TRON: LEGACY – Exploring the notion of virtual space with Joseph Kosinski



The year 2011 saw the launching of one of the most CG visual effects movie – the Tron Legacy.With a cast that included Jeff Bridges, Garett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde.Most scenes are set in an imaginary version of digital world. The plot is essentially a standalone movie differing to the Cult movie Tron released 1982. Kevin Flynn is a computer programmer who is found materialized inside the very computer system that he designed for over twenty years in the digital world. He is missing in the real world and his son Sam enters the computerized world in an attempt to find him. The story is about whether the father and the son reunite.



Joseph Kosinski is TV commercial and film director. He studied mechanical engineering at Stanford. He always had this kind of creative side and technical side, and he thought architecture might be the way to combine them, so he went to architecture school in New York. As graduate architecture student at Columbia, Kosinski took his design skills and created a series of short films using computer generated effects that caught the eye of Hollywood. Once he got out of architecture school he decided not to be an architect and started his own little design studio.

‘I realized that I loved using computers to create something, but being an architect just wasn’t going to keep me interested. The idea of a life spent obsessing over bathroom details for an Upper East Side penthouse was pretty depressing.’ I can’t agree more.

Disney wanted to do a sequel of Tron and Kosinski came into picture. His Architecture background served as an interesting training ground for making films especially where whole world has to be created. He specialises in bringing architectural perspective to life in a very cinematic way having directed commercials and advertisement for automobile companies. He embraced the aesthetics, look vibe of original Tron movie. He was heavily involved in all aspects of the design of the movie, going through every single shot; a lot of times he sits down with the artist’s in front of their workstation going through and setting up the movement of the camera, the framing of a shot, knowing how every aspect of his film is actually made.







How did Kosinski approach the design and the visuals of the film to support the story?  What was his theme there and approach?

Kosinski had a very clear vision for what the movie could be. He builds sequences like the disc games and the light cycle races. He brought people from outside the film industry in order to get kind of a fresh take.  He wanted this film to look different than any other movie out there. He received strong support from set designers that were people from the world of architecture; vehicle designers that came from the world of automotive design, illustrators that came from the world of video games. He started with looking at the aesthetic of the first Tron film and looked at a lot of the original sketches by concept designer, a lot of work they’d done had inspired him. He imagines how this world would look like in modern days – the materiality and the photorealism of the world. His visions were to make it feel more real, so he uses easy to recognised materials like glass and steel and concrete, and he created the minimalistic surfaces and those ribbons of light throughout his scenes.





There are significant locations and places and sets that is connected to the plot. Kosinski devised and constructed twelve to fifteen of the film’s sets, including Kevin Flynn’s safe house.

  • The safe house is in the outlands.
  • The outlands are where Flynn isolated himself for twenty years.
  • The Tron is where the portal that bridges the digital world and the normal world. The game area is the combat spaces for the computer programmes.
  • The sea of simulation where the buildings lie. It is similar to the real world in aspects of rain sea.
  • The solar sailor is the spaceship for aircraft warriors,
  • the flynn’s arcade is where Sam transport to the digital world, this place belongs to his father who ran the video gaming arcade.
  • The grid is the digital frontier digital frontier.
  • The end of line club is belonging to Zeus and a club where the programmers have fun.



So how Kosinski approached the blue screen post-production? 

Much of the scene were composed as live action against blue screen. The background was CG elements . When (Sam) was shot in blue screen , the CG environment had not yet been built, and the lighting on Sam failed to match what was subsequently created for the CG elements.  Sam looked flat when placed against the high contrast lighting on the CG background. This disparity undermined the representational realism the senescence required  and provided a clear tell for viewers about the scene artificial construction.


So the solution was to analyse the the light distribution in a scene. The illumination of the surface normal tells the compositor how light will be  distributed across the surface of the scene. Based on this information, reflection mattes and ambient mattes were used to increase the lighting on Sam’key side  and lower it to her shadowed areas. The result was a convincing  distribution of light  throughout the scene.. The relighting of Sam became an organic part of he scene’s action.

Joe chose to direct the film in Blue screen because his film needed low lighting in order to allow the costume light tape to stand out in the dark.  He then Created storyboards to communicate those ideas to the crews. It also helps him to line up the correct angles and get the correct lighting. The furniture’s and props are covered in blue, he ensured the objects are aligned properly with the position and lighting, Joe matts out with key light in After effects, layering the background animation, retained the shadows on the floor, the natural shadows still remain intact, and by positioning and adjusting lights helps to reduce shadows on the props make keying them out easier. Kosinski made sure the actors understand where they are in the context of the films, and he guides them to envisage the visual scene and let them understand how big the blue screen size is, by the amount of delays, slaps, repeats to walk to the other side of the spectrum. One method he used was playing the tracks to the crews on the set allows the actors to get the idea very quickly. When he is shooting the blue screen on the sound stage, the artists who were building the Virtual set were there to give feedback with the camera crew and talk to Joe to eliminate potential problems that may happen. So by maintaining constant communication to the actors and artists and collaboration with the post production and shooting on the set, Joe produces smoother result.



So what is the difference between blue and green screen? Why is green screen more popular these days? 


It has the highest illuminance value and require less lighting to illuminate fully. It is easier to work with and the green bounced reflected light is higher than with bluescreen. Whereas blue is a better contrast colour with skin tone so have natural reflections allowing for a more natural look when filming people. The Colour correction tends to be easier on bluescreen than on green screen.



One of the themes of the film is this notion of perfection where Kevin Flynn trying to create the  perfect system. In the world of Tron,  We are fed symmetry throughout the film and perfect angles of city blocks.  The world reflects Flynn’s intentions to create a controllable world in the computer to take all sense of chaos out.  The director uses the central viewpoint in the middle of the frame, adding depth and inclusion. Viewers instead experience the unity of space,  dramatic action unfolding within a continuous optical perspective.


The use of camera moment to slowly pan and extend the shot in a fictional digital world. The long takes are digitally stimulated. A viewer watching the scene would have a phenomenal experience of the spatial continuity.

It is important to note that Kosinski uses visual effects in order to respect the  continuity of space. He held that continuity of dramatic space , and it sustain across dramatic action and drew closer to reality.

The film was shot in dual camera 3D using Pace Fusion rigs like James Cameron’s Avatar, Tron used the F35s. it has a full 35mm sensor which give cinematic shallow depth of field. His approach to camera technology is using F35s, this allows him shoots wide angle.



What influence Kosinski for his intended symmetry?

The scenes varied from extreme low angle to high angle, and this gives an advantage to the depth. Joe Kosinski was inspired by fascist architecture of the 1930s and ‘40s, the architecture of Albert Speer, he was famous for being Adolf Hitler chief architect, it’s the idea of domain power and control in these architecture and you see that same kind of obsession with symmetry and perfection, angles. And this city reflects Flynn’s intention, to create the perfect system. The scenes choose a viewpoint that shows a range of distance. Lighting bright tones in the foreground and dark tones behind, allowing the focus unshar towards the distance. Several of the scenes are in long horizon line in the middle of the pictures. There’s framing with a frame, again playing with the symmetry. The Rule of the Horizon Line takes on importance, giving absolute prominence to the ground up and below.


Image result for Albert Speer draiwngs





The two main theme colours are blue and orange.  Orange is twice as bright as blue so their ideal combination is 1:2. The contrast colours still harmonise. There is a relationship between these colours. The blue represents the good. The orange represents the evil which is pretty evident form the graphics.

Almost every space was CG. The Light cycle and disc game area are blue screen technology. The sets are designed to follow the colour theme. Even The Flynn’s arcade in the normal world corresponds to the scheme. It is very clear; it is basically forced upon the audience. This probably reflects on kolinskis sense of colour choice that related to his architectural visuals and styles. Much lesser noise and more detail.

Tron - final Presentation343.13-page-001.jpg



Tron legacy is a film that took place inside a computer, and Joe built a lot of sets and the VFX team was pushed to invent new ways of conjuring up imaginary environemnts, and  this offers visions to use sites and spaces never seen.


In fact, There are echoes of  STARS WARS in Tron Legacy, they’ve done composition through models and still keeping the realistic feel through optical effects, utilized motion-control technology greatly enhance the conventional space. it culd be argued that special effects in Stars Wars film, which capitalise that the viewer is to be dazzled by effects work even while caught up in the story.  it is not a simple live action shot, and part of your mind pauses to admire the deception involved.

Image result for tron legacymotion captuire


In OBLIVION which was launched in 2013. The difference is the shots happened outside in the daylight and backlit projections. And the different locations setting gives the advantage of making it more detailed realistic scene.

It could be argued that OBLIVION were in significant ways more radical,  Joe uses the projection as a backdrop and using it to light the set and actors. It allowed the director to capture everything in camera which create a more organic and real than it would have with blue screen. Joe wanted it to feel like it was an in-camera as possible. Only 800 visual effects shots created in OBLIVION whereas in Tron legacy there’s over 1400 visual effects shots, it seems as if those shots  are establishing the narrative rather than illustrating it or filling it out.



The safe house is worth to mention Flynn lived 20 years of his digital life in here. The design of the house reflects Flynn’s intentions trying to create this perfect retreat house.  Kosinski as an architect, had designed the safe house himself. The main floor is illuminated glass panels, walls are lined with rustic stone and black brickwork which seem irradiated by light.

The Interior is minimalistic creating a look that blends the old with the new, the smooth and rough in a provocative way. Lighting is cold bluish hues.

The floor and ceiling Finishing are large plastic panels makes the space calm and serene to give the effect of high luminosity objects in space . Similarly, in Space Odyssey 2001, we can find both sets are using white shadowless interiors and illuminated panels.

The furniture is neo-Victorian style, it is white coloured and made of glass. All these features make the character Flynn to feel at home by bringing familiar objects and interior. The actor who played Kevin Flynn is Jeff Bridges, Jeff is a Buddhist and was really interested in bringing some of that to Flynn’s character to understand how a man has learned to cope trapped in this prison he’s created for himself. And Buddhism seemed to be a way for him to deal with the isolation and sense of nothingness that Kevin Flynn has adopted. Kosinski tried to build as many sets as possible to bring realism his architectural background helps him to bring his design flair into the movie, he wanted the audience to feel like the that they were inside the digital world.


( 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968).

Tobe, R. (n.d.). Film, architecture and spatial imagination. 1st ed.



TRON Legacy – The lean shape suits with their distinct lighting patterns are influencing fashion designers.

How the costume material is made?

The costume design established the atmosphere for the interiors and set the tone for the style of the film. The costume was first melded, the material is flexible polymer, the electroluminescent lamps passed through using the light tape, the illuminated disc at the back has LED lights attached to the suit using magnet. All the costumes had to be sewn in such a way that the stitches did not appear, with no need for buttons or zippers The modelling is made using Zbrush. Furniture and interior designers were influenced by futuristic look in TRON furnishings. Electronic music band “Daft Punk”, were huge Tron fans they wrote the film’s whole soundtrack. Which brings a unique mix of techno beats and an orchestra to give the film an edge intense feel to it.



There were about ten companies who did the visual effects shots. It was mostly digital domain. There were many others such as Mr. X, Whiskeytree, Ollin Studio, Prana Studios and Prime Focus thanks to Jos’s choice of reaching out to artists across the industry. Out of a total of 1,565 vfx shots, 882 were done by DD. Lighting system. Depth of field, CG, Facial representation were some of them.

They built this four-camera, head-mounted system that the character would wear on set with the other actors. they take the data from those four cameras and triangulate each point and get a floating, 3-D point cloud of his face. They ran that through sophisticated software they wrote and it rebuilt his performance on the younger visage. The effects team also had to mirror the particular movements of Bridges’ face — muscles, skin, expressions so that the CG face would approach a photo-realistic representation.

Gmunk team by munkowitz led a Black-Ops team of GFX All-Stars deep into the darkness at Digital Domain crafting over 12 minutes of holographic content which brings in style and modernity to suit the Tron aesthetic.

Throne room: They worked on the idea of disc defragmentation diagrams and modernized the aesthetic of creating a way to represent data as a hologram. Master David Lewandowski, the team’s lead takes holographic simulations to a whole new level using Cinema 4D Mograph which is a virtual insanity.

OPENING SCENE: The creation of the Opening Titles is a process starting from Munkowitz designing out the line work in Illustrator, then adding Z travel reliefs in Maya and Cinema4D and rendering using V-ray. The GFX team designed all the graphic buildings from the ground up, having them reference the skyline of Vancouver but mostly innovating and designing from scratch.

FIREWORKS: Application Development was an integral part of creating the fireworks for the game area. The team built an open-frameworks application with Mr. Josh Nimoy that would load OBJ data, allowing the team to define the 3d structure from the outset and then enhance the base shape with a generation-based network of fireworks streamers and subsequent expansion.





TRON 1982:

There is not enough said if one does not mention the Tron movie from 1982. It is known for its first extensive use (15 min. fully computer generated) of 3D CGI including the famous light cycle sequence. Also includes very early facial animation.

TRON is a sci-fi movie produced by Disney in 1982 and directed by Steven Lisberger, starring Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn/Club and Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley/TRON. Being one of the first movies to use computer graphics, TRON has a distinctive visual style and, although it wasn’t a success at the box office, it became a cult and is considered the first experiment in computer animation.

Steven Lisberger’s sci-fi was seminal because it didn’t so much push back the boundaries of CGI, and it did it using a computer that boasted 2Mb of memory. Despite the constraints Lisberger and co. were working with, they conjured entire CG sequences in Tron World, more than a quarter of an hour’s worth of digital effects in total, including the 3D light cycle race.

Despite its avant-garde look for that time, TRON was nominated for two Oscars, but not for Visual Special Effects: The Academy considered computer graphics as too easy, compared to traditional animation. The director immediately believed that computer graphics could be “very suitable for bringing video games and computer visuals to the screen. It was mostly old school effects and matte paintings.

Matte painting is a technique used since the dawn of cinema (it appeared for the first time in the movie Missions of California, 1907). It consists of superimposing transparent plates on the film, hand-drawn with landscape scenes. This technique was used a lot in movies, because it allowed to represent sets and landscapes too expensive to rebuild or impossible to reach.

With the advent of CGI, the technique evolved in Digital Matte: the environments are no longer hand-painted but recreated using computers. At the time, computers were able to generate only static images and not animations: the camera coordinates of the light cycle sequence were inserted by hand for each frame. It has been estimated that 600 coordinates were necessary to obtain four seconds of movie.

Another technique used was ‘backlight animation’, in which a filtered light passes through each frame to create vibrant effects of coloured light, able to give life to the inventive Oscar winning costumes. The glowing circuitry on the character’s costumes were hand-painted onto each frame.

In this unique process, the live-action scenes inside the computer world were filmed in black-and-white on a black set, then printed on large format Kodalith high-contrast film and hand-coloured with photographic and rotoscopic techniques to give them a “technological” appearance. Those multiple layers, printed on large format and painted, required an even greater workload than the traditional cell animation. Back then, many Disney animators were wary of computer animation and feared that it would replace them, so they refused to work on Tron. There were about three thousand Korean animators hired to do the backlighting of the lines in the costume

The only time they used computers was for the light cycle races, the solar sailor, Sark’s carrier and the MCP.



TRON Legacy under the supervision of Joseph Kosinski,  are landmarks in the way virtual reality is presented on screen. Although one might say it was heavily on CG but it still keeps the warmth and humanity that had characterized in the original Tron movie.  In some repects, a movie like Tron legacy is more radical in concept, becuase it question the need for using actual location. If this were the norm, it would present a challenge to filmmakers to how they would think about future projects.  Kosinski’s narrative evocation of a virtual reality and in his innovative meshing of the arts, they transform the way The film having taking inspiration to original TRON, it may seem today a movie with outdated special effects but within it lies a bold art, perhaps one of the last examples of artistic avant-garde: a brave attempt to explore new frontiers of the  art and an example of how history is written by those who truly believe they can break traditional patterns, daring to contrast against criticism.

Bibliography – Work Cited (2016). Furniture and interiors from the film Tron: Legacy. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec. 2016].

Keeps, D. (2016). Set Pieces: The look of ‘Tron: Legacy’. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec. 2016]. (2016). Tron: Legacy – Fun Facts | Computer Graphics World. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec. 2016].

Front Effects – VFX curiosities and Making of. (2016). TRON (1982) – The cult movie visual effects. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec. 2016].

SEMLYEN, P. (2016). A History Of CGI In The Movies. [online] Empire. Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016].

The best TRON:LEGACY REVIEW EVER. (2016). The best TRON:LEGACY REVIEW EVER. [online] Available at: [Accessed Dec. 2016]. (2016). theGRID. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016].