New entries in the “Indiana Jones,” “Die Hard,” and “Rambo” franchises can attest, not to mention recent revivals of The A-Team, Karate Kid, and Smurfs, that Hollywood is high on an ’80s revival train right now. As a child of the eighties it is certainly strange to see so many of your formative icons being mined for box office dollars, but when we all sat down in the Tron Legacy production office we were greeted by something quite apropos of the period VIEW-MASTERS! The same little red ones every ’80s kid had, and when we took a peek through them we got our first taste of the full-fledged world Joe Kosinski & company had been creating here in Vancouver
Jeff Bridges kneeling meditatively in a safe house room with lit glass floors like something out of the end of Kubrick’s 2001.
The same laser machine that originally catapulted Flynn into the computer, now in a cobweb-infested attic.
Little touches like the View-Masters are meant to make a set visit more pleasant and enjoyable, but also to send off a very clear message: “We know EXACTLY how to tickle your nostalgia bone!”
Inside the War Room we saw lots of artwork, including a look at Flynn in two opposing outfits, and also his ageless digital avatar Clu, who unlike Flynn is clean-shaven and whose suit glowed a neon orange, indicating a possible antagonist. They will be using the “Benjamin Button” technology to de-age Jeff Bridges for his scenes as Clu, some of which were briefly glimpsed in the trailer (watch below). Other characters seen in artwork on the wall include Quorra (loyalist), Castor (fixer), Siren (gem), Rinzler (Clu’s primary attack dog), and so on.
It is very clear that Kosinski is aiming for realism in the design work, not a stylized look ala 300. Things look PRACTICAL. There is atmosphere, rain, fog, distant mountains. The streets are shinier, there’s more grime and reflections. There is a real-world shipping crate that reads “Dumont,” a nod to Barnard Hughes’ character. An updated Solar Sailor. There are new, updated Recognizers, black and sleek. When asked if they still come apart into separate pieces, the producer answers, “not on purpose.”
Everything is the same but evolved, as if the universe was still on an old Cray computer like a contained Galopagos, disconnected and evolving. They even brought in Syd Mead, the great visual futurist who was on the original’s design team, for a day to inform these new worlds. Some new additions to the arsenal are also glimpsed, including a four-wheeled dune buggy, Clu’s throne ship, a giant crane on the roof of Encom, and some other vehicles which were only hinted at that really let our imaginations FLY.
There is still an ’82-era light bike in Bridges’ safe house, but whether it will be used or not remains to be seen. Unfortunately, for those of you hoping for a return of the cute “YES” & “NO” companion, we are “sad” to report “BIT” will not be returning.
One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the original TRON, from critics to even vocal supporters like Pixar’s John Lasseter, is that the film did not engage the audience enough emotionally. Given this widely-held opinion, it’s no wonder the producers Justin Springer and Sean Bailey, who have been on the project since 2004, give us a pep-talk about the emotional direction the film will take, with Sam Flynn going into the computer to search for his father. This is a far better anchor for an audience than the first one, where everything hung on Flynn searching for a piece of information.
After having our run of the War Room we made our way to The Quantum Room, which is where all the wardrobe are kept. As some readers pointed out after our previous article, the lit-circuit look on the 1982 costumes was not achieved with computers but rather through painstaking frame-by-frame optical backlit compositing. It is no secret that studios farm out more time-consuming work like this to Asia as a standard cost-cutting measure, which explains the large number of animators literally credited in Taiwanese!
These new suits, however, are lit practically. The costume repair shop had many of the distinct character suits (136 costumes total), all of which have paper-thin, radio-controlled lights integrated into the black molded rubber. The wiring is safe, and is described as being almost like silkscreening with light, run on nanolithium batteries that can power an electric car. The “lamps” are all Velcro so they can come off and be replaced when necessary. Sean’s suit also has a built-in light disc, a parachute, and the legs have little round grenades in them, in case you’re curious.
Neville Page, the brilliant young creature designer responsible for, among other things, the Cloverfield monster, ventured out of his usual beastly wheelhouse to design these new suits. With his head shaved bald for an appearance related to his Romulan designs for Star Trek, Page explained the new suits for which light was “the glue” that held them together.
“The thrust of my efforts were really the specialty costumes,” he said. “This is considered specialties to a degree because of the lighting but it’s still kind of sewn together and fabricated in that respect. But the ones that are the foam suits so the black guards, Rinsler, Jarvis, those kind of costumes are the ones I had the most time spent on.
“As you know the original was leotards with black tape, and the helmet was a hockey helmet with black tape on it. So it’s risky to homage it and have it work. Particularly since the technology that we had to use was going to be practical lighting within the suits. In the first one, where the technology is nowhere near what we have today we weren’t able to do the thin precision lines that they were able to do, simply because of the fact that our lights had to be bright enough for the camera to pick them up. So our lines kept getting bigger and wider, and when it got bigger and wider the potential for them to break was higher so we’d have to break it at the legs. It was an interesting awareness that we couldn’t do as much as they could do back then graphic design wise. But clearly we’re able to do more in terms of sculpture.”
We got to really see these suits in action entering the soundstage housing the massive set for the End-Of-Line Club, a bustling bar filled with many colorful denizens of the electronic world. The whole set must have been at least 3-stories high, with huge diagonal columns. There is a big LED panel under the floor connected to a laptop running footage of clouds to surreal, trippy effect. There is a bar stocked with blue liquid in large bladders, a partially-bluescreened staircase (the steps will float) leading to a stage, and a DJ booth housing none other than French house music duo Daft Punk, who are also creating the soundtrack for the film. Guy and Thomas were wearing Tron-World iterations of their usual black-helmet outfits, and piping in a droning, rhythmic cut they had created for the scene that completely fits the New Wave cyber-punk, proto-fascist vibe.
Michael Sheen walked (or rather WAS walked) onto the set looking like Ziggy-era David Bowie, with shocking white hair, tight-white leather outfit, pale skin, piercing white neon contacts, and, of course, a pimp cane! His suit was so tight he had to be assisted to merely lean on a tall stool to talk about his nightclub impresario character, Castor.
“Well I remember when I first met Joe he was saying that this character is a showman,” said Sheen in his chipper English accent. “Wants to have big energy, for it to be very colorful and vivid and very different than everything else that has come before in the film. He’s a kind of chameleon character so you’re never quite sure who the real him is and keeps changing all the time. There’s a little bit of Frank-N-Furter, a little bit of Ziggy Stardust, a little bit of Joel Grey from ‘Cabaret,’ there’s all those kind of things in here.
“He owns this club and he’s supposedly the coolest cat in the city. He entertains in the club as well as being the owner of it. Apparently he’s also part of a resistance movement within the world of Tron, and Sam Flynn gets sent my way because there’s some cackle who might be able to help him, and if you want to get to him you have to go through me so that’s about all I’m going to tell you.”
In the scene being shot, Sam Flynn is being given a flamboyant tour of the club by Castor, who ascends the staircase, exclaiming “Have a drink, courtesy of the End-Of-Line Club. Libations for everyone! Change the scheme, ELECTRIFY THE BOYS AND GIRLS!” A tall, statuesque female clubgoer grabs Sam and sleekly directs him towards the bar, where TRON creator Steven Lisberger is bartending. Castor points his cane at Lisberger and gives him a little salute. An appropriate cameo.
The suits look glorious onscreen, but clearly painful in real life.
“I like the way it looks, and that is it,” Sheen explained. “There is nothing else I like about it. There is not one bit of it that is comfortable, but it looks fantastic and the work that’s gone into it all the work on the wardrobe department on this film has just been incredible. You know, they’ve worked so hard and I’ve had about six costume fittings over a series of, you know, a whole slew of months. Each time it gets tighter, each time I think I have to lose a little bit more weight. The fact that it lights up, all that kind of stuff is incredible.”
Olivia Wilde, who plays Quorra, was also on hand during the shooting, and while she was not as agitated by the costume, she also happened to not be in hers at the moment, appearing in her street clothes and looking very at-ease.
“I won’t complain ’cause we’re really lucky to get to wear them,” she said, “but they’re not easy. So whenever we’re sitting there straining or, you know, figuring out how to move in them, Jeff says, ‘Well, you know, in the first film, we wore basically white, you know, white leotards.’ Not easy for any man or woman.”
Apparently her character does more than her fair share of ass-whupping in the film, which required a lot of acrobatics and martial arts training. She also trained on a flight simulator at the U.S. Air Force base in Arizona for the A-10.
“I play Quorra,” she continued. “I’m a close confidant of Jeff Bridges’ character Flynn. Close, personal confidant. I don’t think it will give anything away to say that Joan of Arc was a major inspiration for my character. As far as other films I think there’s something to be said for Natalie Portman’s character in ‘The Professional.’ So I don’t know if you can imagine a mixture between that little girl and Joan of Arc ”
The camera glides through the crowd and around the set on a long crane running on an electric track hanging from the ceiling. A Sony F-35 dual lens camera is contained inside a single metal box on the end of the crane, to enable the 3D shooting. Unlike many recent films that have opted to cheat and post-convert to 3D, Kosinski is shooting with the same Cameron-Pace system used to shoot “Avatar.” It is actually on a motion control rig, the first time its been used, which was mainly installed for a big fight sequence so they could get clean plates.
As each take happens, Kosinski watches the realtime footage on a polarized 3D monitor set up in video village. We got to try out the glasses ourselves, and all agreed the 3D delineates the levels of foreground, middle ground, and background in a way that adds depth and realism. The 3D will only be used in the Tron World, the transition to which will be very similar to the transition from black & white to color in “The Wizard of Oz.” When the director is not there he casually talks shop with his actors and crew, a very calm, assured presence on the set. Occasionally he will consult with Lisberger, who in his costume is enthusiastic, smiling, clearly enjoying himself and in his element.
This is a fully populated sequence, giving the appearance of a speakeasy. You will get to see a cross-section of different inhabitants/programs. Just from the few shots we see, the elegance and restraint of Kosinski’s style is evident. “Lots of energy on this one, lots of crosses lights on!” he bellows. The lights are controlled by radio, and it is fun to watch everyone’s costume turn on at once.
After the debut of the trailer, and what we saw on set, there is no longer any doubt Tron Legacy will be a milestone visual achievement. Whether this film will ultimately have the emotional impact on audiences the original missed the mark on remains to be seen, but Wilde is very hopeful.
“The first one was more of a cautionary tale,” she says. “So this one is sort of what happens when that cautionary tale has not been heeded. When there’s been 30 years of technology becoming increasingly powerful, where are you left at that point?
“Just in the three months I’ve been working on this, I feel what I’ve learned is like I was saying to Jeff, you have to treat it like it’s a character piece, like it’s any other film. And that it’s fun. I mean this movie should feel like a ride. It should feel like an adventure, and that’s what I think what we’re making, something that people will want to see again and again because it’s enjoyable. It does have emotional weight to it, but it should still feel like a fantastic ride. So I think that’s what we’re doing. And I think — God I’m just so excited!”
Tron Legacy opens in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D theaters on December 17. You can watch the trailer below!