Syd Mead

To anyone interested in science fiction art and design, Syd Mead will already be well-known. The list of films he’s worked on is intimidating, from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, TRON, Short Circuit, Aliens, Time Cop, Mission Impossible 3, to Elysium.

He’s worked with numerous companies both abroad and domestic, including Sony, Minolta, United State Steel, Honda, Bandai, and Philips.

My absolute favorite pieces of his deal with some form of transportation or cityscape. He’s adapt at rendering both the idealistic, utopian future, and the post-apocalypse, deteriorated future. In both, the machines stand as a mark of the ingenuity and accomplishments of man.

The centering of the machines in his utopian work leads to a sense that these societies are driven by the sole success of manufacturing and industry, and more specifically, of the transportation industry. It places the machine on the pedestal and grants it status as man’s greatest achievement. It is a symbiotic relationship, but one in which the success of one clearly defines the success of the other.

In his darker visions of the future, the machine’s existence within its broken-down environment, many times shrouded by other discarded bits of failed industry, stands as a symbol of the past might of societal inventiveness. In these portraits of decaying urban life, the machine most often remains elegant, regardless of visible wear and tear. It is a sign of what was once great—a reminder of the possibilities within an impossible world.

Spinner from Blade Runner

Mead is also a master at designing things that at once feel both a part of the real world and of another. His best work functions to excite the possibilities while at the same time display something that can’t exist. One of my favorite––and one of his most iconic––designs is the Spinner from Blade Runner. With its projected wheels, large cockpit, and smooth back, it is a design that is both impossible yet understated and practical.

In a sense, this stems from a desire inherent in futuristic art to produce something the viewer hasn’t seen before. The tendency is to create things that therefore can’t exist. However, Mead’s creations never seem unnecessarily out of place within their confines. In as much as the machines are the focus of the pieces, the surrounding environment’s function is to either advance the believability of the machine’s existence, or to paint a contrast to it.

These are just a few ways in which his images work. He’s a master at presenting new and exciting ideas, but by using real-life touchstones to do so. There is a tangible quality to his work without grounding it in total reality. In short, he creates dreams—always connected to reality, but never totally bound by it.

Dan McPharlin

I stumbled across Australian artist Dan McPharlin a few years ago on the site http://www.sci-fi-o-rama.com/ and was intrigued by the juxtaposition in his work. Displaying themes of man-made vs nature, structured and unstructured, natural vs unnatural, and ridged vs supple, his art goes beyond mere sci-fi gimmicks. He operates quite successfully across multiple approaches including minimalism, miniatures, photography, and even music.

Chapter 18 by Dan McPharlin

McPharlin’s artwork has appeared on album covers for bands such as Pretty Lights, Prefuse 73, Gatekeeper, and Dylan Ettinger. His work has been featured in magazines such as Wired, Esquire, and The New York Times.

In addition to the geometrical minimalism as highlighted in Chapter 18 above, he has created some wonderful miniatures of synths and analog equipment, original LEGO creations, and other models. You can find more examples of his amazing work at https://www.flickr.com/photos/danmcp and http://danmcpharlin.net/.

To hear an ambient mix that McPharlin created to go along with his work, Transmission 2, go here https://soundcloud.com/cosmonostro/dan-mcpharlin-transmission-2.

Here’s a selection of some of his “Analogue Miniatures.”

For all of the imagery and content he’s published, McPharlin is a pretty reclusive character, and what’s available about him on the internet is pretty sparse. Additionally, any original work beyond 2010 is difficult to find, or non-existent, yet I could find no explanation for his disappearance.

Needless to say, it’s an odd thing for someone who was so productive and present from 2002-2014 to fall off the map (at least the cyber map). Here’s hoping that Dan is ok and gearing up for a return to creating the beautiful things he can create. Until then, we can always continue to appreciate his back catalog.