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.
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.