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The Look Of Tron: Legacy
The filmmakers and designers of "TRON: Legacy” let their creativity soar to develop an exciting aesthetic for the film that would immerse audiences in a stunning visual landscape never before seen—or imagined. With director Joseph Kosinski at the helm to steer the film's look and Darren Gilford tapped as production designer, it was clear to both of them that keeping the first film's spirit alive was key. "The first film established a look that was so iconic,” Gilford explains, "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.”

To accomplish this, heavyweight talents were required, including concept artist David Levy. It was his job to convert Kosinski's ideas to drawings and designs and establish the new film as its own world. "Joe's vision evolved the visuals from the first film. He wanted the Grid to feel exactly like our reality, but with a twist,” Levy says.

Kosinski's aim was to blend the real and the unreal without anyone noticing. "I don't want the audience to know where the line rests, so sometimes I'm going to shoot everything completely practical, and then sometimes, it will be one practical set piece surrounded by blue screen. And if we do it right, it should be unnoticeable; it should be seamless,” says Kosinski.

In this respect, "TRON: Legacy” strays far away from the original. "The marriage of photorealistic computer-generated images and actual practical sets really gives you a sense of the world that you're in,” says Jeff Bridges. "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.” Thus, with Kosinski's set-creation mantra in place and his control of the production design, "TRON: Legacy” does not become an entirely CGI movie. Vancouver's spectacular new 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 a stunning view 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.

Whole streets on the grid were built here, too, on a scale greater than that of most real city streets. "When Sam first walks out of the arcade onto the Grid,” says production designer Darren Gilford, "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 seventy 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.”

Twenty to 25 designers in various art departments churned out concepts and from those, Kosinski and his team created the sets—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 impressive fully constructed sets and varying levels of computer-created landscapes. The special challenge was creating the look of the Grid. Kosinski explains: "Every film requires location scouting and sets. With my background in design I realized that especially for a film like this where everything has to be designed, I needed to be paying attention to the design 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.”

While a lot of production took place on soundstages in Vancouver, the filmmakers decided to ease into shooting with some shots on location in the city itself—a goal easier said than done. Bailey says, "We knew moving into the TRON grid, we would be tackling three to five unprecedented technologies in concert, which we knew would be really hard. So, for the crew to get their feet, we thought, ‘Let's knock out a couple of weeks in the real world.' The real-world shooting turned out to be anything but small— it was shooting guys on top of the tallest building and involved shutting down the biggest street in the city.”

Finally, since "TRON: Legacy” will be released in 3D, filmmakers were confronted with a unilateral challenge, one which would influence every decision made on the visual aspects of the film. Production designer Gilford says, "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.”

Much care and foresight was also taken in the production design to incorporate iconic images from the mythology of "TRON.” For example, the art department incorporated many of the original film's images and props into Flynn's secret lab beneath the arcade. Those with a sharp eye will recognize the Master Control Program desk caddy from the original film, the tabletop computer interface and a condensed version of the Shiva laser, which takes Sam into the Grid. Others will make out a map of the Grid embedded in the code of the background image and Sam's drawings from childhood on the wall.

While creating the look wasn't always easy, Gilford admits that it proved to be immensely gratifying: "For a designer, this was a dream, and for my team as well. I really felt that we were able to assemble one of the most unbelievable art departments for ‘TRON: Legacy.' It was incredibly challenging—but we had a blast doing it.”

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