Syd Mead with Joel Johnson, part 3: BLADE RUNNER.

The 1982 cyberpunk cinema classic Blade Runner remains one of the most influential science fiction movies of all time, and tops many a nerd's favorite films list.

Today on Boing Boing tv, Boing Boing Gadgets editor Joel Johnson visits the studio of artist and futurist Syd Mead, who designed the film's dystopian look and feel. We learn about the "erotic machine" he dreamed for the replicant Zhora (this breast-shaped dreampod was cut from the script when director Ridley Scott ran out of dough), the 1 2 3 *4* alternate opening scenes designed by Syd (one of them, which involved shoveling dead bodies, was deemed "too Holocaust"), what really lights up those building facades, and many more secrets.

Syd explains he envisioned the world of Blade Runner as a place "you wouldn't want to be for too long," and describes the challenges of designing for "a love story with moralistic underpinnings... if we could actually make people, would we treat them like dishwashers? Just use them up and throw them away?"

If you like this episode, you might want to pick up:

  • VISUAL FUTURIST: The Art & Life of Syd Mead DVD []
  • And more Syd Mead books on Amazon.
  • Previous episodes in BBtv's Syd Mead trilogy:

  • Joel Johnson interviews Syd Mead: part 1.
  • Joel Johnson interviews Syd Mead: part 2.
  • (Footage from the movie Blade Runner courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment / Warner Home Video; Artwork courtesy of Syd Mead Inc.)

    About Xeni Jardin

    Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email:
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    20 Responses to Syd Mead with Joel Johnson, part 3: BLADE RUNNER.

    1. stevew says:

      Yes, one of the all time greatest movies sci-fi or otherwise. Kudos to Joel and BB for this interview, thanks.

      There’re over 6 billion of us. We all ready make lots of humans, treat many of them a lot worse than dishwashers and throw them away. The ship-breakers of Bangladesh are my personal haunting example. The disenfranchised masses throughout history have often been just personal property; one of the many meanings of the word “chattel”, ie. indentured servant, bondsman, serf, slave. (see: H. B. Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

    2. Contrasoma says:

      Wow. That point about the TV channels is crazy – will have to check if any of those uniform light changes actually made it into the movie.

    3. Joel Johnson says:

      @SteveW: That’s a great, tragic point. The sad truth is that if we ever make a replicant they’ll be held in much higher regard than the average, traditionally grown human.

    4. Angstrom says:

      hooray for these videos

      I’ve loved Syd Mead ever since I was about 10 and got hold of his sketchbook for BladeRunner. I scaled up the Spinner design to about 15 feet across, painted it on my wall in acrylic.

      I just love the incredible depth he goes into with his work, thinking out the encapsulating world, none of it is “just decoration”. I guess that’s why he appealed to me as a kid, because kids are expert world builders.

    5. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

      Angstrom, that’s such an awesomely good point about kids and worldbuilding that I’m guaranteed to swipe it. Drop me a note if you want credit for it under your real name.

    6. Bledsoefilms says:

      “Kid’s are expert world builders.”

      I agree, that’s a great point. So at what point do we stop building words and start owning them?

      Derek Bledsoe
      Segment Producer, BBtv

    7. Boba Fett Diop says:

      For a long time I had a theory that the Bladerunner cityscape was inspired by the rail approach to Osaka, coming over Mt. Ikoma. At night the city seems to take over the entire basin and go on forever. It also has an “overbuilt” quality very similar to that of Los Angeles in Bladerunner. For me this was somewhat validated by the way that Ridley Scott would later use images of Dotonbori and Ebisubashi to set the mood in Black Rain.

      However, seeing this, I guess it was not the case.

    8. AirPillo says:

      I’m curious about the music in these Syd Mead interview episodes, especially that used in the end credits. Can someone name the source(s)?

    9. MarlboroTestMonkey7 says:

      Wow! I thought I couldn’t love this movie more. Syd’s involvement, commitment and grasp of the story’s message and character dynamics shows thru the level of detail and freshness in his mind.

    10. rikchik says:

      Was it just me, or is there actually nothing about the dreampod in this video? I guess it ended up on the cutting-room floor… again.

    11. arkizzle says:

      Fantastic Joel, great insights!
      Thanks so much for doing this episode, I really enjoyed Syd telling his story 🙂

    12. Bledsoefilms says:

      Hey all,
      While crawling around the cutting room floor, starving for caffeine injections, we realized there was waaaay too much rad information to pack into one ep, so look forward to yet another Syd Mead piece (the final one) where he’ll discuss his Blade Runner designs in further detail.

      Glad everyone is diggin it!

      Derek Bledsoe
      Segment Producer, BBtv

    13. arkizzle says:

      Wow, I just checked out the other episodes, and they’re all great!
      Well done guys, really enjoyable stuff 🙂

    14. Anonymous says:

      The video stops after 5 seconds. I checked it on two computers and different browsers.

    15. Old Bald Helen says:

      Joel, I can’t believe you didn’t ask Syd about his work with Alex Tremulis! Those two designers on the same project? Must’ve been astounding.

      Oh, and @#3: How can you be sure you’re not a replicant?

    16. Old Bald Helen says:

      P.S. I forgot to thank you for these videos and tell you how much I enjoyed them. Brilliant man, excellent interview.

    17. brundlefly76 says:

      They definitely should have shot the opening scene of the offworld replicant rebellion.

      That is such an important part of the replicant’s story and should have been shot, not just referred to anecdotally.

      The replicant characters and their motives would have been much better established had they done so.

      The movie was lacking in pacing anyway – this would have helped it greatly.

      Of course there is the argument that Blade Runner’s plodding imperfection lent to its obscure charm, but I know I would have enjoyed each viewing much more with the rebellion scene included.

    18. bobkat says:




      Thanks to you all for sharing this, and I can’t wait for the next installment!

      Syd Mead rules!

    19. Mark Brown says:

      Like the anonymous commenter above I’m having trouble playing this video – this is on my Apple computer via iTunes and also via my iPod touch (my normal viewing method). It seems to work fine via the web in Windows, though.

      I’ve experienced quite a lot of similar problems over the past month or so, though not on all videos. The first I can recall being affected is the David Byrne interview.

    20. Scalar says:

      Also having problems viewing this on any platform I have: OSX 10.5.4 from Safari & FF3, FF3 & IE7 on WinXP.

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