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TRON: LEGACY

Effects and Technology
"TRON: Legacy” is a showcase for today's technology and features some firsts in cinematic history: It is the first 3D movie to integrate a fully digital head and body to create the younger version of Jeff Bridges' character; the first to make extensive use of self-illuminated costumes; the first to create molded costumes using digital sculpture exclusively, creating molds directly from computer files using CNC (Computer Numerical Cutting) technology; and the first 3D movie shot with 35mm lenses and full-35mm chip cameras.

"TRON: Legacy” took the technology known as facial capture to an extraordinary new level. Using a 3D scan of Jeff Bridges, a mold of his face was built and from that a mask was made with 52 holes in it, acting as a template for the facial marker dots tracked by four lipstick cameras attached to a carbon-fiber custom helmet. Meanwhile, a three-dimensional digital version of Bridges was created by Digital Domain using dozens of photographs of Bridges in his early 30s, its movements correlated with the 52 facial markers on the performance mask.

It was the filmmakers' biggest technical hurdle. As director Kosinski says, "I don't think there is anything more difficult than creating a digital human that's going to be in the same scene with other real human beings. And to top that off, it's a digital human that people know…and we must capture all the charisma and personality of Jeff Bridges.”

When playing Clu, Bridges had the 52 markers drawn on his face and wore the Helmet Mounted Camera (HMC); his facial movements fed into the computer and were used to control the expressions and movements of the digital head. Thus, the digital performance of a younger Bridges was controlled by the real Bridges' performance, as if the younger Bridges were actually on screen. The information sent to the computer made it possible to instruct the digital head to speak and emote in the exact same way Jeff Bridges would on set. "Clu had to look, feel, breathe and act exactly like the young Jeff,” comments Academy Award® winner Eric Barba, the film's visual effects supervisor. "Jeff gave us some really great performances to do that with, but it had to be a believable, realistic human—and in this case a perfect early-1980s Jeff Bridges. We took our E-motion Capture technology and pushed it far beyond anything we've done. It raised the bar higher than we've seen before.”

"TRON: Legacy” is the first film to use the Helmet Mounted Camera in live action, allowing the actor to interact with others in the scene. The technique, as producer Sean Bailey points out, "enabled us to come up with scenes that weren't possible. And we had a different challenge than ‘Benjamin Button': what Brad Pitt looks like at eighty years old is speculative, but most people know what Jeff Bridges looked like when he was in ‘Against All Odds,' so we had to match that. It wasn't just technology for technology's sake; it enabled us to write in a whole new way.”

Jeff Bridges embraced the new technology on a personal level. "I love going to movies and whenever I see a big epic film where the character has aged from being a young boy to an old man, traditionally there are different actors playing him in those stages. That's always a little bump for me as I'm sitting there, when they change from one actor to the next. But now as an actor it's very gratifying to know that I can play myself or the character that I'm playing at any age, from an infant to an old man. That's really exciting, especially to be part of this groundbreaking technology.”

As technology strives to create ever more realistic immersive experiences, the question arises as to how far the integration of humans and computers can really go. Does the premise of "TRON: Legacy” bear any relation to reality? The filmmakers wanted the movie to be grounded in a sense of reality and have a sense of scientific truth. They felt if the audiences feel there is some underlying scientific premise that has been broken, then the story won't feel real.

So through producer Jeffrey Silver, the filmmakers reached out to the National Academy of Sciences' Science and Entertainment Exchange to advise them, asking questions like: Could you inject a digital version of a human being into a computer? And, could a digital personality be reconstituted into human form? They brought scientists in for a roundtable discussion just to talk about some of the fundamental concepts of "TRON: Legacy.”

The answers surprised them. It seems that if one had enough computing power and employed the principles of quantum physics in a theoretical process known as quantum teleportation, then it could happen. "We were delighted; it set off our imaginations. Science fiction is not supposed to be reality; it's an extrapolation of what is possible, intended to ignite the imagination,” says Silver.

Director Kosinski adds, "It was amazing how many of these scientists said that movies like ‘TRON' can inspire them in their research to think about things in a different way. So it was a really cool experience.”

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