Help Me Find the World of Tomorrow, Today!
February 3, 2010 12:54 PM   Subscribe

DesignFilter: I need examples of retrofuturism in art and design. Help Me Find the World of Tomorrow, Today!

I have to cobble together a very quick presentation on the recently-fashionable retrofuturist style in art and design, and need some help finding examples.

By 'retrofuturist', I mean what might be called mad science design, or just plain SCIENCE!. Things like Buck Rogers ray guns, 50's style fins on spaceships, those old comic ads for x-ray specs, Disney's Tomorrowland (before they updated it), those 1950's housekeeping-robot ads, some steampunk cartoonery, and the art direction of games like Fallout (including that website, I guess) and Bioshock... that last one also includes a whole lot of art deco going on. I know there have been other games that leaned on this lately, but they don't spring to mind.

Links to graphic design examples (ads, posters, websites, product packaging) are preferred, but examples from films (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and The Iron Giant, I think?) would also be appreciated. I can also track down periodicals and print work if you shove me in the right direction.

I'm on a stupid deadline here. Help!
posted by rokusan to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Check out Retropolis Transit Authority and other links from Webomator.
posted by nightwood at 1:01 PM on February 3, 2010

Best answer: If you don't mind combing through it, Glen Mullaly's flickr stream has some great vintage kids' sci-fi illustrations.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:03 PM on February 3, 2010

Best answer: You need to read
posted by The Whelk at 1:03 PM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check out Hugo Gernsback. William Gibson wrote a short story called the Gernsback Continuum which is about seeing retrofuturist designs emerging in a modern setting.

Gernsback is connected to a bunch of things that would be great resources for retro-futurist fetishism.
posted by Babblesort at 1:10 PM on February 3, 2010

Best answer: If you have time, check out Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future -- if I recall correctly it runs the gamut from the wacky (flying cars! rocket backpacks!) to the more real (Corbusier's Radiant City...more real, not really exactly real).

Recently, someone here linked to back issues of Popular Science on Google Books. Retrofuturism on the half shell!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:11 PM on February 3, 2010

If you're willing to wade through it all there are a ton of examples on

There's a lot of stuff you're not looking for on that site, but they post a lot of design stuff (packaging, old ads, etc). And if you click on a post you'll like, it will show you other similar posts.

If I could I'd go find a few for you, but my webfilter at work doesn't allow anything except metafilter and cnn.
posted by a.steele at 1:19 PM on February 3, 2010


Design For Dreaming has an extended "The Kitchen Of Tomorrow!" segment.
posted by The Whelk at 1:22 PM on February 3, 2010

Coincidentally, there's a whole gaming convention with a "retrofuturist" theme this weekend in Rhode Island.. TempleCon. There are some articles about it on the website, maybe not as specific as you're looking for...
posted by jozxyqk at 1:37 PM on February 3, 2010

There was some influence and cross-fertilization from the futurist art movement, it may help to check out things like the recent Kattullus fpp.
posted by idiopath at 1:53 PM on February 3, 2010

In the year 2000in the year 2000!
posted by adamrice at 2:08 PM on February 3, 2010

Googie architecture.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 2:44 PM on February 3, 2010

These prints for the International Year of Astronomy, some of ISO50's prints like this, this tv, and if you can get your hands on the new issue of Digital Arts somehow, it looks like you'd be set!
posted by grapesaresour at 3:12 PM on February 3, 2010

I've found that looking for a techie word like robots on Google Books, limiting it to stuff that's available in full view [i.e. you can see the pages] and saying "nothing after 1970" can give you a lot of good stuff to look at. Try this, or this if you add the word "future" Browsing the covers of Popular Mechanics can also bring up a lot of this stuff.
posted by jessamyn at 3:19 PM on February 3, 2010

Oh and the Android logo.
posted by grapesaresour at 3:22 PM on February 3, 2010

Range Murata is a japanese illustrator/comic artist. He's famous for the art of anime series such as Last Exile, but he also designed this lovely chair and bike.

I'm not sure if this is what you are looking for, as it is more deco than 50's futurist, some might even call it steampunk.

Links are SFW, but he likes to draw sexy girls of ambiguous ages. Some images: (might have NSFW banners): one, two, three, four (my favorite).
posted by clearlydemon at 4:07 PM on February 3, 2010

The recent Lady Gaga/Elton John performance at the Grammys felt very much Retro-Futurist (an excellent name) to me.
posted by nosila at 7:05 PM on February 3, 2010

Best answer: I purchased the Yesterday's Tomorrows book cited above, but was disappointed to find it was mostly text with a smattering of actual art/photos. What's in there is nice, but maybe not worth the price of admission if you're more interested in visuals.

There's another book called Yesterday's Tomorrows by Bruce Lanier Wright, which I think is out of print. It consists of retro sci-fi movie posters, and there are similar books, but I like Wright's recaps of the movies featured, and the occasional snarky asides.

There's also The Art of Imagination. If you had the time, I'd recommend getting it used somewhere. It's huge, and fortunately/unfortunately, it's kind of 3 books in one, separated into sections on sci-fi, horror, and fantasy. Plenty of book/pulp covers, movie posters, stills, etc. Not too much from comic books, unfortunately.

For that, there's a book called Science Fiction Comics: The Illustrated History, by Mike Benton. Unfortunately it's also out of print, but there's a lot of great excerpts from the history of the genre, esp the '40 and '50s.

These may be hard to find, but they're great resources if you can. Hopefully you have a local library that has these books like mine does... It's kind of awesome that way. And I'm sure I'm the only who ever checks them out.

For another take on retro-futurism, there's a daily comic strip called "Brewster Rockit", which is a satirical homage. You'll love it or hate it.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:10 PM on February 3, 2010

You may have better luck looking up "art deco" instead of retro futurism.
posted by idiotfactory at 11:29 PM on February 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. Two books on overnight order from Amazon, and my Powerpoint is already humming away. Some of those books look like real keepers too, not just quickie references, so thanks for that too.

(It's not quite art deco, IF, but there is some overlap.)
posted by rokusan at 5:28 PM on February 4, 2010

+1 for The Welk's recommend of:

I'd been trying to remember the name of this one, so you helped me out too.
posted by debu at 11:35 PM on February 4, 2010

You mention Disney's Tomorrowland, but EPCOT also has the retro futuristic look - it is a 28 year old park whose acronym means Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and is divided into 2 area, the World Showcase and Future World.

Here is some info on it's design and original vision.
posted by I am the Walrus at 5:59 AM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Futurism! Building a fake future in hopes that the real future will show up to mate with it.
posted by MsMolly at 1:18 PM on February 6, 2010

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