“Tron: Legacy” owes much of its dazzle to the way it referenced visual cues from the original “Tron” and used them as a springboard into a far more complex cyber universe. Instrumental in that achievement was the film’s lead concept artist Neville Page, who helped shape the look of the film via costumes, props and other design elements.
Page’s toolkit included industrial and high-end consumer product design and fabrication. The costumes, particularly the light-line-outlined uniforms and helmets of the arena games, have the appearance of real consumer goods.
Page brought a wealth of experience to this task. He served as creature designer on “Avatar” and “Watchmen” — and he has even designed real-world ice hockey helmets for Nike.
The film’s art department, led by production designer Darren Gilford, and helmer Joseph Kosinski “all collectively tried to come up with appropriate metaphors and technologies that would exist within the world of ‘Tron,’ ” Page explains. Key to this effort was the voxel, a hexagonally shaped 3D pixel that is the visual building block and basic molecule of “Tron: Legacy’s” digital world. It is inherent to the geometry of the grid in which the players compete, and is part of the imagery as players are de-rezzed and break apart into shards of silicon.
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Additionally, the film had to be consistent with “Tron: Legacy’s” conceit that one person — Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) — had designed this singular cyberspace. Unlike a franchise reboot with a full re-envisioning or a traditional sequel, “Tron: Legacy’s” virtual reality was intended to appear as though it had evolved over the course of years — or cycles.
“Tron: Legacy” also presents an intriguing case of life imitating art. The technology it deployed to create computer renditions of real people closely mimicked the story’s central conceit that people can be inserted into computers and live inside them.
“The interesting irony is that the world of ‘Tron’ was about transporting people into the computer using a laser,” Page says, “and we literally used the laser to scan and transport physical actors into the computer, where I was able to sculpt the costumes in 3D space. We then grew it in the real world using laser and robotic processes to realize their costumes. It was more sci-fi and magic than the concept of the film.”
Graphic light lines on their foam and latex costumes kept the characters glowing. These complicated polymer strips posed constant challenges says Page, as they had to be straight lines, with a small radius for body bends or curves. They also had to function practically on set with no wires to power sources, to be cleanable, safe to wear, and emit a high degree of luminescence so the camera could pick up the light source.
“On ‘Tron’ — all the way from costumes, to sets, to scenes — there are illustrations that are so precise that if they held up the artwork to an actual screen grab, it’s virtually identical in terms of composition, lighting, texture, everything,” Page says. “We’re becoming more important for the road map of the final look.”
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