TRON Legacy (2010) – The Computer world of TRON seen 28 years later

by Davide Mantovani, Marco Porcaro, Simone Villa

“Greetings, programs! Together we have achieved a great many things. We have created a vast, complex system. We’ve maintained it; we’ve improved it. We’ve rid it of its imperfection. Not to mention, rid it of the false deity who sought to enslave us! Kevin Flynn!!” 


TRON Legacy (2010) is the sequel to the original movie TRON (1982), produced by Walt Disney Pictures and directed by Joseph Konsinski (Oblivion), starring Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner, in their original roles as Kevin Flynn and Alan Bradley/Tron, and Garrett Hedlund who plays the son Flynn.

The American director and producer, Kosinski, has been deemed the most appropriate for this film given its experience in CGI, modeling and 3D graphics. The special effects were developed by the company Digital Domain and took 800 digital artists to realize almost all the special effects of the film.

The movie integrates into the real scenes elements made entirely by CG, extensively exploiting its potential. The most important scenes are completely CG and there are very few sequences that do not have at least one digital element (background, effects on the overalls, etc.).

TRON Legacy - Real vs CGI

The young Jeff Bridges

Some sequences required the use of a younger version of the actor Jeff Bridges: For the realization of this special effect, a perfected facial motion capture technique was used.

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Jeff Bridges had to act in soundstage the scenes about his younger counterpart and, in this context, his expressions have been captured, in addition to audio, using a track device, that consisted in a helmet on which were mounted four cameras (Head-Mounted Camera). Using a 3D scan of the actor, the engineers created a sort of “mold” of his face and then a mask, equipped with 52 holes. This stencil was used as a template for recognition points and adapted to the 3D model developed by Digital Domain, based on some photos of a thirty-year-old Bridges.

Tron Legacy - Jeff Bridges track cam

It was also necessary to use a young stunt double on the set with the other actors, wearing the costume and in order to have real references to base the digital rendering of the face. Finally, the younger actor’s face has been replaced with the result of the motion capture.

“The biggest challenge has been to create and maintain both physical and emotional credibility of the virtual head of Jeff Bridges/Clu.” Says Eric Barba, Visual Effects Supervisor “As stated by Joe (Joseph Kosinski, director), there ‘challenge is more difficult than to create a digital character that is believable in the same type of scene in which the actors are real, especially when it has to be an actor so famous and recognized all over the world “. Barba goes on to say that the work was made even more complicated by the fact that everyone knew the true shape of Jeff Bridges, when che was 30 years old.

Tron Legacy - Clu on stage

Stereoscopic and 3D models

Most of the special effects were created by Digital Domain, including conversion in stereoscopic 3D. The software used were Cinema4D and OpenFrameworks, the latter being served as a programming environment used to develop some plug-ins for managing stereoscopic cameras. The Digital Domain VFX pipeline has not been adapted to stereoscopy, but a step was added: the artists had TO visually check  their work at the only 3D TV of the studio, “The Hyundai.” The majority of the sequences of the film are set in the world of computers, providing a large stereoscopic effect control, amazing the audience for the strong realism of those scenes.

Note that the effect is perhaps most valued by the choice of using the stereoscopic 3D only in the sequences set in the world of TRON, that is, for about 85% of the film.

TRON Legacy - 3D

The film has also revolutionized the Fusion Camera System developed by James Cameron for Avatar, using the Sony F35 cameras, which with their CCD sensors 35mm could better simulate the feeling of depth of traditional film. Given the limited brightness of the costumes on set, the F35 were equipped with Master Primes lenses, responsible for the blurred appearance of the objects out of focus and glowing effect of lights.

TRON Legacy - Real vs CGI

Four different rendering softwares were used: Mental-Ray (for the realization of CLU, the “young Jeff Bridges”), V-Ray (for environments and scenarios), RenderMan (for various elements and objects) and proprietary software developed by Digital Domain to interconnect their various programs.


A new approach to pipeline

The “digital” nature of TRON Legacy, made possible to revolutionize the traditional pipeline of 3D animation film. At the usual structure preproduction-shoot-edit-post, according to Ed Ulbrich of Digital Domain, you can now simply speak of digital filmmaking.

In addition, in the early stages of production, Digital Domain had to make a so-called pre-viz of the film, which is a very rough previsualization, that already contains the desired camera movements and can be used for a rough editing.


Color correction

The colors of the sequences set inside the Computer were intensively color corrected, removing almost completely the warm colors, in favor of a cool tint almost monochromatic.


The majority of the scenes contain the classic “neon” look, thanks to a clever interplay of bright sources of light glowing and reflective surfaces placed in dark environments.

TRON Legacy - Atmosphere

On the set, the scenes were generally lit from below (especially in the case of interior), in order to give the impression that the light sprang from within the world of TRON, given the darkness of the upper atmosphere. Some scenic elements, such as suits, were already lit shooting on soundstages and, later, accentuated in post-production. The decision to make an atmosphere so dense, allowed to simulate a more realistic way the behavior of light sources, giving the movie his suggestive look.


Procedural animation

To further contribute to the technological and futuristic look of the movie, Digital Domain hired artists specialized in computer graphics, particularly Joshua T. Nimoy and Bradley Munkowitz: Their team developed algorithms to recreate in a procedural way some visual effects, such as fireworks, light trails and circuits.

TRON Legacy - fireworks

Munkowitz created a repertoire of 14 drawings of fireworks, saved the result in a XML file and then passed it to the team Houdini, who has rendered those parameters, adding weather effects, lighting and optical finals.

TRON Legacy - fireworks parameters The team has scheduled an application OpenFramework able to load the data in OBJ format, allowing the definition of the 3D structure from the beginning, while the subsequent explosion is generated procedurally.

TRON Legacy - Procedural Drawings






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