Wednesday, February 09, 2011

About 1982's TRON

The First Electronic Gunslinger

02.09.11 - Long a fan of the mythic heroes of the Old West, Bruce Boxleitner finds himself playing the hero in a different kind of mythology. He is a computer programmer fighting to save his electronic world in Walt Disney Productions' futuristic adventure, "TRON."


Powerful Programmer… Bruce Boxleitner stars as a computer expert whose alter-ego is the most powerful game warrior in an electronic universe in Walt Disney Productions' futuristic adventure, "TRON."
"TRON" combines state-of-the-art computer graphics with special techniques in live-action photography to create a fantasy world never before seen on a motion picture screen. It is a world where energy lives and breathes, where laws of logic are defied, where an electronic civilization thrives.

All of which is quite a departure for Boxleitner, a tall and athletic actor whose career is rooted in roles as rawboned types who helped tame the West. Collector of frontier art, reader of historical fiction, Boxleitner relished such vehicles as the television series "How the West Was Won" and the telefilm "I Married Wyatt Earp." "I loved the idea of reliving history," he says. "Playing a Western hero you sense how strong those people must have been. Let me tell you it's a thrill."

Expectedly, he was not enthralled with the notion of starring in an effects-laden picture like "TRON.' "I was really feeling my oats," he says today. "I had just finished doing a Western movie-of-the-week and was still thinking of myself as the gunfighter hero. When I got the script for "TRON" I rejected it. I didn't want to spend that time cooped up on sound stages.

"Then Kitty (his wife, actress Kathryn Holcomb) read the script and told me I'd better reconsider. She thought it was something special. When I reread it, I realized that Tron, my character in the film, was not so different from a traditional Western hero."

Boxleitner's Tron character is the only being who can save his electronic world from domination by a huge and despotic master computer program. Ironically, while the completed film portrays an epic battle set in a fantastic landscape of light and electricity, the actors performed against sets that were practically bare. The live-action was mated with computer-generated settings in post-production.

"We looked at storyboards (rough drawings of each shot in the movie) before each scene. Then it was up to the imagination. And when you realize that what we are seeing in 'TRON's' world can't possibly exist — then you know how difficult a job the actors had. 'TRON' is the most difficult movie I've ever done." Boxleitner may have had it a bit easier than the others, however. Faced with a duel on the video game grid, chased by a Recognizer or a data pirate, or confronted by any of the electronic world's myriad dangers, he could always ask himself, "What would Wyatt Earp do?" The settings may change but the heroes remain the same.

In color by Technicolor, "TRON" also stars Jeff Bridges, David Warner, Cindy Morgan and Barnard Hughes. The film was written and directed by Steven Lisberger for producer Donald Kushner and executive producer Ron Miller. Buena Vista releases. Filmed in Super Panavision ® 70.

From the original 1982 Tron press materials.
 
 

Lisberger Breaks with Convention

02.09.11 - In 1976 he stretched a $10,000 American Film Institute grant into a multi-million dollar animated film. Today, Steve Lisberger is the guiding creative force behind "TRON," a motion picture that is not only unconventional, but the first of its kind.


Writer-Director Steven Lisberger is the mastermind behind "TRON," Walt Disney Productions futuristic adventure about an electronic world in which video games come to life through state-of-the-art computer imaging.
Writer-director Steven Lisberger is not one to settle for the conventional. As a college student in Boston he formed his own film production company. In 1976 he stretched a $10,000 American Film Institute grant into a multi-million dollar animated film. Today, Lisberger is the guiding creative force behind "TRON," a motion picture that is not only unconventional, but the first of its kind.

"TRON" combines live action with computer-generated imagery to create a fantasy world where video games are arenas of life and death. Long a devotee of video games, the filmmaker first conceived the project in 1978.

"Everyone's looking for new fantasies in the movies," he says. "Outer space has been done to death. They've gone inside the body and under the sea. We've created this world in 'TRON' by taking video games and just blowing them out to the point where they are a reality. At the point where the games met computer graphics, something came alive that hadn't been alive before. Video games were the basis for the fantasy; the computer imagery was the means to create it."

Lisberger and his partner, producer Donald Kushner, brought their project to Disney in mid-1980 and a deal was quickly struck. "They first gave us money to do a demonstration, to prove that we could create the effects we claimed were possible," Lisberger says. "It's to Disney's credit that they didn't say, 'Call us when the computers can do a dog.' We were interested in creating objects and environments that couldn't exist in the physical world. That's something computer-generated images can do very well."

With the boundless enthusiasm of the first boy out to recess, Lisberger began, in early 1981, to choose his creative team for "TRON." French comics artist Moebius — one of the founders of Heavy Metal — was lured from his Pyrenees mountain home to work on character styling and storyboarding. Futurist Syd Mead was called to design vehicles that would later be computer-generated. High-tech artist Peter Lloyd was hired for color styling and background design. Richard Taylor, currently manager of the Movie Technology Division of Information International, Inc. (Triple-I) and an art director whose glowing designs gained him fame in the 1970s with his commercials for Levi and Seven-Up, joined the group to oversee the computer imaging and optical effects. Harrison Ellenshaw, matte painter for "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back," signed on as co-director (with Taylor) of special effects and associate producer.

The Mathematical Applications Group, Inc. (MAGI), Triple-I, Digital Effects Inc. and Robert Abel and Associates were hired to execute computer images choreographed by animators Bill Kroyer and Jerry Rees. Matched with the live action, those computer scenarios bring Lisberger's world to life.

"We're taking risks with this film," admits the director who spends his days buzzing through the production like a low-flying plane looking for fires to put out. "But that's what got this place (Disney) rolling in the first place. They broke with convention. Computer imagery is never going to replace actors. Actors are what I call the ultimate special effect. And it won't challenge the hand-crafted animation for which Disney is famous. But for this particular fantasy in "TRON" it's the perfect artists' tool."

In color by Technicolor, "TRON" stars Jeff Bridges, David Warner, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan and Barnard Hughes. The film was written and directed by Steven Lisberger for producer Donald Kushner and executive producer Ron Miller. Buena Vista releases. Filmed in Super Panavision® 70.

From the original 1982 Tron press materials.  

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