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December 26, 2010

When Tron raced into theaters on neon treads in 1982, the futuristic backdrops were a vis-ual revelation for cinema geeks. Nearly three decades later, its set design and costumes—specifically the lightcycles and illuminated bodysuits—have become instantly recognizable shorthand for proto-CGI science fiction. To create a setting for the sequel befitting the original, Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski approached the project with an architect’s sensibility, building real-world locations to ground the fantastical CGI.
 

Tron movie set design
Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures, Inc.
Courtesy of 
© Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights Reserved.
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Tron movie set design

Legacy finds ace video-game programmer Kevin Flynn (a role reprised by Jeff Bridges) trapped inside a computer for the past 20 years. “The simulation has just constantly evolved at a time ratio of 50:1. We had to imagine what the future would look like; from Flynn’s point of view, 1,000 years have passed,” Kosinski says. “As a child of the ’80s, it’s been a really fun design project for me.”

The first-time feature film director, who studied mechanical engineering, industrial design, and architecture, assembled a diverse art department of like-minded “outsiders,” from vehicle designers to colleagues from architecture school. The team worked with modernist building blocks to anchor the conceptual locales and craft a unified world as if it had developed straight from Flynn’s mind. “We constructed a tremendous number of sets with materials like stone, concrete, glass, and steel. I wanted it to look and feel very physical,” Kosinski says. “If it could be built, we built it.”

Tron movie set design
Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures, Inc.


Modern movie magic often comes completely computer generated, and this return to corporeal form and function is an interesting inversion. “No matter how much concept art you put in front of actors, there’s no replacement for walking onto a set and inhabiting a character.”

As for the stylized mid-century and baroque decor in Flynn’s Safehouse (besides the obvious nod to Kubrick’s Space Odyssey)? “If someone were trapped in the world of a computer, he would try to surround himself with some familiar touches,” Kosinski explains. “Even though they’re Tron-ified versions of design.” Proof positive that even those stranded on a server for decades can’t deny the timeless appeal of an Eames lounge or a Barcelona chair.
 

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