The Visuals of TRON: Legacy Deconstructed

Seen TRON: Legacy yet? As with many hotly anticipated sequels, it’s disappointing. Those revolutionary visuals were there (ish), but it lacked the charm of the original. Back in 1982, the original’s unheralded visual design was like peering into a polygon playpen, and that graphic style went on to influence many digital artists—you can see it’s luminescent grids resonating in everything from installations to photography to kinetic sculptures. The film also featured a video game playing hacker as its protagonist, which surely must have been a first. That, combined with the idea of entering into a code-based world gave it a sense of awe and excitement, a wonderland for a new digital aesthetic. OK, there was some cheesy dialogue, corny place names (Input/Output Tower anyone?) and a character called Ram, but that was part of the appeal. It was the first true geek movie, with lines like “Yes I’m old. Old enough to remember when the MCP was just a chess program!”. It was also unique because it covered a subject matter that made it a movie about itself, in that it was a film about computer programs created by computer programs. And it marked the arrival of CG filmmaking.

Sure, it was breaking no boundaries with its by-the-numbers plot to take down the Master Control Program (MCP) and save the world, but that didn’t matter much because it was all about the production design, digital effects, and costumes. In other words, it looked like nothing else. And this tradition is continued in the sequel thanks to Digital Domain, the visual effects company founded by James Cameron and Scott Ross. How did they go about it? Watch this VFX reel and you’ll be a little wiser as to how they used computer animation, face tracking, blue screens, and motion capture to make those awesome-looking light cycles and turn back time on Jeff Bridges’ face (although digi-Jeff Bridges still looks like he’s hiking through uncanny valley). It’s a great watch, better than the movie in fact, and a fitting accompaniment to the sound design featurette that was released a while back. There are spoilers in abundance, so be warned.