Tron Legacy & Tron’s Legacy

Posted on October 21, 2010




Tron Legacy, the long awaited sequel to the Eighties classic Tron, is almost upon us and it looks as though it will have been worth the wait.

The original 2008 ComicCon promo. This was made as much to convince Disney that it could be done as it was to whet the appetite of fans.

Few films have been as eagerly anticipated as Tron Legacy, not only because of the record-breaking 28 year gap between films, but also because of the technological advances in performance capture, next-generation 3D and photo-realistic digital film-making, which promise to make the sequel as ground-breaking, in terms of visual effects, as the original.

The first official trailer for Tron Legacy.

Not only that but, judging by the trailer, Tron Legacy will be one of the most breathtaking films in terms of design we’ve seen in a long time. Expect to see a beautifully designed and realized, completely 3D environment. The cityscape of the world of Tron Legacy is all dark, translucent glass punctuated with shocks of glowing neon. Familiar vehicles from the original return but have been transformed into sleek, beautiful machines.

The costumes too are a nod to the past, but have been updated to become, dark, form-fitting neoprene suits, shot through with flashes of reflective ice blue or orange magma.

There’s even a nod to the guru of design films in Flynn’s apartment, reflecting the final room in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even the music could not be more fitting, composed as it is by the robot rockers and digital DJs Daft Punk, who also make a cameo appearance in the film. In short, this film is going to look and sound incredible.

Daft Punk’s “The Game Has Changed” from the Tron Legacy OST.

It’s not all about the visuals, though. Behind the design delights is a narrative that appears to have all the hallmarks of a Greek epic. A son, abandoned by his father twenty years before, seeks to rescue him from a digital Tartarus of his own making. There he must confront CLU, a computer generated recreation of his father at the age when he was abandoned. As CLU is his father’s creation, he is at once a representation of his father and also the jealous sibling, making him the ultimate Freudian foe. This will, perhaps, go over the heads of some, but, if handled correctly, could elevate Legacy above the simple summer blockbuster fare, although whether it succeeds or fails will ultimately fall on the talents of the director.

Tron Legacy second trailer.

That responsibility goes to first time feature director Joseph Kosinski. Much has been made of the fact that Kosinski’s background is in architecture, aerospace engineering and product design rather than film-making and many people have felt that perhaps a more experienced film-maker would have been a more appropriate choice. However, when Kosinski graduated from Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, he had a vision of blurring the boundaries between architecture, graphic design and filma. Whilst many considered this to be a “waste of an architecture degree” it was this ambition that lead him to direct a series of highly successful promos and commercials. When one looks at the fusion of computer imagery and compelling narrative in his promos for Nike and Saab, it is far from surprising that Kosinski was chosen to direct.

Joseph Kosinski shows his promo work and talks about his design background at the 5D Conference.

Real virtuality. Kosinski has decided to make practical sets of Tron's digital environments..

This kind of vision is exactly what separated the original Tron from the rest of the output of the 1980s. Thanks to Tron’s director, Steven Lisberger, the first film was way ahead of the curve in terms of digital visual effects. Prior to Tron, computer generated imagery had barely been used in film. Certainly no one had incorporated computer-generated effects sequences to the extent that Tron had, which boasted a full fifteen minutes of fully computer-generated footage.

Tron’s original Lightcycle scene.

Not only is Tron responsible for taking the first leap in the CGI revolution, it is also the first film to really explore the concept of a virtual self, something we are all familiar with these days with the advent of the internet, however, back in 1982, this was a difficult concept for may people to grasp. This notion has been used many times since, but it is important to remember that it was Tron that paved the way for the likes of The Matrix and Avatar.

Despite this, Lisberger’s vision of a virtual world, and the fusing of traditional film-making with computer animation, was met with strong opposition. Indeed, Tron was disqualified from the Best Special Effects category in 1982’s Academy Awards. It seemed that, despite being at the forefront of a process that would ultimately redefine how films were made, the film-making community weren’t quite ready to embrace Lisberger’s vision. Sadly, neither was the cinema going public and Tron failed to ignite the box office.

Garrett Hedlund, Steven Lisberger, Jeff Bridges and Joseph Kosinski on the set of Tron Legacy.

Since then, however, Tron has built up a cult following and has been referenced in popular culture from Family Guy to The Strokes. After nearly thirty years, Tron is now rightly considered to be the seminal computer-generated effects film. Without it there would have been no Titanic, no Toy Story, and no Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Almost every film currently released has some form of digital manipulation and with the integration of computer generated imagery which really began with Tron, CGI has allowed film-makers to be limited only by their imaginations. It is this that is Tron’s real legacy.


You’ve no idea how much I wanted to call this feature “Tron Curtain”, but that’s neither here nor there.