We were lucky enough to formulate a question and get an exhaustive answer directly from an artist who had a central role in the production of the 1982 movie: Harrison Ellenshaw, Visual Effects Supervisor of TRON (1982) and nominated for the Academy Awards. Ellenshaw has also worked for many other productions, such as Star Wars A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Ghost and Xena. His father, Peter Ellenshaw, won an Oscar for Special Visual Effects with Mary Poppins in 1965 and was officially named “Disney Legend” by Michael Eisner and Roy E. Disney.
Question: When you started working on the movie, since the graphic concept was unique for its time (and perhaps even now), what were the guidelines that the director or the production provided to you? Since there was nothing like it in the movie scene, how did they explain to you what result they intended to achieve? Answer: I was hired at the beginning of pre-production for TRON, about 6 months before shooting began. The director and producer had provided to the studio both a script and some preliminary drawings, but no real plan for how to realize the final film. My first task was to breakdown and budget the film. Disney demanded a budget before they would approve making the film. A breakdown is done based on the script – in this case the visual effects were described in the script as a trip into a computer game. Since about an hour of the film would require a very unique look that had never been done before I had to make a number of educated guesses about what would be required. To help define the methods, we did a number of tests using different technologies to refine the final costs and look of the film. The initial budget was based on some of the results of the tests. However after approval to make the film we then hired artists, who would define how the film would look. As we progressed through pre-production we began to refine the techniques to be used and the associated costs. Methodology guidelines continued to be changed, always with the budget in mind. Filmmaking is always a collaborative effort and flexibility is required.