Building the Grid: a conversation with Tron Legacy director Joe KosinskiS

We recently had the chance to talk with Tron Legacy director Joe Kosinski. Kosinski, who originally trained as an architect at Columbia, told us about constructing the brand new Tron City and updating the Tron aesthetic for the 21st century.

You have a background in architecture. In Tron Legacy, you're building this virtual cityscape from scratch. Were there any architects or designers who informed the building of Tron City?

The architects who come to mind are Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Albert Speer — Speer was an architect for the Nazis, and you can see his influence in the designs for CLU's game arenas. You can see the influence of Neil Denari in Flynn's safe house. It was fun to pull from all these influences and construct something new for this movie. That's part of the reasons I took this project — I saw the opportunity to build a universe from scratch, not only with the architecture, but also with the character and vehicle design. You can put all of these elements together in a way that you couldn't do with other movies.

Would you say that the design of Tron City is more futurist or 1980s retrofuturistic?

The idea is that the Grid was created in the 1980s and evolved independent of the outside world. Syd Mead and Moebius' designs for the original Tron very much had an early 80s aesthetic, and it was fun to take these 1980s influences and evolve it forward within this particular world.

Building the Grid: a conversation with Tron Legacy director Joe KosinskiS

What did filming the game sequences look like in real life? Was it Garrett Hedlund throwing frisbees against a green screen?

For the disc games, we filmed Garrett on a blue screen stage with real discs. For the lightcycles, that was much more virtual. We shot real faces and motion-capped the bodies. The lightjets we shot with real cockpits. For the nightclub sequence at The End of the Line Club, we shot that on a full set. Everything was real. I tried to build real sets whenever possible. Flynn's safe house, CLU's throne room, CLU's warship, there were 15 or 16 big sets that we built.

Building the Grid: a conversation with Tron Legacy director Joe KosinskiS

Speaking of the End of the Line Club, Daft Punk cameos in that sequence. They have a very idiosyncratic robot look. What sort of aesthetics did they bring to the table?

The group has a very distinctive look, and I worked with them on the design of their Tron suits. When we created them, we wanted to maintain Daft Punk's look, but recreate it within the world of the Grid.

How do you think fans of the original Lite-Brite Tron will react to this sleek, dark world of the new Tron?

I think will some embrace it and see it as an evolution, but maybe some diehard purists will be unhappy that everybody's not in white spandex. Personally, I didn't want to get so nostalgic that you can't let go. The suits really are an extension of Syd Mead's early suit designs from the original sketches. There's a strong correlation, and hopefully fans of the original understand that this is done in the spirit of the first film.

You're also directing a new version of Disney's The Black Hole. How has working on Tron Legacy taught you about updating Disney scifi flicks?

I feel like our process was really healthy on this film, and doing an effects test early on was a powerful thing. It gave the studio something finished so they knew what they were getting. It gave them confidence in me and the vision of the film.

The above artwork is from The Art of Tron Legacy, which is out today from Disney Editions.