Syd Mead: Visual Futurist Speaks
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Art Institute of Colorado 2005 Student Lecture

    I got to the conference room an hour early and sat in the front right next to the screen and desk that his laptop was set on. He came in right as the clock hit 6:00, which was when he was scheduled to begin. He sat up his computer right in front of me (wow, what a rush). Just for those who are interested, he's using an Apple Powerbook G4, 15" with the latest OS X installed (my geek side is emerging.) The lights went down and he began the presentation. He started off by talking about growing up, his family, and what it was like in school. For about the first 30 minutes he showed off his car designs that he had done working for Ford. Then out of nowhere, a black screen appears, and the title slides in from the side..."BLADE RUNNER" in an awesome red font (not the classic Blade Runner movie font) I grinned at this point; this is what I was here for.

    He began the Blade Runner segment by introducing the characters and basic plot. What better way to begin telling about the creation of the Blade Runner world then to start from the beginning of the story, right? He explained all of the possible openings that were considered. The train opening was first. He says it was never filmed because of budget reasons. I'll tell you, this would have been a completely different movie if budget weren't an issue. The train concept looked amazing. He explained how they were going to use miniatures, and have the train zooming away from a cityscape toward the camera, and how as the train passed by, little flaps would open and close as the train zoomed by. The train would be buried in a trench, almost like the death star trench in Star Wars. The flaps would be on the outer edge of the trench. The whole idea for the flaps was to have them be used as protection for animals. As the train approached, the flaps would open and act as a wall to keep any animals or people out of the trench. Seems pretty useful in a future where animals are rare or extinct.

    Mr. Mead went on and explained another opening with the replicants being shoveled into the large furnace on the Off-World colony. He didn't go into too much detail, but he also explained that it wasn't easy on the budget and Ridley didn't find it fitting for the movie.

    Then there's the third possible opening: he had some concept images of the streets, and Deckard's sedan. The traffic in the concept painting was completely stopped and backed up. He changed slides after explaining the gridlock, and we were not presented with a painting of the cockpit of Deckard's sedan, and on a little computer screen above the windshield we saw a message "15 minute delay on I-138" or something to that effect. He went on about this third idea, and how originally, the delay message we saw previously would change and he would be ordered to pull to the side of the road to be picked up by a police escort (Gaff). Again, all those cars would have required an enormous budget, so that was cut, and now we have the Tyrell HQ/sushi bar introduction to the characters.

    Next he introduced us to the "Orgasmo" machine that...guess what it does? I'll leave that to your imagination. Basically in the Deckard/Zhora introduction, originally Deckard was going to knock on her dressing room door, with no reply, so he would let himself in the room to find Zhora all strapped into this machine. Explaining the "Orgasmo" machine is a little out of my league, but you get the picture. Essentially it was like a device you sit in or on, and there's an RGB (Red Green and Blue) screen you put over your head (a virtual reality set, if you want to think of it like that) and there were these breast cups that you "attach" to your breasts, and other features for other parts of your anatomy...again, out of my league. But for budget reasons, this was all cut. This is one thing I loved sitting through this lecture, is Syd Mead always explained everything. He told you how it worked, how to operate it, etc... as he did with the Orgasmo machine. He did the same with the Esper machine and the Police computer. The coolest explanation was for the Voight-Kampff machine. The little bladder that inflates and deflates takes in samples of the air. As an animal would do, it would sniff the air sensing for fear and help analyze the behavior of the subject and aid in determining if he or she was a replicant.

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For Zhora's snake dance, I saw the original image for that scene as well. Again, it looked amazing. Despite what the book Future Noir says, Syd Mead told us that they were going to use an old classic theater. (the name escapes me) Basically the theater was falling apart, so the studio was going to donate some money to fix it up, and use it as the set, and have the money they donated deducted from taxes or something complicated like that. Future Noir says they didn't have the budget or something like that, but the way Syd explained it it was more of a time issue, since Blade Runner was already going over budget and over schedule. To describe the scene, Zhora was going to be dancing on a platform above the crowd in a round room (with lots of neon, duh!) spotlights overhead, and the classic theater seating circling the room. By classic theater, I mean the seats that go up the height of the room, the balcony seating, all in a circle around this room. From the painting, it was going to be a very elaborate set. Probably one of the most memorable scenes, if it would have made the cut.

 

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    One other thing he talked about was the Tyrell death scene. As stated Future Noir, there was a scene described where Deckard would come into a room in the Tyrell HQ and uncover a cryogenics chamber with the real Eldon Tyrell frozen. Although I think in Future Noir it was Batty telling J.F., "now take me to the real maker," after killing Tyrell, instead of Deckard finding the chamber. I cant really elaborate more on this since he only had one concept image and didn't go into detail about the scene in Blade Runner, only to speculate on his thoughts on the future of cryogenics as an alternative to medicine.

 

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    There was also talk of the Holden hospital scene. Mead is just as good as we (the Bladezone members) are at quoting the movie, he knows all the actors and all the quotes line by line it seems. He pulled up a slide of holden laying in the hospital bed, quoting, "this is where holden, if you remember the guy who got shot by Leon in the beginning, Bryant says something like 'he can breathe okay as long as we don't unplug him'." He said the room was octagonal, 8 sides, and 7 of the walls were like those beds you see at the morgue, where the dead bodies are stored in sort of a filing cabinet. While the intensive care beds slide in and out of the 7 walls, and the 8th wall is the entrance/exit. This was a deleted scene and can be downloaded at
www.BRmovie.com

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    The vehicles were also heavily discussed. I found the most interesting point of discussion to be the taxi, or "metrocab". The original concept looked like Deckard's sedan with the obvious yellow paintjob and black & white checkerboard pattern. When he showed it to Ridley, he said it looked too nice. He went through various different designs that he had drawn and landed on a big box design which is what you see in the movie. The idea behind the giant box was that in a world like this, people weren't passengers. They were cargo. Ridley wanted the world to be dehumanized. Taxis weren't meant for people, they were made for cargo. People are cargo.

 

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    A few more things he showed off were just some random machines, computer walls, rooms at the police HQ, Deckard's shower, etc... He showed the ESPER mainframe which was cooled by cryogenics. Just imagine a server rack with lots of pipes coming out of the side. That's about how I'd describe it. Somewhere near the middle of the computer wall there was a section of the computer that was shaped like a pope's hat, which he and Ridley Scott jokingly called it, “the pope's hat.”

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    This sums up the Blade Runner portion of the presentation, where he went on to talk about his other Sci-Fi works, the paintings he did for Playboy, his future highway paintings, robot horse races, etc... Afterwards, he was there for autographs. I'm not one to get autographs, I don't care much for them. I think they might get tired of signing stuff, after all. They're just humans. I just waited out the line and 25 minute later, it was just us, his partner, and the school administrator (Art Institute of Colorado). Man, my hands were shaking. I was either cold or nervous or both. I was too excited to tell. This is SYD FUCKING MEAD! He was putting up his computer so I helped him unplug it all and wind up his mouse and power cords. He put it in his laptop bag and I shook his hand and asked him about his book, his website, and...Blade Runner. He remembers BladeZone and the interviews he did with Gerry K.

    He's a nice guy, great sense of humor. I like how he just designs with realism in mind. He'll show you a futuristic ship and explain how it all works. I like that. He's got a great imagination, but I don't have to tell you guys that. He's a BIG thinker.

but as for the questions...i didnt get to ask him any directly, he had to leave. it was already about 8:30 and he had to catch a plane. but for his designs, if you sat through the presentation, they changes a lot. for example, the taxi. it looked like deckatd's sedan. he said ridley hated it, it "looked too nice". so he had to change it a few times, and finally he landed on a bux design, like a cargo carrier. that's the way the world was designed, to dehumanize you. taxis werent meant for people, they were meant for cargo. people are cargo. and in his other future paintings he did, they were all utopian. he designed with a utopin future in mind, and it showed for some of his concept images for blade runner. i saw progression shots of deckard's sedan. it wsa origingally going to fly, but then he flying cars are expensive and for important people. so he removed the wheels. he want on to explain how it was still looking too nice for the blade runner world. it went through about 4 or 5 changes to get where it was in the movie. 

Special thanks to Kipple for providing all the Syd Mead sketches.
http://kipplezone.tripod.com/i