon of movies, "Bladerunner" blew me away when I first saw it.
I watched the long-awaited "Director's Cut" last year and though it was a much more understandable narrative, oddly enough it wasn't nearly as compelling a film as the original version.
Perhaps the suits in the executive suites get it right once in a while.
But I digress.
A documentary, "Visual Futurist: The Art and Life of Syd Mead," premieres this coming Sunday, July 23 in Los Angeles.
Here's the Post article.
- Bleak Chic to Future Perfect
'Blade Runner's' Dark Look Can't Mask the Bright Ideas of Syd Mead
Syd Mead presents a strangely cheery demeanor for a guy who dreamed up the cinematic imagery for the collapse of civilization.
The legendary illustrator says happily, for instance, that science fiction is simply "reality ahead of schedule." This from the same mind that created the settings for the iconic 1982 sci-fi film "Blade Runner" -- a brilliant, disturbing vision of Los Angeles in 2019 that garnered him a reputation as Hollywood's most potent "visual conceptualizer."
By then, Mead had made his mark in the movies, designing the V'ger spaceship for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979). He would go on to define the electronic netherworld of "Tron" (1982) and design the Sulaco spacecraft for "Aliens" (1986), the Leonov ship in "2010" (1984) and the mask-making machine for this year's "Mission: Impossible III." He also updated the motorcycles for the video game Tron 2.0.
But nothing he's done has caught the popular imagination quite like "Blade Runner," with its spectacular flying patrol cars and societal decay. With the film's 25th anniversary next year and a director's cut due for release, Mead's futuristic perspective is on camera anew.
A documentary, "Visual Futurist: The Art and Life of Syd Mead," will debut in Los Angeles next Sunday. In it, the bespectacled guy at the drawing table is seen as a genius at fantasy. But how does the artist see himself?
"I think I'm disturbingly rational," Mead says in an interview. Or, make that "carefully crazy."
Mead, who turns 73 Tuesday, flew in from Pasadena, Calif., for a White House reception Monday for the National Design Award winners. The jury had a special commendation for Mead, honoring his influence on how others design for the future.
Richard Koshalek, president of Mead's alma mater, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, calls him "a major force" who anticipated the challenges of creating humane environments amid global urbanization and increasingly complex technologies.
Mead's role in the movies is pure art. He paints meticulous scenarios that bring scripts to life and provide the basis for prop and set construction. The visions are rooted in industrial design, as befits a graduate of the Valhalla of automobile design -- early in his career, Mead designed concept cars for Ford Motor Co. He left Detroit after developing "an uneasy feeling I was going to spend my life doing bumpers and trim."
He turned to illustrating corporate brochures. Wild, onion-shaped vehicles painted for a 1960s publication advertising U.S. Steel eventually caught the attention of John Dykstra, a special-effects wizard for "Star Wars" who introduced Mead to the movie business.
Mead traces his imagination to things he sees "in his dreams." Illustrated books, such as "Oblagon: Concepts of Syd Mead," show helmeted creatures watching over a mega-city far below. Armored trucks clump across a moonscape on robotic legs, moving like steel elephants. Fantasy weapons are sketched with stunning precision. The scale is inevitably larger-than-life, the light eerie, the silence deafening.
The scenes are bizarre, but the inspiration is rooted in real-world research into how things work.
"The premise is more based on science than on fiction," Mead says. "You can't imagine something you can't imagine."
Mead points out the familiar touchstones -- vehicles, clothing, houses -- that pull viewers into strange lands. He tweaks the recognizable objects into futuristic forms. Cars become flying "spinners" inspired by Harrier jets. People wear pressure suits that resemble lobster shells. Monumental structures take their cue from ancient Greece and Rome.
"It's accurate, but completely improbable," he says. "The reality is that we are wondering whether we can get man to Mars."
Mead worries that his most memorable work has become a cliche, and winces as he says " 'Blade Runner'-esque."
For that film's futuristic city, Mead started with a Manhattan streetscape, then enlarged the scale by 300 percent. With buildings rising to 3,000 feet, he redesigned the bases as pyramids, and he layered architectural styles to achieve a "retro deco" look. Unlike such early 20th-century films as "Metropolis" (1927), which portrayed the city of the future as clean and smoothly functional, Mead made "Blade Runner" eclectic, chaotic and highly technical "in an almost punitive way."
Mead says he doesn't subscribe to "Blade Runner's" bleak view.
"I helped Ridley do a professionally dreary film," says Mead, referring to director Ridley Scott. "That is no reflection on my own vision."
He flips quickly to an illustration in "Oblagon," which shows a flourishing hydroponic garden and a utopian city in full sun. That's his way of saying the future might yet bring "Elysian gardens, at least in pockets," if we get our act together.
While waiting for the future to catch up with his visions, Mead keeps busy on Planet Earth. He has designed super-yachts, nightclub interiors, theme parks, hotels, video games and snowboard graphics. He calls an $87 million flying palace for the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia "the single most challenging and satisfying design project I've ever done."
His Apple laptop contains tantalizing works-in-progress: A next-generation luxury car in bronzed glass has a periscope for forward vision. A state-of-the-art tower scrolls skyward from a flying saucer-like base -- a work for a client in the Middle East.
Mead is also thinking about anti-gravity private conveyances, but they -- like his steel "jump vehicles" from the 1960s -- seem way ahead of the times.
Mead often is asked why the future he paints, and which sci-fi films extol, has not come true. He believes it has, in a fashion.
"We have the iPod, cellphones, BlackBerrys and tons of stuff orbiting the Earth," he says. It's just that "the future did not come true across the board."
And if you're in L.A. this coming weekend and want to meet the master himself, who'll be in attendance at the documentary film's premiere, it's screening at 12:30 p.m. at the Fairfax 3 Theater (7907 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles; 323-655-4010).
Ticket information here.
Solar Panel Car Battery Charger
But why not take it to the obvious-even-to-peabrain-moi next level and design a solar panel into the car's roof or dashboard or area beneath the rear window?
No more dead batteries.
From the website:
- Never have a dead battery in your car, boat, motorcycle, ATV or RV again!
1.8W Solar Charger harnesses the energy of the sun to keep your vehicle's battery fully charged and ready to go!
Simply plug it in to your vehicle's 12V lighter socket and position the panel to get the most available daylight — it charges the battery using solar energy.
BehindTheMedspeak: Fortified Water for Pregnant Women
Larry Liebert wrote about it in the July 10 Washington Post.
Short story shorter: Saphia Lifestyle Beverages has created the world's first bottled water specially formulated for "nursing moms, expectant moms and hopeful moms-to-be."
Here's the Post article.
- Marketing Fortified Water to Mothers-to-Be
Gretchen Cook-Anderson couldn't forget the bottles and bottles of water her doctor ordered her to drink during a difficult pregnancy with her twin boys in 2001.
That eventually led the former public relations agent to her new role as president and chief executive of Saphia Lifestyle Beverages of Silver Spring. Its first product, offered online, is bottled water billed as specially formulated for "nursing moms, expectant moms and hopeful moms-to-be."
Cook-Anderson said she hopes Saphia water will soon be stocked in stores that sell products for pregnant women and babies, and eventually in the baby-product aisles of supermarkets and Target stores. The water is lightly flavored and fortified with supplements such as folic acid and calcium.
"We encourage women to continue to take prenatal vitamins," she said. The supplements are added to Saphia water at sufficiently low doses that pregnant women can continue taking their vitamin pills while drinking four or five bottles of the water a day, she said. "Our product is not so much about the vitamins and minerals as it is about hydration."
The water is sold for $42.99 for a case of 24 bottles, a company spokeswoman said. That's $1.79 per 16.9-ounce bottle of highly purified, nutrient-enhanced . . . tap water.
Asked the source of the water, Cook-Anderson said she did not recall where the processing plant she is using got its water. She later sent word by e-mail: It's from Chicago's public water system.
"... Cook-Anderson said she did not recall...."
I believe Ms. Cook-Anderson has a great future as a presidential advisor.
Clearly she has taken to heart Henry Kissinger's advice on bad news from back in the day, to wit: It's far better to put it out yourself than have somebody else do it for you.
Saphia water comes in three flavors: LovinglyLemon, Pacifyingly Peach and BlissBerry.
A case of twenty-four 16.9 oz. bottles is $42.99.
A most original — and refreshing — baby shower gift.
From the website:
- Felt Balls
Just Kathmandu it.
Intensely colored, all-natural dyed 100% sheepswool rounds handmade in the Himalayas.
Perfect for throwing at whatever suits your fantasy.
Wait a minute... that's not right.
Two sizes: 2.5" diameter in aqua, red or olive ($1.95); 4" diameter in aqua, red, olive or chocolate ($6.95),
The Rubber Sidewalks of Washington, D.C.
"Put a bounce in your step" takes on a whole new meaning once you walk on them.
Long story short: Made of recycled tires, they last up to three times longer than their concrete counterparts.
Elizabeth Williamson reported on the new new thing in sidewalks (above) for a July 2 Washington Post front-page article, which follows.
- City Has a New Bounce in Its Step
D.C. Tests Tree-Friendly Sidewalks Made of Recycled Tires
A small boy in big white Nikes hustled down Rhode Island Avenue heading for the bus stop when, boing. He stopped, looked down at the pavement, and took a few hops.
Rubber sidewalks -- good for the trees, easier on the knees, no cracks to break your mother's back. In one of the biggest tests in the nation, the District recently installed several blocks' worth of rubber sidewalks in Northeast. The cost was $60,000, roughly three times more than if it had been concrete.
Around tree roots, the walkways are said to last about 14 years -- nearly three times longer than concrete ones -- and are favored by city bureaucrats who last year took 2,600 complaints about broken concrete, got slapped with three lawsuits from people who fell on sidewalks and replaced hundreds of trees. Next year, if all weathers well, there may be a springy surprise in store for even more of Washington.
John Thomas, the city's chief arborist, said he hopes rubber sidewalks "will wind up being the most effective way to treat this problem we have with the sidewalk-tree relationship."
Concrete suffocates tree roots, which then grow upward to fight for air and water. The roots break the concrete, which trips the pedestrians, who sue the city. Rubber sidewalk panels have quarter-inch spaces between them that let air and water through, so tree roots grow downward like they should.
The walkways are made of ground recycled tires molded into squares; one old car tire can make one square foot of bouncy pavement. They can be cut and molded around trunks and roots, and if crews need to get to anything beneath, they just lift the sidewalk. For now, they are installed around trees along Rhode Island Avenue between North Capitol and 15th streets NE.
Rubber sidewalks, now found in 10 states, promise to change forever what it means to be a city kid in summer. You cannot press a dog's paw print or carve a sweetheart's initials in it when it's wet. And chalk just won't stick.
"We might have a little trial and error here," said Sharif Fattah, who lives in the area where the sidewalks are being tested. "I wonder how you shovel a rubber sidewalk?"
It's hard to tell a rubber sidewalk from a concrete one by looking at it. The sidewalks come in different colors -- a Wal-Mart in Texas has a snappy red one -- and fit together using fiberglass pegs.
David Kiser strode onto the rubber sidewalk in front of All Nations Baptist Church. Boing, he was sold. "They look like granite. . . . Maybe they can put them on my street."
He studied the rubber walkway, then the concrete, with gang names etched in. "The kids won't get to mark on them. But see, it's not 'I Love You' they're writing."
Much of the cost of the sidewalk is shipping, because rubber is heavy and the company, Rubbersidewalks Inc., is 2,700 miles away in Gardena, Calif. By next year, the company and the District hope a new plant will open in New York, slicing freight charges.
The idea for rubber sidewalks appeared in a dream one night in 1998 to Richard Valeriano, a public works inspector for the City of Santa Monica, Calif. In bed after a day spent identifying sidewalk damage, he said he dreamt that "the sidewalks were sort of moving up and down, twisting." He found a company to develop a prototype, which the city tested using bicyclists, in-line skaters and women's high heels. Lindsay Smith, a former screenwriter, took over the business in 2001, naming it Rubbersidewalks Inc.
The District installed the walkways in April. In a city worried about crime and schools, lawsuits and money, rubber sidewalks protect people, trees and the planet, their proponents say. But for others, who are accustomed to concrete summers, the sidewalks may be a tiny bit boring.
"The experience of our childhood is gone for a lot of things," Thomas said. For a city child, "maybe the healthy tree in front of their house would be a better lasting memory."
Lighted Swim Mask — 'Go deep'
Hey, who said you have to use this in the water?
Perfect for reconnoitering in the wee small hours.
From the website:
- Lighted Swim Mask
Waterproof up to 35 feet, this Aqua Light Mask casts a double light into the murky depths.
Whether you’re at the shore or in the pool, you can play underwater diving games and enjoy nighttime swims.
Lights automatically point wherever you turn your head for hands-free operation.
Comfortable mask with adjustable strap is perfect for hours of fun.
Uses 4 AAA batteries (not included).
For ages 5 and up.
Hey — that's us!
joeTV — It's crept in on little cat's feet
We hear you.
Matt Penning remarked on it in his comment of July 14 on my cat Humphrey's star turn here.
You will be seeing more rather than less action as I slowly transform the static, typed blog into a real-time multimedia extravaganza over the coming weeks, months and years.
By 2010 you'll hardly recognize the place.
Or should I say, "meow?"
Because sooner or later every fruit and vegetable on the planet will have its very own dedicated utensil.
From the website:
- 12" High-Carbon Stainless-Steel Watermelon Knife
It's easy to cut a big watermelon when you have the right knife.
Used by food service professionals.
Easy-to-sharpen high-carbon stainless-steel blade is 12" long and 1.75" wide.
Usually, when a cutting job is difficult, it is because you're not using the correct tool.
Try to cut up a watermelon with a knife that is too small and you end up with wet, sticky hands and a butchered watermelon.
That's why food service professionals and watermelon aficionados use this knife.
The rosewood handle is extra-wide for a good grip.
$29.99 (watermelon not included).