This week Tron Legacy will finally debut in theaters 28 years after the original. The movie has been five years in the making, and Disney has spent three years marketing it to the public. Even though it’s a big budget tentpole, Tron Legacy was a passion project for everyone involved. The cast and crew wanted to push the boundaries of visual effects and utilize today’s technology to bring the story of Kevin and now Sam Flynn to a new generation. We recently had the opportunity to speak to Tron Legacy co-producer Justin Springer about this labor of love, and he gave us some pretty good insight into how it went from the page to the screen…
Tron Legacy is the first film you’ve ever produced. How did you land such an impressive and coveted project as a rookie?
Justin Springer: I was working at a company five years ago called Live Planet that Sean Bailey was a partner at and we started developing Tron at that point. He had a deal at Disney and I had sort of followed him. I had been involved with Tron from the moment it came in the door. I was there when we met with Edward and Adam for the first time and heard their pitch and said there’s a new story that we need to tell. And so we just continued to work with the studio and my role kind of increased, and increased over time. It’s hard work but fortunate circumstances that have led me to become co-producer on the movie.
So you were there when they brought on Joseph Kosinski to direct?
JS: I was there when we met Joe for the first time, it was just a general meeting with a new up and coming director and we saw his reel and thought this guy has a cinematic eye. He uses technology in a way to create these crazy, unbelievable worlds and he’s an architect and a designer by trade. What would be better for Tron than that?
Can you talk a little bit more about Kosinski’s vision and the technology used in the film?
JS: There’s a lot of new technology being used and a lot of new technology being used in concert. And Joe’s an incredibly detail oriented guy and there’s no detail that’s not considered. He’s a perfectionist and he set out to make this potentially perfect movie and so it’s taken us a long time to do that.
One of the things people are excited about is the inclusion of Clu, the 35 year old version of Jeff Bridges’ character Kevin Flynn. We’ve seen de-aging in films before but none that look this good. How did you guys pull that off?
JS: Primarily the way it was done was there would be a body actor performing the scene and he would also be wearing this sort of head sock but before he could perform the scene Jeff would have to wear this head rig where he would actually do the performance. So all of those performances are driven by Jeff Bridges doing the scene in the moment, on set with the other actors. With Clu it’s not a de-aging process, rather it’s a recreation of Jeff Bridges at age 35 in all digital form that’s put on this body actor. But instead of it being like an animated movie where there sort of creating the emotion of the character, it’s actually taking Jeff Bridges’ actual emotion as he delivered it onset in those moments and applying it to this virtual head.
When you read the idea for the story, what was the first order of business for you?
JS: When we heard Eddie and Adam’s pitch, it was this opportunity for a father and son story with Jeff playing both himself at his age and himself in his 30′s we thought ‘we gotta get Jeff Bridges now or we gotta scrap this idea.’ It was interesting because in the outline stage we had a really solid idea of what we wanted this movie to be and we were all on board for that but now we’ve gotta get Jeff Bridges on board. We did this visual test about three years ago prior to the movie being greenlit that we showed at Comic-Con. At that point we thought lets fold Jeff into that and let’s go pitch him the movie because if he says no maybe we don’t do it.
Speaking of Bridges, how did you get him to return to do the sequel 28 years after the original?
JS: We went up to his place and we took him through the broad strokes of what we thought the themes would be and how this movie could have real character and emotion and explore interesting ideas and could be as cutting edge in terms of the movie making technology as Tron was in ’82. We took him through all of that and just tried to get him to come on board and he did. He’s a guy who is quite curious as an actor and sort of likes to face new challenges as an actor so I think he saw what we were trying to do.
The reason he said yes to us is probably the same reason he said yes to Steven Lisberger in 1982, you’re posing a new challenge for him as an actor. What hooked him was just the opportunity to be involved in a story that hadn’t been possible to tell before because the technology wasn’t there.
One of the great things about Tron Legacy is it’s a stand alone movie. You don’t have to see the first one to get it. There’s no short-hand dialogue, and everything is explained to you pretty early on. This could be seen as a sequel or its own entity. Was that intentional?
JS: That was goal number one for us. There is a loud, but not huge fan base. There are people who know the original film inside and out but it was 28 years ago and there’s a whole new generation of people who you make movies for as well. They have a new relationship with technology that you really want to explore so for us because we really wanted Jeff in the movie, we wanted Bruce [Boxleitner], and we wanted Tron to come back and because there had been this kind of amazing universe that had already been established we thought why not draw on that. We really wanted to create something that when my mom sees this film [and she's never seen Tron] that she’ll be able to be right with us in terms of how the plot’s being revealed. And she won’t feel like ‘man is there something I’m missing here?’
What about those who are die hard fans of the original?
JS: If you’ve seen it, if you’ve seen the original Tron there’s plenty. There’s a ton of stuff in there that’s seated back to the original but if you haven’t you’ll be none the wiser.
Can we expect more from the Tron world? Are there sequels in the future?
JS: That’s always up to an audience I think. It is a massive universe that we’ve created and there are stories to tell within that universe and we’ll just have to see but right now we’re just really focused on December 17 and sharing this part of the Tron Saga with the audience.
Tron Legacy opens in theaters everywhere Friday, December 17.