Syd Mead Enlightens Vancouver

Zygote Interactive Balls

I may have mentioned it before but SIGGRAPH is officially one of the coolest things I ever discovered. Last month it was Droidmaker and this month, to celebrate their five year anniversary, the group pulled out all of the stops and brought Syd Mead, one of the greatest and most recognizable futurists, to speak to the group of 600 or so geeks at an event titled "Visual Futurist: The Art & Life of Syd Mead" and it was fantastic.

Before Syd even stood up, we had a very special surprise. We had the chance to experience Alex Beim's Zygote Interactive Balls. Essentially, these are large balloon like balls with some techy construction which respond to touch. The result, in a darkened room is that every time the ball is touched it responds by lighting up and emanating a sound. The result is a fabulously entertaining, interactive show. Beim has a whole load of videos of the balls in action on his site, including a short video of how and why he created it. I captured a few second of the greatness:

After that great display, Syd Mead took the stage to entertain us and entertain he did. He spoke fondly of his experiences on various projects and shared a load of fantastic pieces, some famous, some not so famous and some from his personal stash of goodies.

Syd Mead

One of the great things about Mead, and there are many, is his energy. At 75 he's still wide eyed with wonderment and his love for fantasy and creation is obvious in his work, both old and current. He spoke of the steps of creating an image:

1) Concept - what are they (the client) after? Guidelines? Create a rationale
2) Storyboard - create your image, if possible step away from it for a day and re-visit it
3) Share it with someone with a visual eye, make changes if necessary

Aside from lots of talk about specific projects, I was most impressed with his passion for story telling. Not being an artists myself, at least not in the visual sense - I'm more of a writer, I was surprised by his discussion of each project within the context of a story and I got the sense that storytelling is as important to the creation process as anything else. I've rarely looked at a piece of art and created a story but hearing Mead share the stories within his projects so vividly, I'm inspired to do the same when looking at art.

Photo care of Prof. Michael Stoll on Flickr.

Aside from that, there was a bit of discussion around "Blade Runner" and Mead spoke about the freedom he had when he created the designs for the film and it seemed to me that it was one of his favourite projects.

During the Q&A someone asked him what movie he wished he had worked on and his response surprised me a little: "The Fifth Element". He spoke about how great it would have been to create a floater car which squeaks when the breaks are applied and how much fun he would have had designing the ballroom because he loves that extended shootout scene. I'll have to post a link to the next podcast...I have a feeling we may have a conversation about this...

All in all, another fantastic evening. Next month is looking to be just as great with Sharon Calahan of Pixar for "Teasing the Senses: The Visual Style of Ratatouille". If you're in town, be sure to head over to SIGGRAPH and buy your tickets in advanced for the sure to sell out show.


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