A still of a light-cycle sequence from Tron.

CGI Light Cycle Battle from Disney's Tron

Games on Film I: Tron - Behind the Screens

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Disney 1982

Tron’s Legacy

Poster for Tron Legacy by Disney, featuring Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund

Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde feature on a poster for Tron: Legacy

Advance your system clock another seven years, and Disney releases the film Tron Legacy in 2010, 28 years after the original dazzled and puzzled audiences in equal measure. It is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who lands the gig after a series of startling CGI commercials, for such high-profile videogames as Halo 3 and Gears of War. If any film would allow a “reboot”, you’d think it would be Tron, but screenwriters Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, of TV show Lost fame, keep the canon and proceed from where the last film left off. Jeff Bridges returns as Kevin Flynn, trapped for decades inside the computer world which has advanced itself many fold. It is his disaffected 27-year-old son Sam’s turn to get zapped to computer land and find his way out of the grid. Sam is played by Garrett Hedlund, most well-known at that time for playing Patroclus in 2004’s Troy. Bruce Boxleitner returns as Alan Bradley, but aside from appearing in a cameo in the opening real-world scenes, only provides the voice for his alter-ego Tron; a helmeted stuntman plays the character inside the computer. Cindy Morgan does not join the cast this time around, with the female love interest instead being played by Olivia Wilde as Quorra, the last of the spontaneously evolving ISO (Isomorphic Algorithms) programs that miraculously appear inside the Grid. Michael Sheen, looking like a cross between Julian Assange and David Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust, rounds out things as Castor/Zuse, the flamboyant owner of the End Of Line Club inside Tron City.

While CGI advances over the intervening 28 years allow for a more completely realized cyberspace, the creators decide to forego blowing up every frame of film and backlighting actors for the neon effects, and instead opt for spandex suits with sewn-in strips of practical lighting, provided by Light Tape, powered by a 9V battery pack hidden in the ID disks all characters wear on their back. Light Tape is an invention by Electro-LuminX, located in Chester, Virginia. The thin, flexible light strips are realized by exciting phosphors located between two electrically conductive plates, looking great on-screen but allowing for only simple lines on the costumes instead of the intricate circuit patterns of the original, and allow for about 10 minutes of illumination before exhausting the suit’s battery pack. Also, the entire Grid environment is limited to dark, stormy exteriors and dimly-lit interiors, in order to have the low-wattage Light Tape show up well on-camera. About 150 different suits are produced for the shoot, and their fragile circuitry prevents the actors from sitting in them when fully dressed; boards with bicycle seats are provided so the talent can lean back into them and rest between takes.

Jeff Bridges shooting Tron: Legacy, a video game themed movie by Disney 2010

Deleting the years: Jeff Bridges in face capture gear

While one could argue that the visual effects, while pretty, are just more of the same in a film-making industry quite adept with the technology by now, Tron Legacy does have one bit of ground-breaking CGI up its sleeve. In order to allow Bridges to play his younger self in the guise of the ageless computer program Clu, an effects team de-ages him to look like himself circa Against All Odds (1984) to match the conceit in the film that Flynn had created the program a few years after the events of the original. To do this, they film Bridges delivering his lines using a helmet with several small cameras capturing his facial movements. They then digitally erase all those pesky crows feet, forehead wrinkles and other tell-tale signs of being 61 years old. With the younger faux-Bridges’ head placed on another actor’s body in scenes, the effect is remarkable but still traverses into the uncanny valley with the doll’s eyes and mouth movements that tip the subconscious that something is a bit off.

Garrett Hedlund, Steven Lisberger, Jeff Bridges and director Joseph Kosinski of Tron: Legacy

L-R: Garrett Hedlund, Steven Lisberger, Jeff Bridges and director Joseph Kosinski of Tron: Legacy

All of this eye-candy gets the 3-D treatment that becomes seemingly obligatory when releasing a film in 2010, using an upgraded version of the camera equipment James Cameron developed for his tour-de-force 3-D CGI extravaganza Avatar. Disney precedes Tron Legacy‘s release in December of 2010 by utilizing a promotional scheme not available to them in 1982: the Internet viral campaign. The website Flynn Lives first crops up, posing as a grass-roots effort of concerned hackers (a la the notorious Internet collective “Anonymous”) looking for traces of the missing Encom executive. News conferences held by Boxleitner in his Alan Bradley guise announce the effort. A stellar pixilated online videogame trivia game called Arcade Aid is also associated with the campaign, inviting users to click around a giant interactive picture guessing which games the rebus-like art represent. Flynn’s most famous videogame creation, Space Paranoids, also comes to life at Space Paranoids Online, aping the arcade game Flynn is playing with such panache at the beginning of Tron. All in all, it is an admirable attempt at the brave new PR paradigm and contributes to Legacy‘s impressive, #1 opening weekend at 44 million dollars, and total worldwide box-office take after a few weeks of $246,784,358. Not bad, even considering the budget of the sequel is $170 million, 10 times the original.

Traces of Tron

Back in 1982, the original Tron befuddled audiences, and it’s not hard to see why. The film abstracts things perhaps too much, and plot holes abound, such as the film starting out by showing Sark competing with a “user” at an arcade lightcycle game. How would Sark be playing against someone at a machine simply plugged into an electrical outlet? There’s no indication of the MCP controlling the power grid, or even being able to network through it, so how does he know Sark’s actions playing the arcade game are “brutal and needlessly sadistic”? The religious overtones make an interesting aspect of the story, with the programs in awe of their all-powerful users, who Flynn at one point insists are actually as controlled as the programs consider themselves to be. This religious allegory is played for effect, and also reflects how, at the time, the computer technicians who had knowledge and access to hulking mainframes were almost a religious order themselves, digital monks who held the ultimate power to control your payroll and run your actuarial forecasts. The connection is particularly strong with Dumont, the elder program portrayed by Bernard Hughes, controlling access to the I/O tower in the film, a character decked out with priestly robes and papal mitre designed by Moebius.

The actual narrative of the film is very pedestrian, however. It is a mish-mash of Lisberger’s influences, including Star Wars and particularly, The Wizard of Oz, right down to the MCP stripped away at the end, revealing the old man behind the curtain of light, pecking away on an old-fashioned typewriter. It’s common to slag a film relying on special effects to impress audiences, instead of a well-told story or transcendent acting from the players. As the years go on, however, Tron firmly entrenches itself into popular culture, its unique concept and visual flair reverberating in countless homages from The Simpsons to South Park. It also influences a South Korean animated movie called Savior of the Earth, released in 1983 and later dubbed into English. “Influenced” is not a strong enough word; the movie is a slavish rip-off of Disney’s film, to such a ridiculous extent that it has to be seen to be believed. Also, as we have seen, Tron has begotten a super-charged, super-budgeted sequel. Filling in the story between the original Tron and the Legacy sequel is Tron: Uprising, a weekly animated series running on the  Disney XD cable channel in the U.S. from May of 2012 to January of 2013. Developed by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, Uprising displays a deep Japanese anime feel, a perfect fit to the zen attitude cultivated in the big-budget Tron sequel it follows. The most impactful legacy that Tron has left behind, however, is the boost it has given to computer graphic effects as a limitless pallet of light with which to paint the filmmaker’s imagination.  logo_stop

Concept art of lightcycle from Tron, a video game themed movie by Disney

Original Syd Mead lightcycle design, with driver who becomes part of the vehicle

MCP from Disney's Tron

Concept art of the evil MCP from Tron, design by Syd Mead, art by Peter Lloyd. END OF LINE



Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)



Page 1 – Greetings, Programs
Intro to Tron
Omni cover, Burning Chrome title page and Tron article title page from the Internet Archive

Cyberroach – Disney’s TRON – www.cyberroach.com/tron/default.htm
 
Page 1 – Shining Light
Early Work of Director Steven Lisberger
Starlog, “Steven Lisberger, the Creator of the World of Tron”, by Don McGregor, pgs. 30-32, 64, Feb 1983D23|Walt Disney Archives – Lisberger Breaks With Convention – bit.ly/ffgAh1
Tron Wiki – Steven Lisberger by Gage Skidmore – bit.ly/ii5s2c

 
Page 1 – Caged Animals
Steven Lisberger’s Animalympics
Monkey Goggles – Remembering Animalympics – monkeygoggles.com/?p=2915
AWN – Bonner Medalist Kimball Takes the Long View – bit.ly/iafUdr
 
Page 1 – Conceptualizing Tron
Developing Tron and Its World
Concept art of Sark’s guard, along with other information, from Electronic Games, “The Magnificent Look of Tron” by Les Paul Robley, pgs. 53-57, Oct 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Starlog, “Tron”, by David Hutchison, pgs. 72-76, July 1982
MakingOfHollywood. Disney, 2011. DVD. YouTube. YouTube, 13 July 2014. Web. 17 July 2017. Disc arena concept art
The Daily Intelligencer, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, July 22, 1982, pg. 34 “‘Tron’ has encouraging message: man can control computers”, wire story by David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor – bit.ly/gRJ0lc
Chick, Tom. “Sci-Fi Ahead of Schedule.” Comp. HubzAlt. Computer Games Apr. 2003: 50-60. Computer Games. 7 Sept. 2022. Web. 2 Oct. 2022. “Alan [Kay] was so disappointed in the whole science part being trashed that he took his name off as technical consultant.”
 
Page 2 – A Mouse Divided
Selling Disney on the Tron Concept
Interview with Tom Wilhite, by Roger Ebert, July 18, 1982 – bit.ly/eEq3hT
Starlog, “Log Entries, Tron: A Revolution in Fantasy Filmmaking”, compiled & edited by Susan Adamo, pg. 15, Jun 1982. “He [Steven Lisberger] and producer Donald Kushner brought the project to Walt Disney in June 1980…” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Starlog collection, Sep 14, 2015.
Jim Hill Media – Former Disney CEO Ron Miller recalls his own “Tron” legacy – bit.ly/gHZBLV
Image of Ron Miller from Starlog, “Starlog Interview: A Black Hole at the Crossroads”, Feb 1980, photo copyright 1979 Walt Disney Productions
 
Page 2 – Corralling CGI Talent
CGI Companies Doing Effects Work for Tron
1979 image of Harrison Ellenshaw on set of The Black Hole from Kay, Joseph. “Databank, Black Hole Takes Disney to Serious Space.” Editorial. Future Life July 1979: 18. Print. Photo by Walt Disney Productions.
“Newspeak, Mickey Micro.” Editorial. Softalk May 1982: 95. Softalk V2n09 May 1982. “Several computer graphics houses have laboured on the effects since July 1981, to have the film ready for its release July 9…” Internet Archive. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.
Tron Wiki – Tron (arcade game) – tron.wikia.com/wiki/Tron_(arcade_game)

The Making of Tron documentary, 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of Tron, Disney 2002 – amzn.to/gxpVHX
McClain, D., & scottithgames. (1982, September). The Making of TRON, 50–55. https://archive.org/details/Video_Games_Player_Vol_1_No_1_1982-09_Carnegie_Publications_US/page/n49/mode/2up?q=Coleco+Industries+1973. Image of Peter Lloyd in profile, 1982

 
Page 2 – Brilliant Visions
The Conceptual Artists of Tron: Syd Mead, Moebius and Peter Lloyd
Comics Above Ground: How Sequential Art Affects Mainstream Media, 2004 by Durwin S. Talon, pg. 147 – amzn.to/fkhh92
UGO – Steven Lisberger Interview – www.ugo.com/channels/filmtv/features/tron/interview.asp
Deep Structure – tron – deep-structure.blogspot.com/2007/06/tron.html

MakingOfHollywood. Disney, 2011. DVD. YouTube. YouTube, 13 July 2014. Web. 17 July 2017. Syd Mead Tank illustration
 
Page 2 – Game Players
The Actors of Tron
Blip: The Video Games Magazine, “Video Games of the Stars”, Bruce Boxleitner interview, pg. 4, #1, Feb. 1983 – www.imagebam.com/image/8f099321780117
Boxleitner Interview, Starlog, August 1996 – www.maestravida.com/weinwalk/Starlog213.html
Cinematical – Set Visit Interview: ‘Tron’ Creator Steven Lisberger, by Todd Gilchrist, Mar 18, 2010 – aol.it/gO0sLr
InfoWorld, “Video games go Hollywood: Tron lights up the screen”, by Deborah Wise, pg. 19, Jul. 5, 1982. Lisberger is still a video-game fan, and his current favorite is Zaxxon…

Starlog, “Tron”, by David Hutchison, pgs. 72-76, July 1982
MakingOfHollywood. Disney, 2011. DVD. YouTube. YouTube, 13 July 2014. Web. 17 July 2017. ‘Tron’ crew photo
Image of Jeff Bridges and Steven Lisberger on the set of Tron from Starlog movie review, by Ed Naha, pgs. 58-59, Nov 1982
 
Page 3 -Serious Hardware
The CGI Technology Used for Tron
Image of a part of III’s CGI setup from Softline, “Infomania, Heavy Hardware, Really Heavy Hardware”, pg. 46, May 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softline collection, Nov 1 2015. 
Scott, Jason, comp. “Really Heavy Hardware.” Softline Mar. 1983: 46. Internet Archive. 9 Jan. 2014. Web. 17 Sept. 2021. Image of computer data storage, film recorder and terminals at III CGI house, 1983
Mello, John P. “Tron: Man in the Computer.” 80 Microcomputing, Aug. 1982, pp. 124–130. When an animator uses “director’s language” to call up a scene on a specialized machine called a Chromatic 7900…
… said [Larry] Elin, head of animation at the Mathematical Applications Group, Inc. of Elmwood NY, the single largest contributor of computer imagery in the movie. A Fortran program inside MAGI’s computers, Elin explained, contains descriptions of shapes that are simple…

Once MAGI felt a scene jibed with the film’s storyboards…they transmitted it at 1200 baud via transcontinental modem hookup to Chromatics at Disney’s studios in Burbank, CA. Elin said it took about an hour to transmit 100 frames, a little over four seconds of film.

McClain, D., & scottithgames. (1982, September). The Making of TRON, 50–55. https://archive.org/details/Video_Games_Player_Vol_1_No_1_1982-09_Carnegie_Publications_US/page/n49/mode/2up?q=Coleco+Industries+1973. When the frame is finished to everyone’s satisfaction, then we photograph the image as it appears on a very high-resolution 6000-line screen,” Elin continues. ;Indeed, for every second of animated screen time in Tron, there were some one hundred million bits of information that were fed into the computer. That’s why MAGI needs computers with vast storage and retrieval capabilities.
New Scientist, pg. 162, Oct. 21, 1982 – www.newscientist.com
Softline, “Tron: Disney Takes Computer Games to the Outer Limit” by Andrew Christie, pgs. 26-29, May 1982. “…the storyboard designs for the vehicular animation that was MAGI’s specialty in the film could be transmitted to New York for the programmers to plot in three views, using combinatorial geometry, on a forty-inch by sixty-inch Taylos encoding tablet…” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softline collection, Oct 30 2015. 
Pierce, T. (2018, May 4). The force behind the ORIGINAL “Star WARS” MAGIC: VFX legend Richard Edlund. Medium. https://medium.com/art-science/the-force-behind-the-original-star-wars-magic-vfx-legend-richard-edlund-8cc8ef632e8b. Interview with Richard Edlund: “We create all the effects – 365 shots in “Star Wars” – in two years for about $2.5 million.
 
Page 3 -From Tron to Toy Story
The Impact of Tron on Future Pixar Head John Lasseter
Starlog, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”, pgs. 44-46, 67, Jan 1984
Starlog, “Disney’s ‘Brave Little Toast’ to a New World of Animation”, by David Hutchison, pgs. 34-35, Dec 1983
AWN – Toon Story: John Lasseter’s Animated Life – www.awn.com/mag/issue3.8/3.8pages/3.8lyonslasseter.html

Computer Entertainment, June 1985, Bulletin Board entry:”Adventurous ‘Andre’ Debuts”, page 16
Tron Wiki – John Lasseter – tron.wikia.com/wiki/John_Lasseter
Image of Bill Kroyer at work, and other information from Starlog, “Tron: Changing the Laws of Physics”, by David Hutchison, pgs. 50 – 55, Sept 1982
Starlog, “Behind the Genesis Effect”, by David Hutchison, pgs. 17-21, Nov 1982
 
Page 3 – Electronica
Wendy Carlos and Tron Soundtrack
Gnv64, comp. Special Effects IV: A Starlog Photo Guidebook 1984: 10-21. Internet Archive. 13 Nov. 2020. Web. 2 Oct. 2022. Image of Wendy Carlos and Jorge Calandrelli looking over score for Tron, image of Michael Fremer at audio switchboard, image of Syd Mead and Steve Lisberger examining drawing, image of Peter Lloyd holding hands up
 
Page 3 – To Great Effects
Frank Sarafine and the Sound Design of Tron
Atari Connection, “The Sound of Bugs” by Jim Inscore, pgs. 9-10, Summer 1982
Compute!, “The Sounds of TRON” by Tom R. Halfhill, pgs. 18 – 22, Sep 1982
“Breaking the Sound Barrier (reprinted Article from Atari Connection).” Input/Output Dec. 1982: n. pag. Input Output – Issue 01 (1982-12)(Atari)(GB). Internet Archive. Web. 18 Mar. 2016. “I’ve [Frank Sarafine] assembled a collection of over 60 reels of sound effects tapes.”

Wikipedia, “Frank Sarafine”, referenced Mar 29, 2015 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Serafine

Microsoft. MacWorld Oct. 1992: 2-3. Print. Frank Serafine by mixing board and computer
Making Noise, by Ken Perlin – www.noisemachine.com/talk1/index.html

 
Page 4 – Does Not Compute
Tron Released to Theatres
Video Games, “Video Games Go to the Movies”, by Sue Adamo, pgs. 25 – 28, 76 Vol. 1 Num. 2, Oct 1982

Harris, Kathryn. “Disney Builds Better Mousetrap.” The Sacramento Bee (LA Times Wire) 19 July 1982: C1+. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Apr. 2021. Disney’s merchandising people, alert to tie-in possibilities, already have licensed the “TRON” name to 35 manufacturers…
Movie Talk on Yahoo! Movies – Backstory: The Flop That Was ‘Tron’ – bit.ly/gLcRDe
Electronic Games, “Tron: From Game to Film and Back Again” by Bill Kunkel, pgs. 20-22, 42-43, Nov 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Starlog Aug. 1982: 51. Web. Image of ‘Game Grid’ arcade at Epcot, Walt Disney World, 1982
Maya, Michael, and Desmond Pfeiffer. “The Brave Little Toaster: Disney to Animate the Tom Disch Story.” Cinefantastique June-July 1983: 11. Internet Archive. 27 Sept. 2019. Web. 18 Nov. 2020. Lassiter hopes to have THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER ready by the summer of 1985. In addition, there is serious consideration being given to making the film the first full-length animated feature to be produced in 3-D ever.
 
Page 4 – Success in the Arcade Arena
Bally Midway’s Tron Arcade Video Game
“Newspeak, Mickey Micro.” Editorial. Softalk May 1982: 95. Softalk V2n09 May 1982.”Bally, the nation’s largest arcade game manufacturer, has created a Tron video game for it’s 240 Aladdin’s Castle arcades as well as theatres that will be exhibiting the film.” Internet Archive. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.
Castellano, Gene. “‘Tron’ Victorious in Video Wars.” Philadelphia Daily News 14 Dec. 1982: 42. Newspapers.com. Web. 5 Apr. 2021. It’s official: the coin-operated game of the year – as determined by the editors Electronic Games magazine – is “Tron,” the space-age arcade game inspired by the Disney film of the same name.
Game Pitches – Midway – Tron (1981) – www.gamepitches.com/2010/05/midway-tron-1981

The Arcade Flyer Archive – Discs of Tron – http://bit.ly/h8XpHb
www.habosarcade.com – Discs of Tron – www.habosarcade.com/DiscsofTron.htm
Sarow S.r.l. Dixisone Computer. Aquarius Home Computer System Catalogo. Rome: Sarow S.r.l. Dixisone Computer. Internet Archive. 17 Feb. 2020. Web. 22 Aug. 2021. Image of Tron from Aquarius Tron Deadly Disks page
Fly, The. “Top Secret.” Comp. Scottithgames. Electronic Fun with Computers & Games Apr. 1983: 98. Internet Archive. 28 May 2013. Web. 7 Sept. 2021. Tron the Game made more money than Tron the Film! The confusing $21 million movie died at the box office, but the arcade game has taken in $60 million all by itself…
Bob Geldof, Boomtown Rat. 1982. NYC. Vidiot. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 29. Print. Bob Geldof playing ‘Tron’
 
Page 4 – Tron Comes Home
Home Games Based on Tron
MobyGames, Tron Licensees – www.mobygames.com/game-group/tron-licensees
Intellivision Lives – Tron Deadly Discs – www.intellivisiongames.com/bluesky/games/credits/action2.html#discs
Intellivision Lives – Tron Solar Sailer – www.intellivisiongames.com/bluesky/games/credits/voice2.html#solar_sailer

CoverGalaxy.com Forums – Tron 2.0 [UK/English] – bit.ly/fYs5tB
 
Page 5 – Tron’s Legacy
Tron Legacy Sequel
CNN, New ‘Tron’ shines glowing light on an arcade classic, by Doug Gross, Dec. 17, 2010 – bit.ly/eZ2s7G

Tron’s Triumphant Return to Cyberspace, Wired Dec. 2010 – www.wired.com/magazine/2010/11/ff_tron/all/1
 
Page 5 – Traces of Tron
Enduring Legacy of Tron
Image of Tomy TRON LED game taken by William Hunter at the Videogame History Museum display, CGE 2014 in Las Vegas
Ohio State University, College of the Arts, Design Department – design.osu.edu/carlson/history/tron.html

Den of Geek, Justin Springer and Steven Lisberger Interview – bit.ly/dKUJGC
 
Unannotated, Uncategorized or I Just Don’t Damn Remember!
UGO – 11 Things You May Not Know About Tron – www.ugo.com/movies/tron-facts
Starlog, “Tron: A Revolution in Fantasy Filmmaking”, pg. 15, June 1982
TCM – Tron – www.tcm.com/thismonth/article/?cid=18609
The Tribe – Tron: Ahead of Its Time – www.thetribeonline.com/film-tron.html


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