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In 1982, Tron not only became one of the first movies to make extensive use of computer graphics, but the high-concept film also put those special effects front and center on the film’s costumes. The Dec. 17 release of Tron: Legacy — starring Olivia Wilde, Garrett Hedlund and the return on Jeff Bridges as computer genius Kevin Flynn, who has mysteriously disappeared through a portal into another world — is hoping to accomplish the same thing.
PHOTO GALLERY: Costumes of Tron
But being slavish to the original wasn’t something costume designer Michael Wilkinson and co-costume designer Christine Bieselin Clark thought made sense when starting this project more than two years ago.
“Tron was this cutting-edge film, and we wanted to be reverent to what the fans loved about it, but the spirit is what we wanted to capture,” Clark says. “Many fans thought the suits for this film should have been white, but the world’s darkness is the basis of the suit color, and the exuding white light is the goodness inside.”
Using the original film as a jumping-off point, the designers (who also worked together on 300 and Watchmen) sought to channel the same innovative approach of 28 years before to create Tron’s digital world, filled with glowing, futuristic latex suits and state-of-the-art helmets.
For inspiration, Wilkinson says, “We looked at high-tech sporting equipment, soldier concept work from the military and haute couture.”
Together with director Joe Kosinski, the duo quickly developed the design concept of the film, which involved a symbolic color palette.
“The light is another character in this movie,” Clark says. “It’s the person’s soul. The white light is pure and good, while the orange is considered devilish or evil.”
The real challenge lay in the technical execution. When the designers learned that the lighting in the suit would not be added later via CGI, they thought it was game over.
“No one had ever put real light in suits before,” Clark recalls. “But we needed the power to be self-contained on the actors. We didn’t want to be plugging them into any walls.”
So the call went out to special effects companies to find a light source that was both pliable and lightweight. With the help of Quantum Creations FX, they stumbled upon a solution in an unexpected place: It was a piece of light tape being made in the U.S. for the vests of Japanese security officials. Although basic in its design, the duo knew it had Tron-tastic potential.
“You want to inspire fans,” Clark says. “You want them to go, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’ And if you show them something they’ve already seen, it’s not really that cool.”
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