Eric Barba is an Academy award-winning Visual effects artist who is best known for his work on aging and de-aging actors digitally. When getting a chance to talk with him, you could tell he felt the reception of his work in Tron Legacy transforming Jeff Bridges into Clu – the digitally de-aged version of the actor – was a sticking point, and he speaks about that effect and the reaction it go in our interview. he also talks about the fun of entering the Tron universe. Check it out…
Steven Lisberger talked about seeing the response to the first film blossom in people, people who came to this profession partly because of Tron. Were you one of those kids?
Erica Barba: Absolutely. I saw it in the movie theaters, I put a lot of quarters into Discs of Tron, it was a dream come true to work on this. But it’s a double-edged sword, because of the fans that hold you to higher standard. The original film left a mark for a reason, nothing else looked like it, Tron was ahead of its time. So we had to put something on screen that would inspire ten and thirteen year olds as well. Of course Star Wars got me as well. I came about visual effects in a circuitous route. I went in to be a car designer, but I learned visual effects on the tail end of that. I was learning from someone who designed the high end shields for the Batmobile, so I was intrigued by that, being able to apply what I had learned to movies.
What would say to someone who wants to get into the industry?
EB: We can teach you the tools, but we can’t teach you to be a great artist, or an artist on our timescale. You need to know color, photography, pick up a camera, understand composition, read about great directors and how they look at things. You can’t be great if you don’t have the fundamentals.
What I’ve seen more and more with the effects industry is a time crunch when it comes to effects work, did you feel that?
EB: Yes, but from an outsiders perspective, we had a luxurious schedule. I’ve been on things with a bigger crunch, where here I was on for two and a half years, but so much of this movie was like an animated feature (which generally take three years) because we had to design every little thing. Two and half is probably about right. But on this one we were working on this until the last second.
How do you feel about the work on Clu and the digital de-aging now that you’re done with the process?
EB: Clu will always have a warm spot in my heart, because it’s such an ambitious thing we tried to do there, and in many ways I think we succeeded. But in other ways… I feel like a magician never tells you how they do a trick, and I think we got off a little bit there by telling the world we were going to do this, and we got a lot of cheap shots because of it. If you tell someone “there’s a gag here” then of course they saw it. It opens yourself up in a whole new way compared to Benjamin Button where we didn’t tell people ahead of time – specifically because we wanted the illusion to be there. We got Jeff in 2008, and we were able to take him through the whole process that Brad Pitt went through with Benjamin Button. So we started building the Clu library. We told Joe we’d need a minimum of six months to get ready for the Clu shots, because it’s so arduous. We worked from 2008 until the last second – every day with Joe.
What are you most proud of in Tron Legacy?
EB: I think the cohesive look, which is incredibly challenging with all the effects houses we had to work with. You can tell with a film like Speed Racer that one company did some work, and another did another part. But this is Tron. It has to be cohesive.
Do you have a favorite moment?
EB: I always fall back on the disc game sequence because it was such a journey for our guys at Digital Domain and Joe to build something that I loved as a kid, and build it into something I felt like we’d never seen before.
Tron Legacy is in stores now on DVD and Blu-ray. Check it out.