Why Revolutionary “Tron” Terrified Hollywood

tron marked a turning point in the ever-changing landscape of cinema – even if pundits failed to recognize it at the time.

“Everyone was doing backlit animation in the ’70s, you know. It was that disco look,” said filmmaker and writer/director Steven Lisberger. Geek’s Lair, “and we thought, ‘What if we had this character that was a neon line?’ It was our warrior Tron – Tron for electronics And what happened I saw [the video game] pongand I said, well, this is the arena for him.”

Lisberger wrapped the 1980 animated TV movie Animalympicsand he simultaneously began to devise a plot to tron. The basic premise would follow a computer programmer sucked into a world of video games.

“A lot of studios turned us down,” said producer Donald Kushner, Lisberger’s business partner. Variety. The only studio that showed interest was Disney. “People don’t know today what Disney Studios was like back then,” Lisberger added. “It was a sleepy, forgotten studio.”

Disney had been dealing with an identity crisis in the late 70s and early 80s, a far cry from the powerhouse studio it would become. Animated family films such as Rescuers (1978) and The fox and the hunting dog (1981) continued to turn a profit, but Disney had mixed results with live-action films. The Outer Space Cat (1978), Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979) and midnight madness (1980) had been box office duds. The few live hits the studio had – like the Herbie the Love Bug film series – aimed at a young audience. An adult-focused success eluded them.

“People have this misconception that in the heyday of Disney they were so sure of where they were going, but they weren’t,” Lisberger told Den of Geek. tron “was very experimental, and I think there was enough of that ethos at the studio – but Tom Wilhite, who lit the film, he was 29, had just become head of the studio, and I was 29 . And Tom said to me, years later, ‘It’s a good thing I don’t know more, because if I had, I wouldn’t have done this.'”

Watch the trailer for “Tron”

The accent, said host Bill Kroyer Varietywas about “not doing anything that Walt didn’t do”. They used to say, “We’re doing what we do best,” which was a cover for saying, “We don’t want to do anything we haven’t already done.” Finished.'”

tron was radically different from anything Disney – or anyone else – had done. Live action and animation techniques were mixed for the project. Perhaps most notably, the film incorporated CGI in a way not seen on film until now.

“It’s inconceivable now that people think how we actually did CG,” Lisberger said. Variety. “There was no movement; the computers could only generate individual images. There was no way to put them digitally on film, so you basically set up a motion picture camera in front of a computer screen, and you shot it frame by frame. the footage took hours to generate.

Revolutionary effects have been used to bring tron live. Some, like the light sources on the actor’s costumes or black-and-white reverse-negative filming, were extensions of already established techniques. Yet many others have been invented specifically for tron.

“We didn’t create the film to exploit existing technology,” said Kroyer, who served as a computer image choreographer on tron. “We imagined the movie, and then we said, ‘We think we can develop the technology while making the movie.’ It’s literally this metaphor of successful people jumping off the cliff and building their wings on the way down.”

For many people working on trontraveling to new technological terrain was exhilarating. Jeff Bridgeswho starred in the film as programmer Kevin Flynn, even admitted he took the role because of tronbold ambition. “It had never been done before,” he said Variety. “I was intrigued just because of that.”

Watch the ‘Tron’ light cycle scene

Not everyone was on board. Specifically, members of Disney’s old-school animation guard were baffled by the use of technology.

“What they never felt comfortable doing was using computer animation,” Lisberger told Den of Geek. “At the time, it was the devil. I can’t tell you how scared people were of computers back then.

Released July 9, 1982, tron generally received positive reviews. The Seattle Times praised its “breathtaking originality”, calling it “a computer age Alice in Wonderland.” During this time, the San Francisco Chronicle described the film as “a revelation in every sense of the word”.

Others claimed tron valued style rather than substance. “Where was it written that to accommodate an unleashing of new effects, no matter how revolutionary, we had agreed to give up character, subtlety, a well-told story, a well-understood action and even, God help us, humor? asked Los Angeles Times review Sheila Benson.

“Walt Disney Studios, the same factory that has specialized for years in bringing to life the most whimsical and human expressions of man’s imagination, has joined the parade of automata with a film that glorifies and endorses the video game craze that has overwhelmed America,” added Scott Sublett of the washington time.

Despite its revolutionary brand of cinema, tron was eclipsed at the box office. The summer of 1982 included several huge commercial successes, including Rocky III, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan and Fighting spirit. The biggest movie of the year, AND the extra-terrestrial, grossed $360 million at the domestic box office. By comparing, tron only earned $33 million.

“What was in the air was that it wasn’t enough for the movie to do business or for them to even pay themselves,” Lisberger said. Variety. “What happened is HEY came out and he raised the bar.”

Watch the climactic final battle of ‘Tron’

tron earned two Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Sound, but was shockingly left out of the Best Visual Effects category. “The Academy thought we cheated using computers,” Lisberger said SFGate.

Decades later, tron seems to have finally gotten its due. The film enjoyed cult status for many years before returning to the mainstream via the 2010 sequel. tron the legacy. Thanks in large part to its groundbreaking visual techniques, the original film is now considered a landmark release.

“It’s hard to emphasize how terrified people were of computers and technology, and Hollywood in particular,” Lisberger said. Variety. “The threat that tron represented was that somehow computers were going to get involved in making movies and they were going to get involved in our lives.”

In hindsight, of course, the pioneering film opened the door to generations of CGI layered films. John Lasseter, former creative director at Pixar, put it in simpler terms: “Without tronthere wouldn’t be toy story.”

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