Set Visit : Tron Legacy

Insert Quarter :

This is a game I hadn’t played before. Apparently if I got past the first level I’d just to both a) visit the beautiful Vancouver for a weekend and b) meet ‘The Dude’ on the set of Disney’s upcoming blockbuster ”Tron Legacy”.

First, a confession : I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original ”Tron”. And not because I wasn’t a science-fiction nut, or had an allergic reaction to anything David Warner, no it was simply for the reason that the 1982 flick was one of the titles we were forced to watch it in film school. And at that stage, the hype had been and gone. I enjoyed it, sure, but I never understood its significance. It seemed fun – nothing more. I’m thinking I just got to it too late. And having a pistol to the head, being forced to watch it, didn’t help matters.

But revisiting the film now, I can understand just how revolutionary a film it was. Looking back at what computers were and how people thought about them in the early 80s vs. what they are today is pretty amazing and goes to show how ahead of the time ”Tron” and writer / director Steven Lisberger were…are.

First Level :

I’m boarding a plane. I’m as excited as a butcher at a barnyard. I don’t know what to expect from ”Tron Legacy”, if only because Disney has held the project under wraps (a smart marketing tool that helped ”Avatar” succeed when the visuals were finally unveiled to their full potential in theaters) – even as the release date approaches, there have been only blips at Comic Con (the footage in the teaser used at Comic Con probably won’t be in the film) and one big billboard on Santa Monica Blvd in Los Angeles which changes the color of the light runners once a month or so.

So here I am – Vancouver.

I’m placed under the wonderful care of Disney’s Olivier Mouroux. And like one of the soldiers in ”Jarhead”, I was well taken care of. Not a scratch on me. Just fun all the way.

Mouroux collects the International Press and takes us to the Canada Motion Picture Park, which also happens to be where Clint’s personal favourite ”Watchmen” was filmed. Vancouver is right up there with Albuquerque for being the “LA” outside of LA of places to shoot films.

Production stills and art covered the room we were led into. The details were impressive, with character sketches in costumes with their names printed, giving great visual images that storyboard artists created with painstaking detail. Set details were also shown, giving an idea of the upgrades / increase in budget from the original sets. We were told that scanning Jeff Bridges in for this film was predicted in the original Tron, not surprising since the film was ahead of its time and predated other technologies that hadn’t happened yet and who knows maybe ones yet to come – such as time travel.

Level Two :

We’re getting into the guts of the game, er, movie now.

This ”Tron” is the mythology of interceding years, independent from the first one so new viewers can get into it. In order to give the right feel to this one, practical sets and soundstages were mixed with VFX, similar to ”Avatar”, and the comparisons don’t stop there. To give you an idea of what the finished product will look like, they are using the brand new Sony F35, Avatar has the previous model, and they are the first to use it.

Director Joe Kosinski worked in and taught architecture at Columbia and directed several commercials – this is his first feature and possibly one of the biggest ever for a first time director. From the details of the artwork and the visit to the set itself though, it was easy to see why he was chosen to direct this visually groundbreaking project. He said that Kubrick, Fincher and Romanek have all influenced him. It is very apparent that Kubrick influenced him based on the lights and sets.

Side note before I forget : Along with shooting in Vancouver, surrounding towns will also be used as sets / locations.

Claudio Miranda (”Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) is the DP and most of the crew is Canadian. They are shooting for 65 days and special rigs have been built for the sets. The technology incorporated to create the effects are interesting, the backlight for phones are used to create the lights in the suits, with orange representing the bad guys. Also, the big jaws on the black guards are a throwback to the ones on the originals, so there is something for old and new fans alike.

Other interesting tech tidbits are that earbuds, fans and glasses with video cameras are rigged into some of the helmets so that actors can see, hear and breathe – kind of important during stunts! Also the colors of the world are mostly gray and black with bright colors and lights. We were told that there is teamwork between the various departments – props / costumes / vehicles – as they all usually intertwine, so this is very much a collaborative project, which is great to see in action.

Bonus Level :

I’m sold. This is going to be the film of the year – everything I’ve heard and seen so far looks stunning.

Disney has brought together quite a team of creative minds on this – a few of the people that worked on ”Benjamin Button”, in addition to Miranda, have been brought on board, bringing with them their advanced technology for digital humans in film.

With the closure of Disney’s studio leg that made ”A Christmas Carol”, this shows Disney’s faith in their ability to get the technology down for digital humans in film.

Technology is the emphasis in this film, by using lesser known actors they could put more money into post and the VFX, with about 30% going to above the line and 50% to VFX, which again, in the Avatar model, was successful. They wanted to make the images photo real, so Jeff Bridges’ head will be used even if it’s not his body in the scene. Other impressive artists advanced in their field include designers at VW that have also designed for Lamborghini and Bugatti cars. They have been brought in to update the light runners.

Final Level :

Though it is tech heavy, let’s not forget the story elements. Steven Lisberger has worked closely with the writers and director and even appears in the film. To the story : Kevin Flynn is back from Tron World and at the top of his company. He gets married and has a son, Sam (Garret Hedlund). Flynn goes to work one day and never comes home. Sam grows up without his father and Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), Flynn’s partner at their company, knows something happened to him. Sam goes to his father’s office and finds the Tron arcade and he enters into the Tron system. Flynn has been living in the grids, and Sam, along with help from Qora (Olivia Wilde) has to try to help him escape.

It will be exciting to see the update on the characters. Michael Sheen plays a character that resembles David Bowie – he’s a comedy club owner in the movie. Jeff Bridges will play both the older and younger versions of Flynn, as well as Clu. Also, Qora is a strong female character, unlike any female characters in the original Tron. She is a close, personal confidant of Flynn’s.

Just to give you an idea of what the costumes are like, it takes Garrett 45 minutes to get into his costume!

Also, he and Olivia can do most of their own stunts but stunt doubles are also used in case a certain shot comes out better with the double. Many of the stunt people used were found by the casting people on Youtube and they are at the top of their field. We watched some of the Youtube footage and saw them on the set, they are amazing. Olivia compared being on the 3D / practical sets to theater, go figure something centuries old is comparable to 2010 film sets, entertainment has come full circle.

Disney have no doubt a great marketing plan at play for ”Tron Legacy”. Just walking around the set I could already see kids playing at home with lit Frisbees while their parents look at magazines with fashion spreads influenced by the costumes, futuristic makeup and hair dos that would make Lady Gaga jealous. There are exciting vehicles too that big kids will want to take home.

Oh and, fiscally speaking, there seems to be already plans for a sequel… a franchise This film will be under 100 minutes, we’re told, leaving audiences wanting more.

This ”Tron” was a long time coming, with Steven Lisberger discussing a follow up film with Disney ten years ago. 28 years after the original, ”Tron 2” is being made. Goes to show how fast things happen behind the scenes in showbiz. The original cost was about 17 million, with 10 million towards the actors and 7 million towards the VFX, now those numbers have been inflated and probably reversed. A fun fact I didn’t know is that the first Tron caused a brownout in Burbank while it was being shot.
Also didn’t know that computer programmers, Mobius and Sydney influenced Steven for the original and it was shot on black velvet.

The most interesting interview I did was with the man himself, Steven Lisberger, who pointed out that the first ”Tron” was a bridge between analog and digital. He sees the problem with modern filmmaking being that the immediacy of playback allows more people to have input on the cut and tell the director what to do. That said, Steven does try to “whisper into Joe’s ear” what he wishes someone else told him on the first set. He feels the storyline resonates idealism about how cyberspace might be and Steven considers himself an Internet theorist.

I must thank Clint for letting me attend this on behalf (but he’s done plenty of these, so my time was due yo!), and the lovely Wendy Smith and Olivier Mouroux from Disney for inviting Moviehole.

Game Over (until we play again closer to the release!)

You can view the trailer for “Tron Legacy” Here