From the very first frame of TRON: Legacy, the film places you in a world of absolutely amazing aesthetics. Director Joe Kosinski had a spectacular vision, and this 3D adventure, set in an environment unlike anything else ever captured on the big screen, is nothing short of tech sexy.
Since before the second teaser that illuminated a cheering crowd at Comic Con in 2009, Kosinski has been working alongside digital colorist, David Cole at Laser Pacific. An Australian native, Cole has been grading films like Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and King Kong. It being Kosinski’s first feature, Cole was amazed with everything Joe brought to the table. From the high-end, very complex 3D digital film effects to the overall vision of the film, Kosinski had a great eye and it was fantastic working with him. When Cole sat down with Kosinski two years ago to start TRON: Legacy, I’m not sure if they knew they were making one of the coolest looking films ever — at least in this writer’s geek-filled opinion.
Talking with Cole, he couldn’t help mention how Comic Con played a role in developing the look of TRON: Legacy. The first teaser played in 2008 showed very little “real world” footage and nothing at all in 3D. “There are a lot of tricks you can do in a 2D world that get exposed when they are put into 3D. We had to test and see what we could and couldn’t do and develop new techniques to use in our arsenal,” explains Cole. When the 2009 3D teaser was released at Con with an additional five minutes that pictured the world outside of Tron, and was met with such a positive reaction, Kosinski and Cole felt they were on to something. “We didn’t stop after Con, we continued to develop and hone in on the world every day until its release date (December 17th),” says Cole.
Since the film is set 20 years later, Kosinski and Cole wanted to relate to the 1982 version of TRON, but create a completely new, modernizing look that paralleled the progression of both Tron worlds. “Kosinski had a very strong opinion and established the Tron look very early on. This made polishing the digital pallet of the environments a little easier,” mentions Cole.
Cole exclusively used Autodesk Lustre to grade the film, which allowed Laser Pacific to set up a remote satellite station at Skywalker Sound. Lustre gave them the advantage of only needing to transfer small metadata files for rendering to Los Angeles, instead of terabytes of data, but because Cole also writes his own plug-in software for Lustre, it allowed them to do things in-house that normally would have to be farmed out to visual effects. Kosinski and Cole were pretty unified working together. Cole had a 2D and a 3D projector set up and was grading both concurrently. The interesting thing about this project Cole mentions is that nearly anytime he finished something, they were watching it with all of the audio (dialogue, music, sound effects). Normally, he might watch a movie, grade it and then they’ll put the sound into it. When I asked him if any of Daft Punk’s score influenced his coloring, he said he had no intentional interaction with the music, but he’s sure some rubbed off on him. “If something is supposed to be exciting or anxious, you can help get that feeling with the use of contrast and color and how you focus the eye, but having the music was just another voice to help me out,” says Cole.
There are pieces in the movie that take place in the past and Cole experimented with a lot of different color and saturation techniques. They ended up taking a more subtle approach so the mood of the film changes, but not to make these time transitions too overt. “We wanted the audience to be impacted by what was heard, but we also wanted them to be impacted by what they saw,” says Cole. Certain elements in the film Cole could have swore were practical because he knows the tricks to look out for, but was blown away when he learned they were CG… and vice versa. Some shots he couldn’t believe were physically done by the actors without wires.
The first time Kosinski and Cole watched the movie, they were really happy about it. “When you work on something so hard, you get lost in some of the details, but looking at it as an audience member I was blown away,” mentions Cole. He goes on to say that none of it could have been possible without the help from the entire crew. From Joe and DP Claudio Miranda to the entire team at Laser Pacific, including Nancy Fuller, the in-house DI producer, and Damian McDonnell, who assisted with the color work and was Cole’s eyes back in Los Angeles, everyone pitched in to help make this movie great.
I tried to get Cole to give me a logline of the film’s look and he said, “TRON: Legacy looks like TRON: Legacy.” And it’s true. They created something unique and inspiring. It doesn’t look like anything else. It’s something very different. Very strong. And very powerful. It’s TRON: Legacy.