Designer Daniel Simon gives MTV News a behind-the-scenes look at how the film's futuristic machines were built.
By Eric Ditzian
The "Tron Legacy" vehicle design team had one goal: "We wanted to make the most sexy vehicles ever onscreen."
According to German-born designer Daniel Simon, who worked on transforming the original film's iconic creations from clunky machines to sleek, futuristic works of art, the crew set the bar high for themselves. It was a four-year process that began with director Joseph Kosinski and production designer Darren Gilford, who conceived the overall concepts and then brought in folks like Simon, whose work includes designing real-world Bugattis and Lamborghinis.
Not that they actually built the lightcycles and lightjets we see in the finished film, which hit theaters on Friday (December 16). While the crew constructed each vehicle's cockpit, complete with LED lights and instrumentation, the machines only exist on the sketchpad and in the ultra-powerful computers with which Kosinski created his film.
Simon called up MTV News recently to walk us through the creation of three of the vehicles in the new movie. Here's what we learned.
As fans of the 1982 film know, the first lightcycles — those bikes that race forward and emit beams of light — weren't open-air vehicles but rather sported concealing shields. You couldn't see the actors furiously riding through the movie's CGI world. The tech team back then simply didn't possess the computing power to capture such complexity. They had to hide the actors. The first thing Kosinski wanted was to make his "Tron Legacy" bikes open-air.
"It was a pretty obvious choice. That is what most motorcycles look like," Simon said. "They had exactly those ideas in the '80s but didn't have the technology to execute them. Making the lightcycles open-air was a way to show off our technological revolution. And it's more fun for the actors, since they can be seen and they can interact with the environment."
To further update the bikes, the team drew inspiration from real-world bikes built to set speed records. "From the rider position and the wheelbase, it's inspired by land speed-record bikes that you would see in Bonneville or El Mirage," Simon explained. "Motorcycle fans will know Burt Munro, who set all these records in the '60s, he used the same rider position. The only difference is that you can't actually turn a bike like how the bikes are turned in the movie!"
Simon and his fellow designers got a few simple directives for the lightjets, a collection of elegant warships that do some crazy aerial battling late in the film. As Simon puts it, "They said they want this vehicle to look elegant yet aggressive, it has to fit three people in and it has to have a gun in the back and the wings should fold up. But out of that concept, you can make 5,000 different designs."
Nor were they constrained by real-world consideration for airplanes; these lightjets never had to land safely at LAX. Yet such freedom had its limits: The jets had to conform to what the public is generally familiar with when it comes to aircraft. With so many possibilities, they drilled down to a few concrete references.
"The big jets should be more like gliders, laid-back but still sinister with guns and sh--," Simon said. "The small ones should be like mosquitoes, aggressive and very agile."
Olivia Wilde's Quorra drives a seriously impressive sports car in the film. And there's simply nothing like it on Earth. "There's not a real car we referenced," Simon said. "It's freaking huge — almost 9-feet wide. It would kick every Lamborghini's ass."
The car, it turned out, was too huge, and Simon had to go back to the drawing board. "The door has this scissor-swing opening and it was difficult to design," he said. "And then the room where they were going to shoot it was not high enough for the door to swing open. We were like, 'Oh sh--, this has to be a foot shorter!' "
Check out everything we've got on "Tron Legacy."
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