Tron released July 9, 1982
Tron is a 1982 American action science fiction film produced by Walt Disney Pictures. It stars Jeff Bridges as the protagonist hacker Kevin Flynn (and his program counterpart inside the electronic world, CLU), Bruce Boxleitner as Tron (and Tron’s “user”, Alan Bradley), Cindy Morgan as Yori (and her “user”, Dr. Lora Baines), and Dan Shor as Ram. David Warner plays all three main antagonists: the program Sark, his “user”, Ed Dillinger, and the voice of the Master Control Program.
Tron was written and directed by Steven Lisberger, and has a distinctive visual style, as it was one of the first films from a major studio to use extensive computer graphics. Decades after it first came out, it has spawned a franchise consisting of a sequel film, multiple video games, comic books and a planned television series.
Peter O’Toole had been signed to play the role of Dillinger/Sark, but lost interest and dropped out once he visited the set and did not see any physical scenery or tank props as described in the film’s script.
Deborah Harry was among the actresses who were screen tested for the role of Lora/Yori.
All the live action that occurred inside the computer was filmed in black and white, and colorized later with photographic and rotoscopic techniques.
The original plan was to have the circuit lines of the “good” programs glow yellow, and the “bad” programs would have blue circuit lines. At one point this was changed to where good programs are blue, and evil ones are red. Some of the original coloring remains, mostly in tank programs (Clu has yellow lines on his uniform, and all of Sark’s tank commanders are pale green).But Flynn takes on this greenish tint after he crashes the reconizer and gets knocked out, shortly after he gets up he returns to the normal blue.
During the ENCOM exterior shooting (where the giant door was), there had been radioactive spillage near the shoot. Cindy Morgan even stepped in a contaminated area and had to have her shoes decontaminated.
Due to a mistake in production and emulsion ordering, there were flashing glitches randomly throughout parts of the film. They were “hidden” by simply including sound effects, so the glitches became part of the computer world’s natural world!
HIDDEN MICKEY: In the “solar sailer” sequence, you’ll see, for a brief moment, the silhouette of Mickey Mouse on the ground made to look like part of the terrain.
Flynn’s program is named “Clu”. CLU is an old programming language.
TRON is also a debugging command in the BASIC programming language, meaning “TRace ON.” However, Steven Lisberger, has stated in interviews that he took the name from the word “electronic,” and did not know about the BASIC command until later.
Although the film was an initial failure, the arcade videogame based on it proved to be a tremendous hit and actually out-grossed the film.
At the time, computers could generate static images, but could not automatically put them into motion. Thus, the coordinates for each image, such as a lightcycle, had to be entered for each individual frame. It took 600 coordinates to get 4 seconds of film. Each of these coordinates was entered into the computer by hand by the filmmakers.
The CGI computer screen shown when the orange is reassembled shows the connection between Laura and her program Yori: The screen reads Program: Orange, ROM YORI, KEY YORI.
Composer Wendy Carlos’ score for the film was unavailable on CD for many years due to the severe degradation of the original analogue master tapes. By the time of the film’s 20th Anniversary, techniques had been developed which allowed the tapes to be temporarily restored to a playable condition for digital re-mastering.
The DVD commentary notes that there is almost no camera movement whatsoever in any of the shots of the electronic world with live-action characters in them. They brought in a camera and tripod with metal batwings attached, and literally nailed the camera to the floor; the camera was so locked off that “it wouldn’t move even if hit by a car”. The few shots with live-action characters which actually have camera movement (about a dozen shots in all) involve simple graphics or animation, such as one-color backlighting.
Many Disney animators refused to work on this movie because they feared that computers would put them out of business. In fact, 22 years later Disney closed its hand-drawn animation studio in favor of CGI animation. Hand-drawn animation was ultimately resumed at Disney at the behest of new creative director John Lasseter, also head of Pixar- ironically a computer animation company.
The ENCOM laser bay was real. It was actually the target bay for the twenty-beam SHIVA solid-state laser facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It was used for nuclear fusion research in the late seventies and early eighties, and was capable of delivering up to 28 trillion watts of power on target.
While computer animation was used in several scenes, the technology did not exist for a shot to contain both live actors and computer animation. Live-action shots were combined with hand-drawn animation. Strong editing, such as with the light cycle chase, created an apparently seamless blend of actors and computer animation.
Although horizontally running 35mm film was used for multiple visual effects shots, a majority of scenes requiring rotoscope effects were shot on medium format sheet film, adding great cost to the production.
In this film produced by the Walt Disney Company, a man named Walter started what became a huge company from his garage. In real life Walt Disney did this.
Jeff Bridges produced too much of a bulge in the crotch area in his computer outfit, so he was forced to wear a dance belt to conceal it.
The British rock group Supertramp was to contribute to the movie’s soundtrack but was unable to due to previous obligations.
The computer character that helps Tron connect to his user is named for Allen B. DuMont, inventor of the first monitor in the year 1920.
Due to the poor return at the box office, following this film and its predecessor The Black Hole (1979), Disney Studios did not make another live subject film for ten years.
To inspire the actors, arcade games were placed on the production sets and could be played during downtime. Jeff Bridges apparently was the most adept at the games and found it hard to tear himself away from a game to shoot a scene.
In the initial scenes with Jeff Bridges, he is playing a game he invented called “Space Paranoids”. The game he is playing bears remarkable resemblance to 3D graphics game engines, which would not be invented for another 12 years.
The building featured as “Flynn’s” is in reality the historic Hull Building at the Northwest corner of Washington Blvd and Watseka Ave in Culver City, CA. The street sign for Watseka Avenue can be seen when Laura and Alan step inside “Flynn’s” to warn him about Dillinger. As of 2010, the location portrayed as “Flynn’s” was occupied by a restaurant.
The programmer’s cubicles at Encom were shot using the actual programmer’s cubicles at The Walt Disney Company’s Information Technology group. A matte painting was used to expand the area to a size more appropriate to a software company.
Bruce Boxleitner’s character is named Alan Bradley. Allen-Bradley is the brand-name of a line of Factory Automation Equipment manufactured by Rockwell Automation.
Filed under: Science Fiction
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