Lisberger has seen life come to imitate his digital fantasy
I am frequently asked how we used today’s cutting-edge technology to make “Tron: Legacy” just as revolutionary as “Tron” was in its time. One of my roles as a producer on the film has been to provide some historical perspective between the two films.
Certainly, the new advanced tools have changed film, but they have changed us as well.
The smart phone in your pocket or purse now has more computing power than all the computers combined on the first “Tron” — from the perspective of the early ’80s, we are all “nerds” now. Back then, I dreamt up a laser that scanned Kevin Flynn to bring him inside a computer. When making “Tron: Legacy” we used a real laser to scan Jeff Bridges and watched his likeness appear on the Grid in real time.
If Joe Kosinski had to go back to the ’80s and direct “Tron” the way I made it, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t like it. Could I master the technical world of “Tron: Legacy” behind, and in front of, the full-35mm-chip cameras with the command and ease he brings to all this? Shooting in 3D? No.
For a while, I thought these new filmmakers didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. And at times I missed the smell of raw stock in the morning, or the sight of huge 70mm Super-Panavision cameras. On the animation side, I missed paint brushes in the sink and the aroma of cedar from the pencil sharpeners.
But I have learned not to worry about the next generation. Joe Kosinski and my producing partner Sean Bailey have proven that to me in real time, too. With “Tron: Legacy” their challenge was to make Flynn’s world real, because what was a fantasy for me has come true for them. The new reality is our “digital others” must never sleep if we are to survive. The first “Tron” built a bridge from the world of the analog to the digital — and these guys had no trouble blasting their light-bikes right across it. I have gone back to worrying about my own generation.
I have also learned that the future usually doesn’t come from the places or the people the world expects. The first vision of the digital dimension that went global didn’t emerge from a cyberpunk novel or Silicon Valley. The digital frontier was rendered in glorious Technicolor for the first time in Walt’s animation building at the corner of Dopey Drive and Mickey Avenue. In 1982, it was the last place anyone expected or wanted to be that edgy. If “the future” arrives where everyone expects it to, looks like they think it should, speaks like it, acts like it, then it probably isn’t the future.
It turns out that people change in scripts, but in real life they are fearful of change. That is why it happens generationally. The next generation grows up and embraces the innovations that their parents feared. Only in movies do people totally transform in two hours.
The new tools demand that we be ever more efficient, more perfect. Some of these demands seem crazy — to constantly be linked to everyone everywhere, to hand over all our information and money, to accept that everything we communicate or photograph will be around forever, to endure the anonymity and bad manners of the hive, to update our cameras and projectors every year instead of every decade.
And what do we get in return? We get to see things never seen before or to render what we think is eternal from a totally new perspective and make it relevant again. It’s true that we have divided the world in two electronically, but I believe we will also never stop finding new ways to make it whole again through story and art. That is how we will give the future meaning.
The key is to resist becoming a program yourself, to resist treating one another like information even when it’s so tempting. We must remember we are Users and are above that.