Tron Legacy Interview

We Drew a Neon Warrior.

GR interfaces with Steven Lisberger and Sean Bailey—co-producers of the forthcoming, long-awaited TRON: LEGACY—at the recent and first-ever D23 Expo.

“We came out of Boston. We were an animation studio, and TRON was supposed to be our Mickey Mouse. I figured out that if you had an animation studio, you needed a character that was yours. We were into the neon look of the '70s and the '80s, with a little bit of the '60s, and we drew a neon warrior.”

That's Steven Lisberger, director of the '80s phenomenon TRON and co-producer of one of the signs of the Geekpocalypse—the forthcoming TRON: Legacy, slated for release in December 2010. At the recent D23 Expo in Anaheim, California—right across the street from Disneyland, in fact—I had a little sit-down with both Steven Lisberger and co-producer Sean Bailey (see picture left), to chat about the forthcoming film TRON: Legacy and some of the things that promise to make it cool—neon warriors, Light Cycles (see photo below), Daft Punk, a new awesome look (another one, I mean), and the timeline of the future.

The new film not only calls on the A-List design talent of guys like Syd Mead and Moebius, but also gives the whole TRON universe a darker, more textured cyberpunk appeal.

“The tone of first film reflects a certain naïve idealism," explains Steven Lisbeger, "This film reflects the temperament of Joe Kosinski, our director, our young writers, and Sean Bailey, my fellow producer – those who have a more realistic point of view of the upsides and downsides of technology and cyberspace.”

In the new movie, 27-year-old Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the son of Kevin Flynn—whose role is reprised by Jeff “The Dude” Bridges—investigates his father's disappearance, and is himself yanked into the virtual world of lethal games and deadly programs that his father has called home for the previous 25 years. As the story catches the audience up from the events of the first film to the 'present' —meaning The Future, of course—we'll even catch glimpses of the march of time as it occurred in the TRON universe, including a much more gladiatorial, bloodthirsty, 16-game Discs tourney, and at least one new slick, late-'80s revamp of what the classic Light Cycles 'became'—Kevin Flynn's very own, it turns out, and rumored to be the fastest thing on the Grid.

Also, apparently, something Big—and presumably Bad—happened in the virtual universe in the year 1989, which culminates in the events of the new film. According to the studio: “Father and son embark on a life-and-death journey across a visually-stunning cyber universe that has become far more advanced and exceedingly dangerous."

Game Revolution talks with TRON co-producer Sean Bailey:

Chris Hudak: As soon as people saw the first movie, they wanted to run out and ride the Light Cycles, to throw the Discs, and they were in a sense able to, with the Tron arcade game. With the creation of this new movie, how much deliberate thought was there given to, like “Oh, this is going to make an awesome game, so let's damn-well make this new game-centric element?"

Sean Bailey: That's a great question. The games are obviously part and parcel with the Tron legacy and history, with Flynn being a game designer at ENCOM. In a weird way, I don't know how much we calculated, “Hey, let's go out and make a new game.” But if we're going to update Light Cycle battles or Disc games, how do we do that? And what else might have happened 'Inside'? And so, you're just trying to create the gladiatorial events of Tron—which, I think, by natural extension, hopefully, become great games.

CH: Was there anything new that was added? Like, we know we'll have the Light Cycles and Disc battles, or at least we'd better—are we going to have something completely new, in terms of translation to a gaming experience?

SB [grinning toothily, like he's just stumped the Batman with his latest riddle]: Yes—there will be some surprises, yes!

CH: Oh come on, man, give us something—

SB: Well…yes, there will be some new vehicles. There will be some surprises in terms of characters—there are some exciting ideas, and some new stuff to play with. Some new toys. All I can say for now.

CH: The original Tron had this completely new look—it was one of the pillars of its appeal. It's getting harder to impress people that way. How would you characterize the challenges now—not only in terms of producing a wallop of a look, but in confronting audiences that are much more jaded or 'sophisticated'?

SB: The great thing is that the design is relatively timeless, but the ability we had effects-wise, action-wise, the speed we can move the Light Cycles at—we thought we could deliver just an incredible ride, an action movie, a science-fiction movie. We have the benefit of all this great design. I'm pretty confident that for all ages, this is going to be a rock 'n' roll ride, here. It's going to be a lot of fun.

CH: Speaking of which: That first meeting with Daft Punk—when they basically approached you, and said, “Hey, we want to be in on this”—did that surprise you? What was that first encounter like?

SB: It was a really interesting experience. I knew some of their music; I can't say I was exactly a connoisseur of their music. What really impressed me about that first meeting was that I'd had no idea how much they designed their own tools, their own shows—these guys are artists, true creative minds and real showmen. I've enjoyed their music, but I've come to understand their levels of creativity, artistry, and all of what they do. It's been amazing. We talk with them all the time; they've come up to the set; they've been around in the effects—it's just amazing.

CH: Is there any direct result of their contribution, that might not otherwise have been in the movie?

SB: Yeah, there are a few things, and what we did was that we recorded cues before we went up. So there were moments when we'd had a lot of music in our heads; we would play it before we would shoot the scene, and we would tell people “this is kind of the mood, or the ambiance, of the scene”. So, we had started work with them even before we shot. They were influential in many ways—a couple specific ways, which I think folks will see. With their music, they were trying to set the feeling of the Tron universe very, very early on.

CH: In the original TRON, it didn't seem like anybody was overly concerned about how things “really” worked, in terms of the relationship between the presented technology and what the characters were doing. Is there any more attention to that in this movie, or is it more “we're just going to make our own frontier here—not worry about that stuff so much, but rather pay attention to the story"?

SB: Well, that's the really interesting question: I think Steven and team in '82, they had the burden—people weren't day-to-day familiar with what these things were, or able to say “this is an accounting program” or “this is memory”. We thought to, in this movie, call out “this is Quicken,” or “this is your Microsoft program”—we thought that would just burden things. We just said that we're going to tell this story—there is symbolism, there is allegory, but none of it is on the nose. We're going to tell this story about these characters in this world that has evolved from that world—but inside the System, we assume that they're going to take it all for granted, so therefore, so are we. We're not going to feel the need to be expositional about this is that program's role in your day to day life, at your desktop.

CH: You got to meet with Syd Mead. Like, how cool was that?

SB: Amazing. Amazing to have him. We brought Syd by one day, to walk up and down the halls of our designers—and they were, you know, kind of nervously 'showing their work'! And I have to say, just for me—having seen the movie as a boy, to be able to work as producer with the creator of Tron, Steve Lisberger, is just an incredible thrill.

Enjoy the Tron: Legacy trailer:




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