Staff Highlight · Syd Mead

Staff Highlight: Syd Mead, the Mecha Designer

This is the third in my series of staff highlight posts. My sources include various written and video interviews, audio commentaries, and individual research.

Syd Mead is an industrial designer and visual futurist famous for his designs for science-fiction films such as Blade Runner, Aliens, and Tron. He’s an internationally-recognized talent who has won many awards. Mead provided Turn A Gundam‘s mechanical designs.

Syd Mead provided several mobile suit concepts and designs as a guest staffer for Turn A Gundam.

Below is a highlight of info pertaining to his time on Turn A Gundam.

  • Director Yoshiyuki Tomino first interacted with Syd Mead during the Zeta Gundam era, where he commissioned him to draw a poster. Over the years, as Tomino experienced a decline in health and mental stability, he viewed Mead’s work in magazines as a source of joy.
  • When Tomino first approached Mead, he advised his staff to be cautious of his health and seniority and to be respectful.
  • When Mead accepted the request to design for Turn A Gundam, the first thing Sunrise did was send him concept plans, plot synopses, ideas, and sketches of mobile suits for the show. He received a lot of input from Tomino as well, and he met with Tomino, his wife, and their daughter at a private restaurant.
  • Met with Sunrise staff in a conference room to negotiate and bounce ideas. Within hours, the staff came together to move forward with Mead’s involvement. He looks back at this moment fondly, as he finds it thrilling when a team of talented individuals can come to a consensus in order to create something of worth.
  • Was hired on to essentially create a new zero-base for Gundam design that would at the same time be recognizable to fans. He considered it a difficult task, as it was a series with twenty years of fan memory. Mead realizes that some of his design choices received negative reactions from hardcore fans, but he believes that in the end people came to like them.
  • A lot of the communication between Sunrise staff and Mead was done via fax.
  • His design philosophy involves working from the “inside-out”.
  • Mead’s original design for the titular Turn A Gundam was scrapped and later reused and reconfigured as the SUMO.
  • Considers designing the Turn X his biggest challenge. Tomino wanted an antagonist robot at the same technological level as the Turn A, with limbs that could come apart and lock back together at any given time. It took Mead 10 days and over 100 sketches and details to finalize the design.
  • Views his time working with Tomino and his staff as seamless. He was very excited to work on the project and fascinated by Japanese culture.
  • Considers Tomino’s stylistic “gimmick” in Turn A Gundam—the 20th century setting, the cars being old, the buildings being half-timbered, etc.—a “brilliant retro-future fantasy”.
  • Looks up to Kunio Okawara’s mecha designs for the mark that he’s left on the Gundam franchise. He praises his attention to detail and shapes and forms, and appreciates the treasure he’s left for people like him who need a frame of reference for mobile suit design.
  • “Mead Gundam” is a 300+ page book featuring concept sketches, liner notes, and explanations by Syd Mead. It also contains copies of some of the faxes and transactions sent between Mead and Sunrise staff members.
    • In the book’s closing comments, he thanks Yoshiyuki Tomino, Shigeru Horiguchi, Atsushi Shigeta, and many others for facilitating the entire process. Shigeta was responsible for taking Mead’s sketches and turning them into finalized master drawings for animation.
  • Conducted an hours-long video interview with Robert Napton for the Bandai Entertainment release of Turn A Gundam. This release was unfortunately canned and the interview lost in the abyss. However, years later Right Stuf’s North American release of the DVDs and BDs allowed the interview to resurface. [side note: I’ve transcribed (and edited for readability) the entire interview. You can read it here. I encourage you to read through it if you’d like to learn more.]
  • His first time working on Gundam in any capacity was actually the canned Lion’s Gate Gundam live-action film project. Mead provided art pieces, mobile suit design, and was in the process of doing computer-aided design for animation. His artwork is included in his concept design book “Oblagon”. Tom Winnicki of zimmerit has done extensive research on the subject, if you’d like to learn more.

4 thoughts on “Staff Highlight: Syd Mead, the Mecha Designer

  1. Since the first time I saw the Turn A’s info in magazine in 2003, I have been loving his Gundam design and style unconditionally!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s