Building New Worlds, The Making of TRON: Legacy

Building New Worlds, The Making of TRON: Legacy

Static Mass Rating: 4/5

TRON: LEGACY (Blu-ray)

Release Date: April 18th 2011
Certificate (UK): PG
Running Time: 125 minutes

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen

Are you ready for TRON 101?

Director Joseph Kosinski and his team of designers let their imaginations soar when it came to creating a world that would look like no other movie audiences had seen before. Darren Gilford, the film’s production designer said:

“The first film established a look that was so iconic and a lot of that was because of the limitations of the computer, what they really could do back in the ’80s. It was very geometric, very simplistic. With the computer technology we have now, it’s limitless what we can do. But we made a conscious decision that we would not go totally organic. We’d soften shapes and forms where we could, but we would definitely try and maintain those basic ‘TRON’ geometric shapes.”

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

In TRON: Legacy, Jeff Bridges reprises his role as video-game developer Kevin Flynn, the CEO of NCOM International and creator of TRON, an arcade game but he vanished in 1989 while developing “a digital frontier that will reshape the human condition.” Sucked into the virtual world he created, he has been trapped there for the past 20 years. Back in the real world, his rebellious son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), finally ventures to Kevin’s old arcade where he’s tracking a strange signal coming from his dad’s old pager and inadvertently winds up in the digital world of TRON.

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

Concept artist David Levy converted Kosinski’s initial ideas to drawings and designs to establish TRON: Legacy as its own world and independent of the first film:

“Joe’s vision evolved the visuals from the first film. He wanted the Grid to feel exactly like our reality, but with a twist.”

As Sam enters TRON, he faces series of deadly games but quickly masters the Lightcycle with its trailing ribbons of neon lights, it’s a vast improvement on what it looked like in the original. Daniel Simon, a former car designer for Bugatti who worked on reconfiguring the Lightcycle, used the original sketches by Syd Mead, the designer of the Lightcycles from the first movie. Of his work, he says:

“A Lightcycle forms a visual unit with its rider. His helmet and body become part of the bike design and stance — but you still need to give him freedom to move. That’s not in your catalogue; you have to start from scratch. The Lightcycles are created out of a baton, so I had to design the entire inside of the bike, every screw and gear, so Digital Domain could transform it in animation. That was interesting, developing the look of how a vehicle might grow.”

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

Other vehicles include the Light Runner, on the Grid it’s a powerful racing car but in the Outlands it becomes a tough off-roader; the Recognizer, a huge, U-shaped vehicle that roam the streets looking for wayward programs; Solar Sailers that are flying cargo ships; and Clu’s Rectifier battleship, which is three times larger than any aircraft carrier in the real world, holding Clu’s entire army.

You might expect them to be entirely computer-generated creations, but many were also practically built for certain scenes, in keeping with Kosinski’s aim to constantly blur the line between CGI and reality. The filmmakers contracted a company called Wild Factory, who builds prototypes for Volkswagen, to take on the task of bringing some of the vehicles to reality.

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

The disc has also been updated; it not only holds data but can be used a weapon to obliterate any obstacle with spectacular effects. The light discs that were created for the film consist of 134 LED lights, are radio-controlled and attached to the light suits with a magnet. They also house the batteries and electronics that power the light suits. Kosinski explains a bit more about the disc:

“The disc is your identity and your main weapon. It’s your passport in this world, and the place where all your data is stored. And if you’re a ‘User,’ which is a person from the outside world going in, the disc is also a key that allows you to go in and out.”

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

Overall, everything which we saw in the original movie has been upgraded to the highest possible quality, like with any piece of modern software or hardware today.

Jeff Bridges talks about the feeling he got with working not just with blue screens but also real sets:

“The marriage of photorealistic computer-generated images and actual practical sets really gives you a sense of the world that you’re in. In the original ‘TRON’ we didn’t have that because it was basically black duvetyn with white adhesive tape marking things; we never got the feeling of where we actually were. There’s nothing like walking onto the set for the first time and seeing it all dressed.”
Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: LegacyInto The Grid, The Making of TRON: LegacyInto The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

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Vancouver’s Shangri-La Hotel doubled as Encom, and Sam’s shipping container apartment was built on a wharf across the inlet from Vancouver to make best use of the city’s skyline. Other sets, including Flynn’s Arcade, Kevin’s safe house, and the End of Line Club were built on one of six sound stages. Together with that, they also built entire streets and city blocks. Gilford says:

“When Sam first walks out of the arcade onto the Grid, a Recognizer comes down and plucks him off the street. So the Recognizer defines the size of the city street, and a Recognizer is about 70 feet wide. From that proportion alone we knew the minimal amount of city we needed, which was about two city blocks. It was a huge, huge build.”

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

20 to 25 designers from various art departments took on the job of coming up with concepts and from those Kosinski and his team created the set. This included everything from real-world locations mixtures of real architecture with blue screen, to fully digital sets. Gilford estimates that there are between 60 and 70 unique settings in the film, split between 15 fully constructed sets and varying levels of computer created landscapes.

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

Kosinski, who has a background in design and architecture, realised that for a like this where the majority of it had to be built, he had to pay special attention to the designs of the spaces:

“Because there is no location we can go and shoot a scene for this movie. Every single shot in the TRON digital world had to be built from scratch.”

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

TRON: Legacy faced another challenge which the original didn’t have; shooting in 3D. This would influence every decision made on the visual aspect of the film. Gilford explains:

“There are certain aspects that we had to design around and certain rules we had to obey. For example, when moving the 3D camera rig, one camera could reveal a light source a split second before the other. It can be a nightmare.”

Sharp-eyed fans of the original will also be able to spot some other familiar items. The art department incorporated details in Flynn’s secret lab such as the Master Control Program desk caddy, the tabletop computer interface and a condensed version of the Shiva laser, which takes Sam into the Grid. There’s also a map of the Grid embedded in the code of the background image and Sam’s drawings from childhood on the wall.

Into The Grid, The Making of TRON: Legacy

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