Tron: the spirit inside the machine

Tron: the spirit inside the machine


What if programs had a soul? We could enclose in this question the meaning of Tron, a 1982 film in which the still unrecognized science of computer science was the real engine of the plot. The summer of 82, apparently, was a particularly rich season for sci-fi cinema, considering that in a few months in American theaters ET-L'Extraterrestre, Blade Runner and The Thing arrived, films that marked the imaginary of the period and marking a real rebirth of the genre. On the other hand, the genre was experiencing a real rebirth, which thanks to the incredible success of Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture s, was on the way to becoming one of the most present genres in American theaters for the current decade. A revolution that certainly could not leave a colossus like Disney indifferent.

Subscribe now to Disney + for € 8.99 per month or € 89.90 per year The new cinematic sci-fi was no longer limited to vision tinged with pessimism typical of the production of the '50s and' 60s, in which to dominate the scene were evil alien invaders or mad scientists. What had been a production strongly influenced by real life, in which the alien was the metaphor of the red 'danger', was taking on a reinterpretation, which from the literary field, with authors such as Dick, Bradbury or Asimov, was also expanding into cinema sector. From the first adventures of the Enterprise on the small screen, to the explosion of cinematic sci-fi with the first chapter of the Luca saga, this revolutionary bike had presented to the American public, and consequently to the world one, different ways to tell the story of skiing. -fi. And Tron could only be the next step.

The Disney sci-fi revolution

Taking a local mind, in a few years science fiction had established itself as one of the great potentialities of the entertainment world. While Lucas had created a new genre with his fantasy-science fiction hybrid, other directors were carving out their own dimension in the genre, as Scott did with Alien first and Blade Runner later. The growing passion for science fiction certainly could not leave indifferent a giant like Disney, which for some time had been looking for a renewal for its cinema sector.

Science fiction at Disney, at the time, was only present in the film adaptation of 20,000 leagues under the sea, based on the famous novel by Jules Verne. A seminal sci-fi, as were the works of the French author, who had entered the ranks of Disney productions mainly for his adventurous spirit. In the early 1970s, however, science fiction became a genre of interest even in Disney, where Space Station One appeared, a short sci-fi story, which should have been the first step towards making a film. The reticence of Disney's upper echelons combined with a difficulty in defining this project, which changed its name to Probe One first and finally to The Black Hole. This sci-fi film with dark and violent tones, so far removed from the Disney tradition, was the starting point for a new experimentation that led to the birth of Tron.

Journey into the machine

Let's go back to 1976, the year in which a young animator, Steven Linsberg, was bewitched by Pong, a video game that was a must at the time. From that moment, videogames became a real passion for Linsberg, to the point that he decided to create his own film project that involved the world of pixels, but entering these fictional universes from a different perspective, letting himself be inspired by Alice in Wonderland. . Initially conceived as a short animated short, mainly as a promotional demo for the Linsberg animation studio, what would become Tron was a backlit cel animation production, an effect that was based, in this project, on a luminous characterization of the characters, emphasizing some character details in a more marked way, following, by Linsberg's own admission, a certain trend of the period:

“Everyone was doing projects in backlit cel animation in the 70s, it was the disco look. And so we were wondering 'What if we had a character that was a neon line?', And thus our Tron was born. And when that happens, I saw Pong, and I knew immediately that this was the perfect arena for him. Likewise, I was extremely interested in the early attempts at computer animation, which I had learned at MIT, and when I started this project I contacted a group of programmers working in the field. And they inspired me, especially in the way they believed in this new universe "

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This step was essential in the development of Tron. The transition from animation to computer graphics resulted in a different approach to making the film. Let's not forget that at the time this technology was still in its infancy, even Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic was facing its first challenges in creating special effects, a condition that was certainly not unknown to the majors, even if there was no shortage of names among them. important who were willing to embark on daring projects. Like Disney.

Back from the production of The Black Hole, the Disney leaders were still intent on walking the path of experimental productions, and when Tron was introduced to them they immediately understood how this project could prove to be successful. However, the particular setting and the presence of rudimentary computer graphics were considered critical elements, to the point that before starting the production a demo was requested: a disc player. Linsberg and his associates then made a short film consisting of 'traditional' footage, with the addition of backlit animation and computerized effects. The presentation was such a success that the Disney leaders gave the green light to the project, but there was still an aspect that, ironically, should not have been a problem for the major: the animators sector.

“We were coldly greeted by Disney because we hit a nerve: the animation department. We saw each other as a disease that came from outside, while we tried instead to involve several Disney animators, but nobody came because they were like a closed group "

Reason why animation was entrusted, as it rarely happened at the time in Disney, at Wang Film Productions. And to think that just in the period in which Disney was proceeding to the realization of Tron, a young animator, such John Lasseter, asked and obtained the possibility of being able to experiment with CGI, but despite the evident potential of the new technology, it was decided not to develop anything to that effect, to stay within budget.

Although it is thought that Tron was generated mainly in CGI, in reality the film is largely made with traditional methods, considered as at the time the CGI was able to basically make static images. A clarification that should not be ignored, considering how images were created to create the famous sequence of light cycles and then inserted in sequence. And ironically, when the Academy had to decide the nominations for the Oscars, Tron was not considered for the nomination for special effects because the use of the computer was considered a deception. Still, Lasseter discovered how this new frontier of animation could represent the future, to the point that he quit and was then hired by the LucasFilm Computer Graphic Project, which could suggest that without Tron, neither Pixar nor Toy Story would have been born. br>

Creatives and Programs

The charm of Tron, in addition to its particular genesis, is how in a period that could be considered germinal for computer graphics it was possible to carry out a similar project. Net of the technical commitment, it is admirable how Bonnie McBride has managed to bring order to the ideas of Linsberg and Kushner, creating a digital society whose programs are sentient and create a true cult of Creatives, those who generate them. An attempt to recreate a virtual world that was a crasis between real dynamics and a society that saw a source of inspiration in the nascent videogame industry, to the point that, as confirmed by the protagonist Jeff Bridges, the actors spent a lot of time getting ready to enter the part. time with videogames:

“I remember that we didn't believe our eyes when, on the first day, we arrived on the set and every wall was full of videogames, which we had to take to our dressing rooms. It was a demanding job, but also fun, I remember getting into a game, BattleZone, you know? The one with the tank. God, hours and they had to take the weight off me. I could say that I was getting ready ... "

At the time, as mentioned, computer science was a field still little known to the general public, who mainly knew this technology for its playful application, video games. In part, cyberpunk literature, which appeared in those years, had helped to create the idea of ​​a virtual space full of possibilities, but with Tron it was decided to go further, creating a binary universe whose intuitions would also be reused in subsequent productions. , such as the Automan television series. A happy intuition was the creation of a digital counterpart of real people, made possible thanks to the presence within the computer systems of sensitive data, a choice that allowed the same actors to be used for both roles. Above all, this vision of the digitization of identity can be considered as one of the first interpretations of the concept of a vital avatar.

With Tron, a completely new vision of the information space was given, which he relied on a trio of excellence for the realization of this universe: Peter Lloyd (commercial designer, who created the environment in which the protagonists move), Jean Giraud (aka Moebius, famous French cartoonist, who created the costumes) and the legendary Syd Mead (the industrial designer appreciated for Blade Runner, who was responsible for making the means of the film, such as the light cycles and the flying ship of the villain). The decision to make an atypical weapon like the record was due to a specific request from Linsberg, who did not intend to show weapons in his film.

Tron: from flop to cult

Tron, too, apparently suffered from the curse of the summer of 1982. The efforts made by Disney, which also refused a cover on the film offered by Playboy (with models dressed in the style of Tron), did not allow to classify Tron as a winning product. Indeed, given the previous debacle of The Black Hole, the film became the final chapter of the entertainment giant's desire to experiment. Poor performance at the box office condemned Tron to join the group of failures of the summer of '82, a company made up of Blade Runner and Carpenter's The Thing.

Why Tron is then become a cult? Basically, the first reason could be his role in having given considerable encouragement to the birth of an increasingly advanced CGI technique. Some of the insights behind Tron were improved upon and incorporated into later productions, it is true, but it is also its narrative component that has fascinated, albeit in later years. The idea of ​​the development of this virtual world, with its means that have become iconic and often cited in pop culture, without forgetting the fact-totum disco, has become a cultural heritage that has influenced artists such as Daft Punk, as well as being the stone milestone on which at least two generations of digital artists such as Lasseter have been trained, opening the doors to a new world where pixels animate and pray to their creatives.

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