“Greetings. The Master Control Program has chosen you to serve your system on the Game Grid. Those of you who continue to profess a belief in the Users will receive the standard substandard training, which will result in your eventual elimination.”
TRON is a sci-fi movie produced by Disney in 1982 and directed by Steven Lisberger, starring Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn/Club and Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley/TRON. Being one of the first movies to use computer graphics, TRON has a distinctive visual style and, although it wasn’t a success at the box office, it became a cult and is considered the first experiment in computer animation.
Despite its avantgarde look for that time, TRON was nominated for two Oscars, but not for Visual Special Effects: the Academy considered computer graphics as too easy, compared to traditional animation.
Lisberger said that he had the original idea when he saw for the first time Pong, that came out in 1972 and is considered by many the first videogame in history. The director immediately believed that computer graphics could be “very suitable for bringing video games and computer visuals to the screen.”
Contrary to what it may seem, the special effects are only partially realized in CGI: of course the more traditional techniques, such as matte painting, dominate. For example, the glowing circuitry on the costumes of the characters has been painted by hand on each frame. Matte painting is a technique used since the dawn of cinema (it appeared for the first time in the movie Missions of California, 1907). It consists of superimposing transparent plates on the film, hand-drawn with landscape scenes. This technique was used a lot in movies, because it allowed to represent sets and landscapes too expensive to rebuild or impossible to reach.
With the advent of CGI, the technique evolved in Digital Matte: the environments are no longer hand-painted but recreated using computers. At the time, computers were able to generate only static images and not animations: the camera coordinates of the lightcycle sequence were inserted by hand for each frame. It has been estimated that 600 coordinates were necessary to obtain four seconds of movie.
Another technique used was ‘backlight animation’, in which a filtered light passes through each frame to create vibrant effects of colored light, able to give life to the inventive Oscar winning costumes.
In this unique process, the live-action scenes inside the computer world were filmed in black-and-white on a black set, then printed on large format Kodalith high-contrast film and hand-colored with photographic and rotoscopic techniques to give them a “technological” appearance. Those multiple layers, printed on large format and painted, required an even greater workload than the traditional cel animation.
TRON is still an important synonym of innovation, although it may seem today just a movie with outdated special effects. Within it lies a bold art, perhaps one of the last examples of artistic avant-garde: a brave attempt to explore new frontiers of the seventh art and an example of how history is written by those who truly believe they can break traditional patterns, daring to contrast against criticism.
Patterson, Richard (August 1982). “The Making of TRON”. American Cinematographer.
Immersing ourselves in the world of Tron and its recent sequel, Tron: Legacy, we tried to play a small fragment of the famous sequence of the lightcycle. To do this we took advantage of the integration between Adobe After Effects Creative Cloud and Cinema4D. The result is:
In the next round we will provide a tutorial in order to accurately reproduce the effect.