Tron: Legacy design team interview: Light Cycles, suits, architecture and more

With Tron: Legacy just around the corner, we catch up with its costume, vehicle and environment designers for an interview about the film’s unique visuals...

In our latest Tron: Legacy round-table, we caught up with the film’s designers to discuss their work on its distinctive aesthetic. Costume designers Neville Page and Christine Clarke, vehicle designer Daniel Simon, and environment designer David Levy all provided a lively insight into the work that went into creating the virtual world of the Grid…

How important was it to retain the feel of the original Tron’s costumes, even though they’re no longer made from spandex?

Christine Clarke: If you had seen those costumes in person, you’d know why we didn’t retain them!

When we began, I went back and looked at the original costume designs for Tron, and they’re literally spandex and old hockey helmets – it was all in boxes at Disney. I think, because they knew they’d be creating the finished look of the film in post, they’re really just a framework for what you see in the finished movie. When you see them, you realise they’re a little low-tech for what we need right now.

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The only aspect we all wanted to keep was the circuitry – the line work. That was something that formed part of our process, and the discussions of what we wanted to retain and what we wanted to move away from.

You retain that with the use of the LED lines. The exposed technology.

NP: Yes. And that’s retained throughout the production – in the finished vehicles and architecture, everything. The light. The energy.

The suits you’ve designed are very sleek and close-fitting. Were you worried they might be a little too sexy?

CC: I don’t think that’s possible! [Laughs] I think Joe [Kosinski, director] always wanted us to have an awareness of the physical form. And I think we were very aware of enhancing physical silhouettes in the film to the best of our ability. I think you’ve seen there is a lithe shape to everyone, and bulked-up muscles.

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With the women and Sam’s character, I think they are sexy, because of the sleek, form-fitting black lines of what we’ve created. We use the lights to accentuate the positive. So I think there is a lot of reverence for Tron’s sexy, revealing look.

So nobody from Disney came to you and said that it had to be a movie for 12-year-old children as well?

NP: You know, I remember at the beginning, when I was sculpting Sam’s costume, there was a conversation on how much we show his glutes, or his butt. I think doing a great male physique was really critical, and we have an actor who has that. But there was a conversation about the crotch area. You do have to be mindful of it not being the focus of the film.

CC: For me, having worked on several films where this is a topic of discussion, it’s something that you’re aware of before it ever becomes an issue. Having worked on 300, with its codpieces, it was a big issue. In Watchmen, it was the same…

NP: And let’s not even talk about Doctor Manhattan! [Laughs]

CC: That was our first crotch question!

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How would the vehicles in Tron work in the real world?

Daniel Simon: I get that question a lot about the vehicles. They were clearly designed to work in this parallel universe,  to look awe-inspiring on screen. There was never any intention of having them work in the real world. We made it technically feasible, but no, you’d never find a parking spot with a Light Cycle inside it.

CC: They’ll make special parking spots for them! I do think that, because this is such a technological kind of film, you’re already seeing things like that, even in Disney’s marketing, where it’s very focused on gadgetry and a Tron version of things. I think there’s a lot of stuff coming out on the runways that has a kind of Tron aesthetic to it. There’s a darker, edgier, more European style that’s just happening. And the film hasn’t even come out yet. I think, when it does, there’ll be many things it’ll affect.

DS: But I think there’s also bit of fear as well, that because there’s also more than just black and glow lines, and I’m sure it’s going to go just a little bit out of control once it’s out there. But there is a certain beauty to it also.

What do you think of the original Tron Guy, Jay, do you think he is going to tackle the new one?

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NP: It’s going to be more expensive for him.

CC: I’d like to see it though. A black silhouette would be more flattering on him!

Did you have a real city that inspired you for the architecture?

David Levy: The architecture,  the whole city pattern is based on microchips. If you look at the city from the top it will look like a computer chip and we extruded from those paths and modified them, thats one inspiration behind the city shape and its circuitry. And the Communist architecture?

There is that too, like London, East Germany or France because the whole universe is controlled by this very dictatorial Clu, so everything is cold and concrete and looks like it has been washed by centuries of rainfall, that is the other inspiration.

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I’ve noticed in the footage that we’ve seen, that it’s very futuristic, but there is an 80s hint to it, which ties back into the 80s and Tron, but Michael Sheen’s character – his outfit and make up looks very Steve Strange/Boy George – was that intentional?

CC: [Laughs] That was purely accidental, I do think that fashions of some of the costume choices that we made definitely had a retro feeling to them, and in many ways retro from different time period. There is quite a big 80s influence on the end of line club, but you’ll find some 70s references, as well,  sprinkled throughout.

All of that is really due to the fact you are inside a virtual world, where a lot of time has gone by, but it is a world created by Kevin Flynn, who is a child of the 70s and 80s, so it’s only natural that you are going to have design influence from those time periods in the world that he has created.

Tron inspired the club that you’re now taking inspiration from, the original Tron inspired that look, and then there were loads of nightclubs that looked like that. Now you’re looking at 80s nightclubs, and thinking we will make the new one look a bit like that, which Tron influenced in the first place – it’s come full circle.

CC: But I think design is cyclical in that way. I think you will find that paradox in a lot of places. There is no real true one hundred per cent original design idea – I think everything is an amalgam of different things that we can reference or draw reference from.

DL: I think that is how you create an emotional response in people – there is something in your subconscious that tells you that you’ve seen it before, and it takes you back to your past.

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CC: I think we all do, ultimately in costume you’re trying to tell the story of that character visually. You want to interpret whatever is happening in the film in the visuals that you are seeing, and in order to do that, a lot of times you play on people’s emotions by referencing or showing something that you know will get this reaction from them. We are all just manipulators [Laughs].

Will someone build an actual full-sized Light Cycle that we could buy?

DS: It wasn’t designed for that, and the hubless wheels probably would be the biggest challenge. I would not want to go into that rubber suit to drive one.

CC: I keep seeing people threatening that they will build one. Give me one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and I’ll make one.

DS: Well, we’ll see. Things fly out of your hands and they just happen and you witness them and you have your own ideas about it.

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That bike is apparently officially licensed, there’s a company that is officially allowed to make the bike.

DS: [Surprised] Well I hope I get one for free!

CC: I can’t possibly see how you could ride around on it in a practical setting.

DS: Of course it would work! We thought about everything. We’ll see what happens. It is actually flattering if people take something and make their own thing of it, that’s a real compliment.

Neville Page, Christine Clarke, Daniel Simon, and David Levy, thank you all very much!

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