film design

tron legacy

 

In early 2008, Daniel was contacted by director Joe Kosinski to work on his upcoming feature film project, the then unannounced sequel to the 1982 cult movie TRON.

Daniel had never worked on a feature film before. After all necessary permits to work in the US were organized by Disney, and after the Art Director’s Guild approved his necessary membership, he immediately relocated from Berlin, Germany, to Los Angeles, where he joined the design team under guidance of both the director, and the production designer Darren Gilford. The team – a mix of leading designers with backgrounds in creature design, fashion design, architecture, set design and transportation design – worked for over 2 years on a look that later would make Tron:Legacy an icon in the sci-fi movie universe.

Daniel was tasked with over 10 different vehicles, and would apply his experience in automotive design to the process.

The Hero Light Cycle was already conceptualized by the time Daniel joined the group, which gave him a defined starting point to proportioning and surfacing this beloved vehicle. The Light Runner and Light Jets were designed by Daniel from a blank canvas, and saw his involvement up to the final set builds which were used in the film. The classic Light Cycle, originally created by industrial design authority Syd Mead in the 80s, was updated by Simon to match the film’s contemporary language.

Daniel appears briefly in the film in the End of Line Club scene.

 

HERO LIGHT CYCLE

When Daniel joined the Tron Legacy art department in fall 2008 at Disney Headquarters in Burbank, California, the design concept for the new Hero Light Cycle existed. It was used in a VFX test trailer, which Disney released in 2009. In the meantime, Daniel was tasked to modify the proportions to fit the ergonomics of actor Garrett Hedlund, to apply automotive surface solutions to the design, and to design new details, therefore re-shaping the entire bike. It was the first time Daniel worked in a feature film art department – a truly exhilarating experience. When the team relocated to the visual effects house Digital Domain in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, Daniel overlooked closely the creation of the final VFX models, finishes, and actuation.

This Hero Light Cycle is a homage to the original design concepts conceived by world-famous designer Syd Mead for the original Tron of 1982. His designs with an exposed rider never went past the stage of drawings, since computers could not render such complexity in the early 1980s.

A full size model was built under Daniel’s supervision at Wildfactory, Camarillo, to be used for promotions such as the surprise reveal at ComicCon 2009. It is currently exhibited at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.

VINTAGE LIGHT CYCLE

The original Light Cycle is one of the most iconic vehicles in sci-fi history. Originally designed by visual futurist and mastermind Syd Mead for the original Tron in 1982, it suffered from limitation in computational power but still achieved curved surfaces. Syd Mead had envisioned an open rider, but had to adjust the design for a closed canopy, with computers not being able to sufficiently render human bodies.

The new film had planned to give this iconic bike an appearance, but it was not clear whether it would be a toy in Sam’s bedroom or a print on some wardrobe. As an admirer of Syd Mead’s work, Daniel personally seized the opportunity to bring this design into the 21st century to match the other vehicles, not to mention the extremely high resolution of today’s film. Over time, the Vintage Light Cycle got a real part in Flynn’s safe house. The art department built a full size interior buck of the bike, to allow actor Garrett Hedlund to ride it on camera with realistic lighting from the bike’s large control panel.

Daniel’s re-imagined Vintage Light Cycle also makes an appearance in the animated TV series Tron Uprising. There it is referred to as ‘Encom 786’, based on a small red number which Daniel had hectically typed onto the design renders before a presentation.

 

 

LIGHT RUNNER

No full vehicles were built for the film, which is a testament for the achievements of the involved visual effect houses. However, director Joe Kosinski is very keen on showing as much as possible in camera, an approach which helps actors to relate better to their surrounding and in this case – the vehicles. The practical vehicle builds used for the shoot are the interior of the Light Runner, the full cockpit of the Vintage Light Cycle, the full cockpit and rear gunner section of the Big Light Jet, and the interior of the Light Runner.

The full size model of the Hero Light Cycle was not used in the film and only built after principle photography started. It was used for promotions such as the surprise reveal at ComicCon 2009. It is currently exhibited at the Peterson Museum in Los Angeles. The models were built by Wildfactory, Camarillo, and Aria Group, Irvine.

LIGHT JETS

The Light Jets are an entirely new range of machines in the Tron universe and a phenomenal creative opportunity. The design brief was to create two different flying machines. A single-seater that can be described as a flying Light Cycle, in that it is morphed around the body of the exposed pilot, shaping a dynamic unit. The other craft was to seat a crew of three, with the third member to be moved rear-wards into a tail-gunner position.

The design for the small Light Jet was defined within minutes on a post-it. A pilot in a position similar to the Light Cycles. Daniel was inspired by the Adventures of Baron Munchausen, so the pilot seems to be riding the fuselage. To enhance the unity of man and machine even further, Daniel hollowed out the wings to place arm rests and control units, connecting the pilot in an Icarus-like fashion to the wings.

In contrast, the design for the big Light Jet was a tour de force. Daniel’s admiration for high speed jets gave a first direction. The director desired a craft with an elegant and graceful flight attitude, and a large cockpit to allow for various scenes on board, but the early speed-shaped concepts did not meet that brief. Designer David Levy come to help with alternative concepts, which ultimately resulted in a more glider-like architecture. Additional challenges were the transition of Sam’s character from the front of the cockpit to the rear, the hatch system to reveal the enclosed rear turret, the easy access to the cockpit for three actors, and the overall interior space.  Finally, folding wings were added to echo carrier-based aircraft. The cockpit and rear turret were built as real set pieces by Wildfactory, Camarillo. Ultimately, Daniel describes this jet as his most challenging design on Tron Legacy.

 

DESIGN DRAWINGS

Above, a selection of Daniel’s design drawings, created over the span of one year at the Tron Legacy art department at Disney HQ in Burbank, Los Angeles, and Digital Domain in Venice, Los Angeles. In the age of fast production schedules and advanced CG conceptualizing, such intricate drawings are less and less required. However, if possible, Daniel prefers to give each vehicle the final touch in a CG based line drawing with Photoshop paint overs.

MODEL MAKING PROCESS

No full vehicles were built for the film, which is a testament for the achievements of the involved visual effect houses. However, director Joe Kosinski is very keen on showing as much as possible in camera, an approach which helps actors to relate better to their surrounding and in this case – the vehicles. The practical vehicle builds used for the shoot are the interior of the Light Runner, the full cockpit of the Vintage Light Cycle, the full cockpit and rear gunner section of the Big Light Jet, and the interior of the Light Runner.

The full size model of the Hero Light Cycle was not used in the film and only built after principle photography started. It was used for promotions such as the surprise reveal at ComicCon 2009. It is currently exhibited at the Peterson Museum in Los Angeles. The models were built by Wildfactory, Camarillo, and Aria Group, Irvine.