Friday, May 2, 2014

1982 Tron: Searching for Bel Composto in Early CGI

Saba Bakhtiari’s blog, “Baroque and Rococo Art and Architecture,” says that Bel Composto architecture "blurs the borderline between painting, sculpture, and architecture” (link: Indeed, bel composto churche interiors like that of the Cornaro Chapel pictured above blur the lines between 2d frescos, 3d sculpture, and architecture to create an immersive environment that inspires faith. Similarly, 1982 Tron blurs the lines between 2d hand-drawn animation, 3d computer generated animation, and live action to create an immersive environment that inspires wonder at the capabilities of technology.

Please take a moment to watch and reflect on this Tron Light-cycle sequence, before continuing reading: .

Disney’s 1982 Tron was the first feature film to utilize live action, 3d animation, and hand-drawn animation. By today’s standards the computer generated imagery appears hokey, but at a time when computer animation was limited almost exclusively to academic research1, wealthy hobbyists2, and animated 3d logos for advertisements3, Tron was nothing short of revolutionary. Tron’s iconic light cycle scene is arguably the best representation of bel composto in the film. The people are heavily backlit live actors on a green screen, the beams of light that become the handle-bars of the light-cycles are hand drawn, and the light-cycles and playing field are computer generated. For a split second we see all three elements simultaneously and seamlessly interwoven on screen as the players become cocooned inside the light-cycles. Tron contains the only examples I have been able to find of all three of these elements (hand-drawn 2d animation, computer generated 3d animation, and live action) existing simultaneously in any feature film to current date. Later in the light-cycle sequence, we see the live action exposed over the computer imagery so we can see the expression of the main character as he faces off against the red light cycles. Indeed, the rest of the film is rife with combinations of both live action and either computer generated imagery or hand-drawn animation. The light cycle sequence, however, represents a rare convergence of all three media. Though it may be challenging to get past the what-would-now-be-considered “cheesy” effects of 1982 Tron, it is important to note that these "cheesy" effects inspired a generation in much the same way 1995’s Toy Story inspired our generation. In the same way that Toy Story (the first completely computer animated feature length film) radically changed our perception of what we thought computers and visual storytelling were capable of in 1995, Tron forced viewers to completely reevaluate their preconceptions about the limits of both visual storytelling and technology.

In conclusion, similar to the way the frescos and the statue of St. Teresa seamlessly melt into the architecture of the Cornaro Chapel, the diverse media of 1982's Tron blend together to create an inspiring and immersive environment.

1. animation of a molecule, likely for academic research in 1978:

2. 1980 demo reel likely by a hobbyist:

3. MAGI Synthavision company demo reel from 1980:

Bonus fun fact about 1982 Tron:

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