by Michael S. Palmer
It's a good week for 'Tron' fans looking to pick up the 2D 'Tron' / 3D 'Tron Legacy' 5-disc Blu-ray combo pack (There are also individual releases for each film, as well as a special edition. Please take our Facebook poll to tell use which release(s) you're buying!) on Tuesday, April 5. HDD's review hit the streets a few days ago, and was given the ever-so-elusive and rare "Must Own" rating.
I was personally given a chance to check out both movie on Blu-ray in advance of sitting down with the creative teams behind the films. I must say, 'Tron' has never looked this good, and I was surprised by the active, almost aggressive nature of its 30 year old soundtrack. In terms of 'Legacy', well lets just say, as you'll see below, the maestros at Skywalker Sound seem to think this 7.1 DTS-HD MA track is THE new demo for home theatre. Be prepared, dear readers, to blow off the roof and piss off thy neighbors. Hell, I thought my living room was going to fall down around me, and I was still 20 dB under Reference. I can't wait to check it out in 3D when I finally upgrade.
Before we get to the interviews, I wanted to take a quick moment to talk about Disney Second Screen. Steve wasn't able to test it in his review, but this BD-Live exclusive feature was made available at the junket for testing. The idea here is that the free app (for iPads and computers) will sync up with 'Tron Legacy' and other Disney films as they play, providing the audience with immediate access to mini-featurettes, production art, storyboards, and other behind-the-scenes material. In my short time with the app on a first generation iPad (which had a nifty Tron themed protective case), Disney Second Screen was a super clean program, intuitive, and very informative. Users can sync up to the film at any time, but also explore all available materials anywhere in the film's timeline. It might not be for everyone, but for fans, it's a very nice extra; one that keeps your HD display free to exhibit the film fully without any popups. Definitely one of, if not the, best BD-Live applications available now.
Now let's turn our attention to the interviews, which were all too short for the many questions I hoped to ask. Thanks to all the readers who submitted questions, and to our friends at Disney and Click Communications for giving us access to the filmmakers -- who are no doubt exhausted from listening to stuttering interviewers asking them the same questions they've heard at least a billion (or two) times before.
First, we have Steven Lisberger, screenwriter and director of 'Tron':
HDD: ARE YOU A FAN OF BLU-RAY? DO YOU HAVE A HOME THEATRE?
SL: I don't have a home theatre system yet. I'm working on that. I'm shopping. I was hoping Disney was going to send one over, but they haven't. They sent over some of the Blu-rays, but not the player. I think the quality of the imagery [on Blu-ray] is phenomenal on multiple levels. Anytime I see something with 'Tron' that's interactive, like elecTRONica at Disneyland where you can walk around in a 'Tron' environment, to the features on the Blu-ray. It just feels so right for a digital realm like 'Tron' to be able to move through it and be the User. Also the fact that 'Tron', with its world made up of light and energy, to have that quality of image that's light-emitive instead of a beam of light off some white card in a theatre. It just makes it pop, from the resolution to the contrast. It looks like 'Tron' looks in my head.
And the fact that I got to go back on the first film after all these years, it's like a died and went to movie heaven. I got to rebalance it in terms of color saturation and values and reframe some shots. You've got to understand we made 'Tron' in such a panic, the first one, we did all the special effects shots in less than 9 months. 1,200 shots, which was less than half the time we've had on the new one. Most of [the first film's] shots were signed off on after the first composite. Whatever they looked like when they came out of those cameras, we had no choice, we had to accept it. This was really the first chance I had to go through and make it look like it looked in my head.
HDD: WELL, IT CERTAINLY LOOKS FANTASTIC ON BLU-RAY. TAKE US BACK TO THE BEGINNING, WHERE DID 'TRON' COME FROM?
SL: It goes back to an animation studio I had in Boston in the '70s with a lot of talented people. I saw computer animation for the first time at MIT. Phil Mittleman, who is now deceased and started MAGI, went to MIT and showed a reel. It really impressed me. It was the rudimentary building blocks to computer animation. I had gone to art school and film school, and the idea of working with building blocks goes right to the core of artistic tradition. I liked that, and I saw PONG. Artists traditionally like finding a fresh arena that doesn't have anyone's stamp on it yet. If you look at Disney Studios in the old days with their animation features, they were always trying to find some fresh arena.
I had just finished 'Animal Olympics', which was a traditionally animated production about the Olympic Games. Then when I saw video games, I was in a sort of classical mood because the games all go back to the Roman gladiatorial games. And I thought, PONG looks like it could be a death match. Then I put that together with the idea of working in computer animation and we had the beginnings of something. Then I wanted to come up with a key character for [Disney], so John Norton, one of my primary artists, and I came up with a video warrior made out of neon. And that was Tron, for electronic.
All of that started coming together aesthetically, and then I started doing research on early computer animation and I met programmers. The story emerged around what was happening at the time, which is, were we going to overthrow the dominance of the IBM mainframes, and get personal computers? Were we going to have access to our own information and have these tools? It was a very idealistic time. We believe if we could just do that, the world would be perfect. And now here we are 30 years later and the world's perfect, so I was right!
HDD: DOES THE SECOND FILM, USING MODERN 3D CGI, LOOK MORE OR LESS LIKE WHAT YOU HAD ORIGINALLY IMAGINED?
SL: It's a different era with different ways to create. Joe [Kosinski, the director of 'Tron Legacy'] is empowered because of how interactive the technology is today. He works in real time. When I made the first film, it was the opposite. [We had to] conjure up things in the dark and imagine what something, that you're working on now and won't see for two months, might look like. We felt empowered that we were trusted with the production money to work in the dark, with the studio believing in our preliminary artwork that [the finished product] would emerge a better version of that in the months ahead.
But there was no interactivity with any of the tools. The companies that were making the CG on 'Tron' had no way to get the images from their monitors to me other than to shoot Polaroids and mail them to me. Then I would get Polaroids of the Light Cycle and go, "now the blue Light Cycle should be a little bit more ahead here, blah blah blah." There wasn't a single computer on the Disney lot. We made a movie about computers, but we had no computers. The only computers on the picture were the ones at the CG houses. The heaviest one of those, the most powerful that did the MCP, was 256K. Your cell phone has way more computing power that we had on the whole film.
One frame of the 'Tron Legacy' Light Cycles -- one frame -- has more processing to it than everything in 'Tron.'
WHAT WAS THE RESOLUTION OF THE ORIGINAL 'TRON' CG?
SL: 'Tron' was the transition from analog to digital. Even though the film tried to look fully digital, it was for the most part analog. It was hand made. People don't understand; they think those circuit suits were done by computer. No, it was all put on there with black tape and sharpies and magic markers as black. Then each frame was blown up to a place matte sized Kodalith, like an animation cell in a traditional old style animated movie. And then all the various hold out mattes, positive and negative, were made so that each color in each area of the frame could be exposed to tinted light with various diffusion filters. The average frame in the electronic world was exposed 15 times, some as many as 30-35 times. It was just an enormous undertaking of hand labor. It was really only the CG stuff, which is about 15 minutes of the movie -- the Light Cycle shots, the MCP, the Recognizers -- that was the stuff that was full CG.
HDD: WHAT'S NEXT IN THE 'TRON' UNIVERSE?
SL: These things always come back to an idea and a story that comes to life. We worked for years, decades, on 'Tron Legacy' in the early stages to come up with a concept that we felt would lend itself to a movie. "Flynn being lost somewhere up the cyber river" opened the door to everything that followed after that. In this case, we've done so much groundwork laying out the whole world of 'Tron', there's many possible story grids to pursue. People are working on it and thinking about it, but until we come up with a story that's so compelling that everybody at Disney wants to see that story, it's not going to happen. It's no different for a 'Tron' sequel than it is for any movie. It comes down to that compelling story that drives the whole thing. So we'll see.
Next, we have Joseph Kosinski, the director of 'Tron Legacy':
HDD: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT BLU-RAY?
JK: When I was working on this movie, I spent most of my time at big screening rooms or up at Skywalker. I was lucky to have access to the highest quality facilities in the world. So I wasn't really focusing on my home set up, so it could use some work. I do have a nice 58" Plasma to check the first masters of the Blu-ray discs that came off the line. I have to say I'm really happy how the film transfers to Blu-ray. What you can do in the home these days exceeds what you can even see in the movie theatre. A good home theatre makes this film look better and sound better than it has.
HDD: DID YOU GO 3D?
JK: I did not. I went 2D just because, first of all I have an 18 month old who would destroy any glasses required, but I just like being able to plop down on the couch, not put anything on, and just watch a movie.
HDD: YOUR SURROUND SOUND TRACK IS ONE OF THE FIRST FILMS MIXED FOR THEATRICAL DOLBY 7.1. HAVE YOU UPGRADED TO 7.1, AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE HAVING THOSE TWO EXTRA CHANNELS?
JK: I personally don't have it at home, but when we were mixing it, it was fun to use those extra channels to make the sound more immersive and really play with the directionality of the sequence like Light Cycles and Disk Wars. Our mix is massive. The guys at Skywalker said this is the new reference for home theatre systems because it really pushes all frequencies and your system to its limits.
HDD: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH 'TRON LEGACY'? WAS THERE ALREADY A SCRIPT IN DEVELOPMENT?
JK: There was no script. There was only the beginnings of an idea. Starting in the summer of 2007, I had a meeting with producer Sean Bailey who said Disney's been kicking the idea of a 'Tron' sequel around for 15 years, haven't been able to crack it, what would your take be? I basically said I would be interested in embracing the spirit and story of the original film, but taking it forward 28 years rather than rebooting and starting from scratch. I went into the studio and said "I can talk about what the film's going to look and feel like, but I think it would be a lot better if I made a short test piece for you guys to watch. I'll make it like a trailer and you guys can watch this and even use it as a piece of marketing if you wanted to." That's how that test piece [the Comic-Con trailer] originated.
At that point, we didn't have a script, but I convinced Jeff [Bridges] to be in it. And it was just this little sequence that I came up with that started with a Light Cycle race and ended up with Kevin Flynn trapped in the machine watching over as a program is destroyed by Clu, his doppelganger. I shot that in 2008, and shortly after we had finished it, Sean and I somehow convinced the studio to show it at Comic-Con as a surprise.
HDD: ANY FIRST DAY JITTERS COMING ONTO THE SET OF YOUR FIRST FEATURE?
JK: Absolutely. I think any director feels pressure stepping onto their movie set the first day regardless which movie it is, but particularly their first. But I'd had a great team. I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the kind of movie I wanted to make. And I knew it was going to be a learning experience so I just gave it my best and I'm really proud of the movie.
HDD: I LOVE ALL THE CALLBACKS TO THE FIRST FILM, BUT IT SEEMED LIKE YOU PUT A LOT OF PERSONAL TOUCHES INTO 'LEGACY'. FLYNN'S HOUSE SEEMS ALMOST LIKE A CALLBACK TO ONE OF YOUR NIKE COMMERCIALS.
JK: Kevin Flynn's safe house was something I drew on a napkin for the concept test, and gave it to a digital modeler who built that with me over the course of a couple days. So that's what appeared in the test, a digital version of the safe house. And then for the movie, I got to build it the full thing. So the experience of being able to walk onto a set that had been just a sketch a year and a half before was a pretty mind-blowing experience.
HDD: WAS THE LIGHT JET SEQUENCE ALWAYS A PART OF THE STORY?
The Light Jets were my contribution to the Tron vehicle universe, so yes, that was always meant to be a part of the story.
HDD: WHY MULTIPLE ASPECT RATIOS FOR THE BLU-RAY RELEASE?
JK: That's what we did for IMAX, so the decision was made that the IMAX version would be the best version for home video because most people would be watching it on a 16x9 television. So for 43 minutes you get to fill that screen. It felt like the best option, but I was saying to someone earlier it would be nice in the future, via some sort of branching technology, the opportunity to watch it all the way through at 2.39, or to watch the IMAX version because some people might feel distracted by [the changing aspect ratios]. Some might think it's cool to open up, but it'd be cool to have that choice.
HDD: WHY 2.39 AS YOUR ASPECT RATIO?
JK: Personally, for composition reasons, I prefer that format, but because the IMAX screen is 4x3, I felt like in that format, it seemed an opportunity to be a little more immersive.
HDD: ABOUT THE "FLYNN LIVES" SHORT FILM (AVAILABLE ON THE BLU-RAY)…
JK: That was shot for the Blu-ray after the movie. It was meant to fill out some of the storylines that surround our film. Storylines we couldn't cover in our film. And we hint at some storylines that we might pick up in the future.
HDD: IS THERE AN UPDATE ON A SEQUEL?
JK: We're working on the script, and once the Blu-ray comes out [April 5] and the animated series hits Disney XD next year, and we get a story we're really happy with, then we'll make our case to Disney for another movie.
HDD: I READ THAT YOU PLAYED DAFT PUNK ON SET TO SET THE MOOD. HOW DID THEY BECOME INVOLVED?
JK: It started with me calling them up. I wanted to meet them. We had breakfast at the 101 Café in Hollywood. This is before I shot the teaser, so I told them what I wanted to do, about the teaser, the idea for the movie. I wanted to embrace the first film. Obviouly [Daft Punk] are huge 'Tron' fans, so that started a discussion creatively what we wanted to do with the score. And there were involved from the very beginning.
HDD: WHAT WERE SOME OF THE OTHER TRICKS YOU DID TO HELP THE ACTORS IMAGINE A WORLD THAT WOULD BE CREATED LATER?
JK: I had pre-vis, storyboards, concept art… I spent a year designing the world before we shot this movie. We had a lot of material to show them to get everyone's head in this movie.
HDD: PIXAR ALWAYS TALKS ABOUT FILMS NEVER REALLY BEING "DONE," BUT RATHER THEY ARE "RELEASED." ANYTHING YOU'D LOVE TO STILL BE WORKING ON?
JK: We didn't really get to dig into the story of Tron in this film, so hopefully that's a storyline and a character we can learn more about in the next movie.
And last, but certainly not least, here's the Academy Award Winning Eric Barba, Visual Effects Supervisor for 'Tron Legacy', 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', and 'Zodiak':
HDD: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT BLU-RAY?
EB: As a vfx supervisor, to the detriment of my home sometimes, my picture has to be pristine at home. I can't look at stuff that's not correct. It drives me crazy. I have a plasma, a surround sound system, a media room, and I love to crank it (sometimes my wife tells me to turn it down).
HDD: HAVE YOU UPGRADED TO 3D?
I'm waiting for the new 65" Panasonic coming out in May.
HDD: LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND. HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO VISUAL EFFECTS? WHERE DID YOU START?
EB: I came about it in a little bit of an odd way, but ultimately it worked out really well. I went to Art Center College of Design to be a car designer, and when you're a car designer they teach you to paint, draw, sketch, sculpt – basically, communicate visually on different mediums. And one of the last tools they taught us was how to sculpt and communicate with computers. Back then, this was 1992, we had these silicon graphics workstations that were these huge refrigerators that sat next to your desk and they cost a fortune – like $60K a pop – and the software they were running was $120K per license. So we had this really great computer lab and I learned to use those tools. When I graduated, I had two job offers. One to work to go back east designing action toys. And the other to go to Hollywood to work for a company that was re-selling these systems to the Hollywood community to do visual effects. At the time, I was very intrigued by an instructor who had done the shields for the first Batman movie, when Batman comes back. And I realized I could use all my design skills, my art skills, these computer skills that I learned, and could go make movies. So I took that job, which lead to my first assignment on a Steven Spielberg TV series and I never looked back.
HDD: WHAT TYPES OF WORK DID YOU DO?
EB: I started as a digital artist. I did many things, from modeling, painting, compositing, animating, I did them all because I had that artistic background out of school. Back then, and this is no joke, we would literally train security guards to do visual effects because there were so few people who knew computer tools when we were ramping up on 'Titanic' and 'The Fifth Element' at Digital Domain. We needed artists, and we would train people. The downside to that is we were maybe training people who don't have any artistic skills. But I had the advantage of having all [the artistic] skills first, and computer skills second so that benefited me. Now we have these kids that are being trained in both coming out of school, which is fantastic.
HDD: DO YOU MISS GETTING INTO THOSE INDIVIDUAL ELEMENTS (MODELING, COMPOSITING, PAINTING)?
EB: Absolutely, the artist in me [does]. I go to work and instead of being able to create something, I get my satisfaction because I'm using a group of artists to put something really great together on the screen, but I definitely miss doing my own art. You never lose that drive to want to do your own stuff?
HDD: ANY INTEREST IN FEATURE DIRECTING?
I've directed commercials, but I haven't had an opportunity to do more stuff because I've been involved with movies, but we'll see what happens. I really enjoy what I do, love working with the directors I've gotten to work with. They've been very collaborative, so they've allowed me that outlet to, "hey, if I want to try this cool thing, what do you think?" They say, "yeah, go for it."
HDD: DID YOU WORK ON THE COMIC-CON TRAILER?
EB: Not in the initial part. I had worked with Joe [Kosinski] on one of the first commercials he did and he asked me to do it, but I was involved with 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons' at the time. So I helped him get it going, and handed if off.
HDD: HOW HAS 3D CHANGED HOW YOU APPROACH VISUAL EFFECTS?
It's made my job a lot harder, for many reasons. At first, I remember the crappy anaglyph glasses, and the cheesy effect popping out at you. So not cool. But the way that Joe and Disney wanted to use it on this film was to use [3D] to make a much more immersive world. We started shooting this movie in full stereo 3D before anyone had seen a frame of 'Avatar'. And that created an immersive world, but we didn't know how that was going to work out, so we created our own rules, and Joe had his vision of what he wanted to do with it. It's certainly a lot harder to finish a film [for 3D].
HDD: IS IT DOUBLE THE RENDERING?
EB: You do have to do both at the end, but every version you're not rendering both eyes out. We would finish up a 2D version and when it was finaled, flip the shot to stereo and all. Because all along in parallel, we had done all the pre-vis for the film in stereo layout so even if you had live action footage, we could show Joe what it would look like in stereo to make sure he was happy with the convergence inner ocular when seeing it on a big screen. We had a plan of how to do it quickly and economically on a movie this scale. But the slow down happens all behind the scenes. We have a lot of artists working very hard because the tracking is much more difficult, paint and roto is much more difficult, the composite's much more difficult. It's double the disk space for sure. We used over 100 terabytes of disk space on this film.
HDD: WHAT RESOLUTION ARE YOU GUYS WORKING IN FOR THIS FILM?
Resolution is determined by the camera you're shooting on, and because we had gone with the [Sony] F35, the native resolution was a traditional HD of 1920 x 1080. You could consider that 2K because a traditional film scan at 2K is 2046, but you put out 1828 because you take out 200 pixels and squeeze it to fit the soundtrack. So 1920 has to go through that same process, but for all intents and purposes, it's a wash, maybe a little more. That was the native format of the camera, so everything was finished in that regard. You're finishing everything in 1.78:1 which ultimately is the IMAX release ratio. [The other scenes] were cropped or masked to get a 2.35:1 (scope) picture.
HDD: SO YOU ONLY FINISHED THE FILM IN 1.78:1 for the IMAX SCENES?
EB: Our delivery was 1.78 from day one. That was a Disney decision. Now, there are some shots that will never exist in 1.78 because of the way the film was framed during live action production.
HDD: ARE THE SUITS IN THE MOVIE ACTUALLY LIT, OR IS THAT AN EFFECT?
EB: Both. They actually put out light, which created huge technical challenges. [The suits] were very sophisticated. They looked beautiful on set. Right before we would roll camera, all the actors would turn the suits on and light up (they had batter packs on themselves), and you get this beautiful image. The reason we had to adjust them just color. We added a little bit of crackle, a little bit of soft glow to those images just to give it a little bit more life. And then the colors weren't quite the colors Joe had wanted, so we'd have to adjust some of the color. Predominantly, though, we had a really good run at it in-camera. Reflections off the set and in people's eyes; all in camera.
HDD: HOW DO YOU APPROACH MAKING SOMETHING THAT'S 85 PERCENT DIGITAL FEEL REAL AND WEIGHTED?
EB: It is a challenge. If you look at a modern video game, the image is very flat because the color and contrast in the foreground is the same color and contrast in the background. It gets washed together. Stereo helps us get a sense of depth, but ultimately atmosphere and the glows from all the lights is what are used as an artistic tool. Lens flares help us establish where that convergent plane was, and building the atmosphere as it goes back helps push things back. In some ways, it's like old-school DP techniques.
HDD: WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE EFFECT IN THE FILM?
EB: My favorite sequence is the disk game. As an artist, I wanted a challenge to do something we hadn't seen before. To take what we had seen in the original film and take it to the highest level we possibly could. I think it came out pretty great.
HDD: PIXAR ALWAYS TALKS ABOUT FILMS NEVER REALLY BEING DONE, BUT RATHER THEY ARE RELEASED. ANYTHING YOU'D LOVE TO STILL BE WORKING ON?
EB: You're never done as an artist. People rip this stuff out of your hands. There are sequences that I think are done. And there are others I'd love to take another swing at.
HDD: THANKS AGAIN TO STEPHEN, JOE, ERIC, AND ALL THE KIND FOLKS AT DISNEY AND CLICK. PICK UP 'TRON' AND 'TRON LEGACY' ON TUESDAY, APRIL 5 AND BE SURE TO CHECK OUT DISNEY SECOND SCREEN.