Dror Benshetrit / TRON Armchair

Dror Benshetrit / TRON Armchair

By Anna Carnick
Israeli–born, New York–based designer Dror Benshetrit’s work runs the gamut from product and furniture design to architecture and interiors. No matter the genre, his work is consistently clever, blurring the lines between present and future. During this year’s Design Miami, he debuted a limited-edition armchair series commissioned by Cappellini for Disney Signature, inspired by the upcoming TRON: Legacy movie, which is set to hit theaters later this month.

Much like the new film, Dror’s TRON series blends elements of both the physical and digital worlds. The prototypes shown in Miami are the result of an aesthetic and production approach that marries handiwork and computers, informed by the raw data that makes up TRON’s jagged landscape. Each was CNC printed on foams of block, then put together and covered with fiberglass—one in a charcoal black, the others hand-painted by Dror using TRON colors. In early 2011, they’ll be mass-produced with 100% recycled roto-molded plastic. The existing limited editions run $14,5000 each, and are available exclusively through Cappellini. 

We spoke with Dror during the fair to get the skinny on his latest collaboration, his very full roster of upcoming projects, and his favorite current favorite soundtrack, a la TRON.

The original TRON movie came out in 1982. How old were you the first time you saw the movie?Well, I was five in 1982, and I don't think my parents took me to that movie. (laughs) I saw it only as a classic movie when I was twenty-something. It’s one of those movies that [one] must see, especially as a designer, especially as someone that really works a lot with digital, and the whole idea of mixing digital animation with hand-animation. But I actually did not really remember it until the whole announcement of the new movie, when I had to go back and refresh my memory of exactly what it was like.

And obviously as you see it thirty years later, you realize it's not what you were excited about when you saw it years ago. It's actually funny how still fresh it is in a way, even though you're laughing at all of the effects ‘cause you know that they're not even computerized; they're just some neon lights trying to be like computer screens.How did you get involved with this project with Cappellini and Disney?

Giulio [Cappellini] mentioned the whole collaboration with Disney over a year ago, before we started talking specifically about TRON, which I thought was a brilliant connection. The first collaboration between Disney and Cappellini just [considered] the Disney motifs, but the idea was really to work with them on movies, and to work with them on sets, and things that will be in movies. So I think that this is the first collaboration where it's actually linked to a specific movie; hopefully in the future we will also work on actual sets and production with them for certain things.

But the idea that our culture's so influenced by those movies, and yet, you see, most of the time, the interiors and the sets [in movies] that are just not pushing the boundaries as much as companies like Cappellini do. So, Giulio mentioned TRON, and at that time I was working on a project that at first I called Collision. I was really fascinated by understanding chaos, mathematical order, and the difference between collision in the digital world versus collision in the physical world, and the translation of those things into one another.

I'll give you an example. If you think about special effects, let's say, taking two cars and crashing them into one another, to replicate that and to create this in a digital world is very complex. Because obviously all of the behavior that happens to the bodies needs to be mimicked by a computer that will calculate exactly how this metal and that type of thickness and that kind of angle will react to that kind of power. Of course, in the physical world [this] is very simple. You drive two objects toward one another and they crash.

Then, in the other way, you take two 3-D objects and collide them into one another. Then producing that is very complex in a physical [way], in matter. And that's exactly what I wanted to show: that translation into a physical object that you sit on.

So, the first process was to create two different forms—one that is very sharp and precise, and the other that is more organic and shows volume in a less precise way. And then to scan them, bring them to the digital world, collide them in the computer, and then print them. So we've done that. We took the physical shapes and scanned them to the computer, then collided digitally, and CNC printed them on blocks of foam. So basically what you're seeing is the result of a computer file. And then, of course, working on that by hand, perfecting that by hand.

If you look at almost every project that we're doing, there's always a portion of it that we're doing on the computer, and always a portion of it that we're doing by hand. For the most part, there is always a translation. And in this case, I wanted that to be the concept. I wanted it to be really evident, within the seat itself, that it's all about taking it in and out [of] physical to digital, which happens to be the story of the movie.

What materials were used for the final, physical chair?

For the hand-painted ones, it's funny, because it's like a double process of being inspired by the movie. The first creation is the [black] chair, and then [we made] four hand-painted ones inspired by the movie. When you look at the movie, and you look at all those sharp, neon lights, the first reaction was, ok, let's bring that into the form. But I thought that if I'm doing true hand-painted chairs, I want to translate that into just brush and liquid paint. I of course first worked with the exact pantone colors that they're using in the movie, but then really worked on it with sanding and brush to get just an expression, just a feel of the overall sensation that those visuals are doing for me. I think that the easiest way to say it is I listened to Daft Punk and had fun (laughs).What’s next on the horizon?

There are a lot of other projects we’re working on for April. We have a lot of different collaborations with Italian manufacturers; we’re going to debut sets of tables and a couple of other home products. And we're working on a few very different projects that we've never done before, which are extremely exciting. One is in the area of luggage, and one is in the area of kids.Interesting.

Those two projects have been consuming quite a lot of my time in the past few months. You know, the airport is really becoming my second home, and for the past several years it’s been frustrating how the airlines are constantly changing [rules] for us—like you can carry only one piece, [then] you can split your pieces, you can do up to that amount—and it just really made me think that something's got to change in the way we work with our luggage. So this collection that we're working on is, of course, staying with the kind of transformation that I've been doing in all of my work, but specifically to improve travel needs. So that's a very exciting project.

And then, in the area for kids, I've always felt that a lot of babies' products just feel like devices. They're not so pleasant, they clutter the environment, for safety reasons and all kinds of reasons, they've just evolved into things that look like machines. So I don't understand [that]. At first I thought, why couldn't those things be miniature versions and beautiful proportions and beautiful aesthetic, which can still be safe and can still be in balance? So we're working on a few products for babies right now.

And there are actually a few new architectural projects that we're working on—actually an architectural system that I'm going to debut sometime in the next six months, and that's really going to be the biggest thing. It's a project that I've been developing for the past four and a half years now, and have actually quite a lot of patents on, and it's an entire system that's very structurally sound. It has tremendous potential and capabilities in terms of structural strength, but also acoustic applications. Sounds like there’s a lot on your plate.

Yeah (laughs), we have a lot going on. There are [also] a couple interior projects in Europe, in Turkey, in Paris. Last question—what did you think of the new movie? I know it doesn't officially come out until December 17th, but I imagine, given the project, that you've seen it.You know, it's really been torture, I must say, because first Disney sent us some drawings, then they sent us some short clips, then they sent us the first five minutes…So, I've not seen the entire movie yet! I've just seen bits and pieces from it. And I've listened to—every couple weeks they're debuting something else, so they released 20-25 minutes from the soundtrack, which is unbelievable. So, I'm like everybody else, waiting to see the whole thing. From what I've seen, it's unbelievable. They were trying actually to get the motorcycle down to Miami for Basel, and all I wanted was a four-minute ride on it. The motorcycle works, it's a one-of-a-kind produced by Ducati.

So, there's a lot of really, really exciting elements—even just the animation, which is unbelievable. So yeah, I'm curious. I really got bits and pieces, but i can't yet put them all together.  (laughs)Who's on the soundtrack?It was done by Daft Punk, and it's great. I enjoyed it a lot. 


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