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NTF Exclusive – Tron 30th Anniversary Screening Review!

Caliburn24 here to wish you, “Greetings, programs!”

The Grauman’s Chinese Theatre hosted the Tron 30th Anniversary Screening on October 27th.  There was the full red carpet at the forecourt with the famous handprints and signatures.  A few of the attendees were in full Tron costume.  There were some introductions by many of the filmmakers before the film.  The opening was hosted by Harrison Ellenshaw the visual effects supervisor for Tron.  I will also add he did the matte paintings for the Star Wars original trilogy, The Black Hole, and The Shaggy D.A.  The first speaker was Donald Kushner.  He set up an animation studio with Steven Lisberger in Venice, California.  He mentioned that Tron foretold the future of personal computers and “it was one of the first movies to use CGI.”  One of the writer’s of Tron,  Bonnie MacBird, then spoke.  “Pretty soon, the first idea that came along was there needed to be a person that fell inside a computer.  The character of Flynn was born.  Originally, the character of Flynn was quite different.”

She covered local comedy clubs for Universal Studios and saw an interesting comedian.  “He was inside my head when I was started working on the Tron script with Steven (Lisberger) and that was Robin Williams.  And so the character of Flynn initially was imagined to be a kind of a frenetic ADD pizza delivery boy who actually shows up in a computer lab and can’t stop touching things and shoots himself inside the computer.”  They interviewed computer scientists and finally talked to Alan Kay at Xerox Park.  “He managed to connect computers, the world of computers and their potential, with everything else; philosophy, art, music, education, science, and mathematics.  He just blew our minds.  By the time the plane landed in Los Angeles we had the character of Alan.  Based on Alan (Kay) and that was the Bruce Boxleitner character.”  Kay became the technical consultant on Tron and traveled to the Lisberger Studios every week.  “We worked together to create an interesting computer world that had the video games in it, but had a larger story that it was embedded in.  So we needed a good villain and the MCP was born, Master Control Program, which was the top operating system at the time.”

Bonnie MacBird explained about a meeting that also involved a person well known in the computer industry, “We visited him (Alan Kay) within two months at the time that Steve Jobs visited him.  Steve Jobs visited Alan Kay’s group and some other colleagues at Xerox Park.  While he was there he developed with his group what became the first personal computer.  It was the first computer to actually use the graphic user interface that we now use all the time.  The mouse, overlapping windows, the laser printer, networked computers, all of the things we now take for granted and are ubiquitous in our computer world, didn’t exist then, but they existed in Xerox Park.”  She continued by noting a distinction she had working on Tron, “Alan (Kay) when he was working with us said why don’t you type the script into this teletype machine, send it to up to me here in Xerox Park, then come up and edit it.  I actually edited the script to Tron on the alto computer at Xerox Park which I believe makes me the first screenwriter to ever use a computer.”

Alan Kay was one of the most interesting speakers at the presentation and had an informed opinion about the state of computers, “What I showed Bonnie (MacBird) and Steven Lisberger was pretty much the same demo we gave to Steve Jobs.  What had been done at Xerox Park was essentially the Macintosh of the late 80’s, but done in 1973.  So when Bonnie (MacBird), Steven (Lisberger), and Steve Jobs saw it, it was already six years old.  We already built 1,500 of them, connected with the Ethernet that was also invented at Xerox Park.  Also, we worked on the internet and park was connected to the internet.  Many of you may not be aware, but the internet actually started in September, 1969, back at UCLA and a few other places that were part of this larger research community.”  Alan Kay continued with some of the ideas for Tron, “Part of the idea behind Tron was this idea of combining a super fast, super strong video warrior with some intelligent program.  So we had this kind of this Arnold Schwarzenegger figure with a cybernetic brain rushing around trying to help things.  We can calculate and predict by the time we have the 60th anniversary of Tron that there probably will be an intelligent worker that will work well.”

Richard Taylor, the visual effects supervisor for Tron, emphasized the work that was done on the film, “Tron was hand made.  Every frame went to Taiwan and came back was inked and painted and supervised by Arnie Wong.  All of the effects animation that you see the explosions, the streaks in the distance, that wasn’t done by computer, it was done by hand.”  Bruce Boxleitner braved a cold to speak about his role in Tron, “There is so many stories about Tron.  For actors, it was wearing tights, hockey helmet, motorcross shoulder pads, foam arm guards, knee high boots, and the first male thong.”  Boxleitner finished with the new Tron Uprising animated program that airs on Disney XD.  He returns to voice Tron with Elijah Wood as the new character Beck, “We have a show called Tron Uprising.  So Tron continues to live.”

The last speaker was the director, Steven Lisberger, he joked about how the world has changed since the movie opened, “The MCP joined Facebook.”  Lisberger then related a story about 1999 screening of Tron he attended with Roger Ebert.  It was at a theater with 1,800 people and the print was “so awful it looked like you got pomegranate on your eyes.”  He went to find the film projector room, fell on the steps in the dark, covered in dust, and finally got the projector room where he tried to get the film projected at a decent quality.  Lisberger returned to his seat once the print looked reasonable and to his surprise had the entire audience sing happy birthday to him.  He explained that the ups and downs of this experience was what it was like to make Tron.

After the film finished, there was an after party held at the top floors of the theater.  The lobby to the theater had memorabilia such as film props, storyboards, and the video game cartridges. There was a dance floor with a DJ using lasers and smoke machines while clips of the film were played on screens around the walls.  Posters were given out to all of the attendees with a signed poster for those with the VIP wristband.  There was also access to a VIP room with an open bar at the top floor.  One of the theaters was open for gamers to play Discs of Tron.  This was a video game released a year after the film and the game was projected on a theater sized screen.  It was surprising that the party lasted into the wee hours of the morning.  Many of the filmmakers met with fans and stayed for a costume contest.  End of line.