TRON: Legacy

December 2010 ––
For the entirety of 2010, munkowitz led a Black-Ops team of GFX All-Stars deep into the darkness at Digital Domain, crafting over 12 minutes of holographic content for the feature film TRON: Legacy. They worked under the legendary director Joseph Kosinski and VFX Supervisor Eric Barba, who always gave them a ton of freedom to experiment and impress the team with their unconventional approaches to the design challenges at hand.

For Munky, developing these visuals during the year inside the doors of Digital Domain was probably the most educational experience of his career. Coming from the world of motion design, the team spent that year DEEP into their Visual Effects pipeline, meaning every deliverable from the team had to adhere to DD’s strict process, and that integration and those learnings were invaluable to the growth of the team. Also, they had the honor to spend hours in the dailies theater watching Kosinski and Barba critique every shot in the film, and those film sessions and the exposure to their  process and refinement of craft was time that could never be duplicated in any other professional setting.  

The Film

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Solar Sailor

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The GFX team was deep in production on the epic Solar Sailor sequence when Joseph Kosinski awarded them the Opening Titles, enabling the opportunity of a lifetime coupled with a steady stream of intensely late evenings.

The Solar Sailor sequence was definitely the most conceptually challenging for the team and the output munko is most proud of. The design exercise started with a very loose brief from Joe –– he wanted the representation of Quorra's DNA to be "beautiful, like a flower" and wanted layers of transforming and organic surfaces for Sam and Flynn to navigate through to unveil it.

Once descending upon the DNA, Flynn was to identify the ‘damaged code’ in its composition and extract it, healing her data with a blow, allowing her arm to grow back. And conceptually, because she's an ISO – an isometric algorithm – her DNA and the outer layers of her data foundation had to all be super-unique, resembling artifacts from nature, yet still remaining very graphic and design driven.

The team referenced a lot of Ernst Haeckel, the German Biologist who rendered by hand surreal organisms that resembled graphic prismatic coral structures, if you will. He was one of the primary inspirations since all of designs in the sequence had to look and behave like they could be living organisms, like flowers, while respecting a graphic structural rule book.

The team also researched infinite fractals, hexagonal mesh cages and studied data visualizations of voronoi noise algorithms and isometric surfaces. In the end, all of this research informed the structural designs in the sequence.
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Throne Room

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During the Rectifier Extraction sequence, Clu gets his dirty hands on Flynn’s disc and attempts to extract all its vital data, unlocking the secrets of the TRON universe while powering up his army with extra special sauce, all of which would enable Clu to escape the computer world and to ultimately take over that planet earth place.

The team's task was to visually represent the immense amounts of information being extracted, first as a chaotic assemblage, then organizing the packets into concentric rings of decoded data as the camera gracefully pushes through them.

The team researched disc defragmentation diagrams and sought to greatly modernize the aesthetic, for the data required to create of the TRON universe was immense to say the least, requiring the defrag diagram to look like an other-worldly representation of data re-structuring.

So Munkowitz and Jake Sargeant established a visual foundation, first designing a holographic representation of Flynn's identiftying boot-up hologram, which is then unlocked and dissipates bit by bit to initiate the data restructuring, which grows in complexity as each ensuing sector is filled with digital content.
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Disc Game

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The Disc Game Scoreboard was the team's first graphics task and was a fierce introduction to the Domain's pipeline integration. Munkowitz and Jake Sargeant designed and animated a library of 2d textures that were then passed on to the texturing team and layered on proxy geometry in more than 30 shots, ultimately being rendered from stereo cameras and fully integrating into each scene.

The scoreboard was broken down into 8 bracketed matches, displaying 16 combatants in total for round 01. The bracket design had to accommodate multiple rounds of game play, so it was designed with a collapsable behavior in mind. An external HUD display was also crafted to add detail and an extra layer of depth, as well as a concepted formation design generated from the light tracers below.

The formation of the scoreboard and advancing gameplay animations were the hero moments of the graphic sequence, and they utilized the 'Tronlines' app built with Mr. Nimoy to execute the board's circular-based formation aesthetic, taking inspiration and visual cues from the original Tron scoreboard's behavior, which was referenced extensively. They outfitted the custom open frameworks application with a healthy dose of controls for maximum iterative freedom.

Other design tools included the infamous 'Egyptian' algorithm that generated massive amounts of linear-based traveling linework and was used extensively for the bracket animations when a combatant was de-rezzified.
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Board Room

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The board-room sequence graphics encouraged the team to dust off their grid-based graphic design chops to conceive and animate a giant in-camera projection that communicated core story points during the sequence, including a hacked OS12 launch where Sam sends a clip of his dog 'Marvin' to takeover the screen and taint Encom's impending public launch, which was connected to numerous news feeds. The graphics ultimately were delivered as asset libraries to be programmed for playback and manipulation live on set.

The team also designed and animated the light-table interface used by the Encom CEO to launch the OS12 presentation, and by Dillinger's son to shut-down the marvin hack. Both interfaces were quite a treat to design and animate since the table from the original TRON was always a lasting memory.
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Rectifier Globe

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During Clu's momentous speech towards the end of the film, he builds an army of programmatic drones to ultimately escape the computer and take over the world. So naturally during his speech there had to be a giant globe hologram depicting this takeover, where the contours of each continent become infected with 'HexVirus' line-work, and then spreads inward through the land masses.

The initial design execution of the globe was accomplished through an open frameworks application developed by Nimoy and the team, which was then ported to Houdini by master Andy King and output with production quality DoF and motion blur. Munkowitz stylized and design directed all aspects of the output, although the final product was greatly simplified by the upper echelons to ensure a quick read, as supposedly too many awesomely detailed data storms make things confusing.
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Arena Fireworks

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The GFX team was deep in production on the epic Solar Sailor sequence when Joseph Kosinski awarded them the Opening Titles, enabling the opportunity of a lifetime coupled with a steady stream of intensely late evenings.

During the infamous Light Bike battle, the arrival of Clu is accompanied by a grandiose fireworks display designed and animated by the team. The brief from Kosinski was to pay homage to states of 'Bit' from the original film, so each firework had to have a defined geometric structure from which the branching streams of light would emanate from.

The team built an open-frameworks application with Mr. Josh Nimoy that would load OBJ data, allowing the team to define the 3d structure from the outset and then enhance the base shape with a generation-based network of fireworks streamers and subsequent expansion.

For the deliverables, munkowitz created a library of 14 firework designs, the makeup of each saved out as slider favorite XML files and passed onward to the Houdini team, who successfully ported the app and were able to render it through the DD pipeline, adding atmospherics, light effects, and those sweet and final optical touches.
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Portal Climax

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The team was asked to design concept art for the grandiose explosion at the end of the film when Flynn subdues and ultimately vaporizes Clu with his pulsating data storm explosion ring. The team repurposed a few systems written by Mr. Nimoy back in the Xfinity days ( happy to know some good came out of that project ) and administered heaps of design love from munko and Sargeant to complete the frames.

The artwork created wasn't explicitly used in the film, but certainly inspired DD's houdini team in developing the aesthetic of the light elements used in the sequence.

Another series of concept art the team executed was for the interior of the 'Portal' itself, which conceptually was to be a light-beacon of intensely radiating data streams. Utilizing more recycled apps from Nimzee, munko and Sargeant generated a library of different data stream tunnels to inspire and inform DD's houdini team. The choice pick of the batch was a hexagonal stream of egyptian line-work emanating towards camera in a beautifully asymmetrical and impossibly organic motion, output directly from the application.

The team also utilized the Nimoy apps 'Beam-Pusher' and 'Twist' to generate a dense blanket of data points and linework traveling in an orbiting motion around Flynn's base. Although none of these assets were used in the final film, the team thought they were pretty fresh.
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Opening Titles

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The GFX team was deep in production on the epic Solar Sailor sequence when Joseph Kosinski awarded them the Opening Titles, enabling the opportunity of a lifetime coupled with a steady stream of intensely late evenings.

Joseph communicated the motivation of the opening titles as evoking the sensations of the original light bike battle while slowly evolving the iconic light-walls into more complex patterns in all dimensions, ultimately revealing a city wireframe that transitioned seamlessly to the Vancouver BC skyline.

The creation of the Opening Titles had munkowitz designing the line work in Illustrator, then adding Z travel reliefs in Maya, and handing them over to master animator David Lewandowski to flex his Cinema4D muscle, bringing to life each path by hand using the mograph module and rendering using vray. The two exchanged scenes back and forth to ensure a design that adhered to a strict grid framework and an animation motif that perfectly synced to Flynn's voiceover during the sequence.

Many iterations of detailing techniques were explored, including a very intriguing 3D grid structure designed by Jake Sargeant in addition to a blanket of data point clouds, but in the end Kosinski kept the design clean and simple for fears that an overly detailed sequence would date easily.
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Design Director, Lead Designer

at Digital Domain
for Disney Enterprises
Credit List

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Production Facility: Digital Domain
Executive Producer: Lisa Beroud
VFX Supervisor: Eric Barba
Graphics Design Director: Bradley G Munkowitz
Graphics Lead Designers: Bradley G Munkowitz, Jake Sargeant
Graphics Designer: Joseph Chan
Graphics Lead Animator: David Lewandowski
Graphics Lead Animator: Adam Swaab
Graphics Additional Animation: Joseph Chan
Graphics Lead Code Artist: JT Nimoy
Graphics Code Artist Support: Andy King
Graphics Technical Support: Jonathan Gerber, Doug Wilkenson

TRON: Legacy © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved