Syd Mead and Third Tuesday

A Better Blade Runner and the Designer Behind its World

Before I got start­ed on redesign­ing this blog, I did get to spend an evening hear­ing sto­ries from a real design­er. Last Wednes­day evening’s talk by Syd Mead was a mind-blow­er.

Before his talk, how­ev­er, the SIG-CHI Chap­ter of Van­cou­ver, who were host­ing the evening’s event, made some announce­ments, and then… well, the best descrip­tion of it might be a ‘hap­pen­ing’.

Here’s a video that some­one took of it:

(For those who can’t see the video, essen­tial­ly, the lights went off and 2 light­weight balls of stretched fab­ric enclos­ing mul­ti-coloured lights were tossed over the audi­ence. They were about 7 or 8 feet in diam­e­ter, and changed hue every few sec­onds or so. The crowd hap­pi­ly bounced the balls around the hall, remind­ing me of those beach balls that get bounced around over the crowds at polit­i­cal con­ven­tions. Accom­pa­ny­ing the bounc­ing balls, which were called ‘Zygotes’, cour­tesy of Tan­gi­ble Inter­ac­tion Design was a sort of processed audio, from sen­sors respond­ing to impacts as the balls bounced off the crowd or the walls and ceil­ing.

The main event fol­lowed: Syd Mead. Mead is the design­er of a half a dozen films, includ­ing the sci­ence fic­tion clas­sics Tron and Blade Run­ner. He spoke about his work, using a Quick­time movie to show sev­er­al decades of illus­tra­tions of futur­is­tic cars, build­ings, cities and oth­er arti­facts of the future that were inside his head and now, per­haps, inside our own as well. There is a DVD of his work as a ‘Visu­al Futur­ist’, con­tain­ing much of the mate­r­i­al from his lec­ture, as well as inter­views with oth­ers about him and his work. Here’s the trail­er, from his web site (check out the high def­i­n­i­tion ver­sion there, it’s well worth see­ing at a larg­er size):

He’s not only a bril­liant design­er, but he was a good speak­er as well, com­ment­ing on his work and influ­ences. He showed prob­a­bly 50–75 exam­ples of his work over the past 50 years or so in var­i­ous games, car­toons, movies, cars, and indus­tri­al design projects. I was sur­prised to hear that the two artists who influ­enced him the most were the Baroque painter Car­avag­gio and 19th/early 20th cen­tu­ry illus­tra­tor, Max­field Par­rish. As one per­son inter­viewed in the trail­er put it, Syd Mead is essen­tial­ly an ‘18th Cen­tu­ry Man moved to the 20th and 21st Cen­tu­ry’. Many oth­ers spoke of the ‘real­i­ty’ of his vision, that it had gone through much of the evo­lu­tion and test­ing relat­ed to a prod­uct, build­ing, or tech­nol­o­gy, but entire­ly in his own mind.

After the talk we saw a screen­ing of the Final Cut (or so it’s now known) of ‘Blade Run­ner’, a film that . That screen­ing, in and of itself was fas­ci­nat­ing as well. The ver­sion has none of the film noir, Ray­mond Chan­dler-style voice over by Har­ri­son Ford, and there are quite a few scenes either length­ened, added or in one par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal case, omit­ted (I won’t spoil it if you don’t already know). As I was watch­ing it, I kept mar­veling at the con­sis­ten­cy and rich­ness of the visu­al envi­ron­ment. The only give­aways that Mead’s vision (like Kubrick’s) of the future wasn’t 100% cor­rect was the appear­ance of the Pan Am logo on a few elec­tron­ic bill­boards. Boy, nobody saw that air­line as going away, and its logo still looks fine in all of the visu­al­iza­tions of our future.

Third Tuesday

Last night was the month­ly meet­ing of Third Tues­day, a com­bi­na­tion pre­sen­ta­tion and mix­er, focus­ing on (but not entire­ly lim­it­ed to) mar­ket­ing, web 2.0 and the new ‘social media’ that takes place, when­ev­er pos­si­ble, on the third Tues­day of the month. Last month, Writer and Social Media Evangelist/Consultant, Mon­i­ca Ham­burg intro­duced many who attend­ed (myself includ­ed) to the con­cept of crowd­sourc­ing. This month, Local Van­cou­ver Tech­nol­o­gist, Writer, Racon­teur and Mis­cel­lanist (that’s how his web site puts it) Dar­ren Bare­foot gave an excel­lent ‘case study’ that explained how his mar­ket­ing com­pa­ny, Capulet Com­mu­ni­ca­tions got the atten­tion of the web’s movers and shak­ers through an online demo of his client’s prod­uct. Most sur­pris­ing detail of the cam­paign? To invite key peo­ple to the online demo (actu­al­ly, a faux company’s Intranet Wiki), they sent invi­ta­tions to about 35 of them via snail mail. That’s right, email has pro­duced so much noise and clut­ter (read: SPAM) that the best way to get to some peo­ple is the old fash­ioned way. It remind­ed me of an Isaac Asi­mov short sto­ry where a bunch of mil­i­tary sci­en­tists real­ize that the best way to com­pute some mis­sile tra­jec­to­ries is through some lost ancient tech­niques, known as ‘mul­ti­pli­ca­tion’ and ‘long divi­sion’ per­formed by a sol­dier with (*gasp!*) a pen­cil and paper… There was no men­tion of telegrams or sig­nal­ing fires, so I’m going to assume that those ‘Employ­ee kits’ sent via Couri­er were as far back in tech­nol­o­gy as he was will­ing to go.

I met up many friends and acquain­tances, and am glad to see that the sum­mer sea­son (and most­ly sun­ny skies) has not meant that every­one is head­ing for the beach, only to recon­nect up in the fall. At least, not yet.