Sneak Peek—Tron: Legacy & Tangled

Photos by Scott Wilkinson

Once in a while, my job has some pretty nice perks. Last week, for example, I was invited to the Disney studios in Burbank, CA, for a preview screening of two movies coming out this holiday season—Tron: Legacy and Tangled, an animated telling of the Rapunzel fairy tale.

Both movies are being produced in 3D from the start, but most of the footage we saw was not 3D—neither one is finished yet, so we were shown works in progress. In fact, other than a trailer for Legacy (which was in 3D using Dolby 3D glasses), we saw only about 20 minutes of disparate scenes from the movie with 2.0 sound. In his opening remarks, director Joseph Kosinski said he was heading to Skywalker Sound in Northern California right after the screening to work on the soundtrack, which will be 7.1 when it's released on December 17, 2010.

Tangled isn't finished yet, either, though it's closer than Legacy—and it had better be with a release date of November 24. We did see the entire movie, but some shots were in various intermediate stages—storyboard, layout (black and white with very rough animation), colorized with no lighting, "twos" (every other frame, which looked quite jerky)—as well as final cuts with color and lighting. And none of the footage was 3D.

Even though we didn't see finished movies, I was impressed with both. In particular, I can't wait for Tron: Legacy. Set 30 years after the original, it features Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprising their roles as Kevin Flynn and Alan Bradley. In Legacy, Flynn has been missing for 20 years, and his son, played by Garrett Hedlund, finds him on the Game Grid after stumbling upon the laser equipment used to send Flynn there in the original.

In addition to reprising his role as Kevin Flynn, Bridges also plays Clu, a program written by Flynn. In the original Tron, Clu is derezzed by the Master Control Program, so Flynn writes a new version, which apparently comes to control the Game Grid and abducts its "user" to the computer world. What's fascinating here is that Bridges also plays Clu 2—even interacting with Flynn in some scenes—and he looks 20 years younger than he actually is. I was told that Digital Domain, the company responsible for digitally aging Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, did the same thing in reverse on Bridges. In this case, however, the target was very well defined, since everyone knows what he looked like 20 years ago.

I also enjoyed Tangled, which is a classic Disney animated feature with great songs by Alan Menken—Academy Award-winning composer for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Enchanted—and lyricist Glenn Slater. The voice cast includes singer Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, Zachary Levi from TV's Chuck as thief-turned-hero Flynn Rider, Donna Murphy as evil Mother Gothel, and Ron Pearlman, Brad Garrett, and Jeffrey Tambor as humorous thugs.

Of particular note is the animation of Rapunzel's super-long, golden hair, which is more detailed than just about any I've seen so far. I was also glad to see a children's movie in which the main character is a smart, strong, accomplished female without the over-sexualization seen in so many other such portrayals.

After the screenings, we were treated to a reception in front of Disney's corporate headquarters, whose pediment leads the surrounding residential neighborhood to be known as "dwarf adjacent." As we sipped Trontinis, I talked with Daniel Simon, vehicle designer for Tron: Legacy, who pointed out that just about every shot includes some CGI, including the vehicle exteriors, though the interiors are physical so the actors can interact with them realistically. Many of the vehicles seen in the original—lightcycles, tanks, recognizers (those flying archways), the solar sailer—are found in the sequel, though they have been updated significantly.

I also spoke with Legacy co-producer Justin Springer, who revealed that all the concept art was created digitally, and most of it was in 3D. The live action was shot on Sony F35 digital cameras mounted in a stereoscopic rig built by Pace Camera, the same company that built the 3D-camera rigs for Avatar. Springer assured me that 3D was used primarily to create a sense of immersion with depth behind the screen plane, not for gimmicky effects with things flying toward the audience.

Similarly, Tangled co-director Nathan Greno said, "3D should enhance the storytelling, not distract from it with gimmicks." In the screening, I did see a couple of moments that might be a bit gimmicky, but for the most part, I think it will look great in 3D.

I'll see both movies in the theater, but I'm especially looking forward to Tron: Legacy. I loved the original, for which Stereophile's Michael Fremer was the music and sound-design supervisor and my sister worked as an assistant to one of the main computer animators. The story appears to be excellent, and live-action 3D is fairly rare these days, so it should be very interesting to say the least. However, I expect it to be extremely loud as well, so I'll be sure to bring my earplugs.

uavtheo's picture

Scott, ever since I saw the trailer for Tron earlier this year, I've been waiting in anticipation both for LEGACY and for Tron the original on Bluray. I wish there was more definitive info on a Bluray release for the original. You have made me grow with even more anticipation for LEGACY! Very cool. I also hope you enjoyed your time on the Disney campus. It's really a very cool place. One of the things I love is that enormous contraption in the lobby that has all the glass layers that were used for the opening scene of Bambi (or was it Snow White?) to give that great sense of depth and have each layer of perspective move independently.

Jarod's picture

Im really looking forward to Tron: Lagacy! Just like Theo, ever since I first seen the previews for Tron 3D earlier this year, Ive been greatly anticipating this movie. I loved the original movie as it is a classic in the movie biz. Scott that had to be a blast going to this screening than being able to hang out at Disney's corporate headquarters!

David Vaughn's picture
I'm looking forward to this as well. Hopefully Disney will release the Blu-ray of the original before this hits the theaters so we can get caught up on the story. I haven't seen it since I was a kid.
Jarod's picture

I think they should release Tron on Blu-ray as well. I know I would buy it.