Somehow it’s still hard to fathom that Back to the Future Part II was set three years ago. For children of the ’80s and ’90s, the Robert Zemeckis sequel was the most popular and recognised vision of a future we might see when 2015 finally arrived. And while some of the technology imagined for the film never got made, several devices actually did make it to reality — so we talked to one of the men responsible for creating them.
A concept design of the Texaco station in Back to the Future Part II by Edward Eyth. All concept images below were used with his permission.Photo: Edward Eyth
Edward Eyth is one of a handful of designers who helped bring that iconic 1989 version of 2015 to life. For about six months in the late ’80s, he worked alongside legendary production designer Rick Carter, current Executive Creative Director at Lucasfilm Doug Chiang, and several others designing all of the technology in the film.
“I was tasked with much of the technology of Marty McFly’s condo of the future, and the personal electronics & devices that might be in common use in 2015,” Eyth told io9. Writers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis had several pieces of tech, such as flying cars, in the script — but beyond those key items, Eyth and his colleagues were basically given a blank slate.
“We were given free reign to generate ideas that would populate scenes with technology and visual elements… and often those ideas would be written into the script or integrated into the sets and scenes for actors to use,” he said. “Filmmakers take a big risk when making any bold statements about how the future will play out, but Bob G. and Bob Z. set the tone for this playful, but realistic, forecast, and let the designers have freedom to fill in the blanks.”
Though we’ve covered some of this in the past, Eyth is now auctioning off many of his original concept drawings from Back to the Future Part II, and we asked him to tell us about the pieces he himself designed. We think you’ll recognise most of them.
The Fax Machine
The Ortho Lev
Eyth also designed the Texaco station and its components — though not the cars, that was tasked to Tim Flattery and Michael Scheffe.
The Wrist Communicator
Marty never got his watch in the movie, but you can see his father George wearing one here:
The VR Visors
“These just made sense,” he said. “Even back in the ’80s some low-res tiny screens were being produced and this just seemed like the viable next step: full immersion and isolation to some extent, for an undistracted experience. I added the ‘holograph’ idea, thinking these headsets would have the capacity for a more 3D enhanced experience. Evidently I should be getting royalties for every VR headset sold.”
Of course, Eyth may have came up with these designs, but he never figured out how to actually make them work. That’s a job for others. But that doesn’t make his design work any less special.
“With each of the items I was assigned, I tried to imagine what the ‘next gen’ version would be. Or the ‘next gen after that gen,’ since we’re forecasting 25-30 years ahead. It’s fairly easy to accomplish that visually, since it generally just means smaller, sleeker and less complicated from an aesthetic standpoint,” Eyth said.
“But to create something that’s credible, aside from the way it looks, you have to consider how it could function more efficiently. That’s more challenging but also more rewarding for a designer, I think. Of course the beauty of design for scifi or fantasy films is you really don’t need to actually engineer the entire technology of a product or device, you just need to suggest it in a way that seems believable. And in the case of Back to the Future, there was a playful aspect to the entire process that really made it fun.”
You can check out Eyth’s available pieces at this link.
We’ll have more from Eyth in the coming weeks, as the list of classic movies he’s worked on is very impressive.