An Interview with Animation Director Bill Kroyer

Bill Kroyer, animation director, teacher and one of the board of governors of the Motion Picture Academy, shares his thoughts on the original Tron, where it broke new ground and what impact it had on the computer animation field. He also talks about the new digital animation program at Chapman as well as some of the political issues animation faces within the Motion Picture Academy.

Bill with the Stuttgart Media University (HdM) students handling the video interviews.

I’ve known Bill Kroyer since I started AWN back in 1995.  He was one of the first industry people I was introduced to way back then.  I’ve always considered him one of the nicest, most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met in the business.  He cut his teeth years ago at Disney as one of the main animators on Tron.  He’s directed numerous commercials, feature films such as Ferngully: The Last Rainforest as well as supervised the CG on films such as Garfield, Scooby Doo, Cats & Dogs and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. He was nominated for an Oscar for his 1988 short film Technological Threat.  He’s also on the board of governors of the Motion Picture Academy and a director at the Dodge School of Film and Media at Chapman University.  In his spare time, he likes growing Orchids and taking long walks on the beach.  All kidding aside, he’s one of the true talents in our industry and one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. 

He was a guest at FMX 2011, doing a presentation on the making of the original Tron.  It’s fascinating listening to him talk in-depth about how they made the film, how they literally made things up as they went along, how they generated imagery from keypunching page after page of binary code. The list of nutty things they did to make this picture goes on and on. 

Bill sat for an interview and shared his thoughts on the original Tron, where it broke new ground and what impact it had on the computer animation field.  He also talks about the new digital animation program at Chapman as well as some of the political issues animation faces within the Motion Picture Academy. 

Some of the interview highlights:

“This interest in Tron has really been revived because of Tron: Legacy.  The new movie came out and everyone was interested that they would revive a movie from 25 years ago.  It’s very rare you have a sequel that’s made 25 years later.  That’s what’s brought all this interest about the original Tron.  Ironically for me it was interesting to go back to the original Tron and consider what it was like.  It was total fun to make that movie.  It was breaking absolutely new ground.  Nobody had ever done a computer animated movie.   There were no computer animators.  A lot of people don’t realize that there was no computer animation software at that time.  So when we were asked to do that movie, it was a step by step learning experience.  Every day you’d come in to work and do something brand new.  And that’s hard to find these days. “

“It’s really not the same learning a new software program as it is creating a new process.  That was the thing about Tron that was such a unique thing.  It was like a frontiersman going into a brand new forest that had never been walked in.”

“We would literally have to come up with ways to make a computer make imagery and move imagery in a very fundamental way.  But of course the irony is that those fundamental ways formed the foundation of everything that’s come afterwards.  And in a very real sense those fundamental artistic tasks we created are the basis of what’s being done now no matter how slick the software is.”

“When it came to animating, that became totally different.  Because instead of being able to sit down and draw the scenes, there was nothing to draw.  There was no paper.  It was this weird inside the computer world that you couldn’t get your hands on.  Not only that but in those days you couldn’t take a mouse and do anything.  There was no GUI interface where you could take a stylus and draw it.  You literally had to type in the numbers for anything you wanted to do.  And how are you supposed to do that as an artist? So we had to work with that idea.  We had to take everything in our head, all the visual things, and convert them into numbers…as long as you have a vision and you have an understanding of the tools at hand an artist can make something happen.  And that’s what we did.”

“Disney is probably the only studio in Hollywood that would have made that movie [Tron] like that because they were the only studio that wasn’t intimidated by the massive amount of man hours and the massive amount of artwork because that’s what an animated feature took.  So when you came along with Tron and said, “Hey, this is going to take hundreds of guys and we have to put tens of thousands of pieces of artwork under camera, they went, “OK.” And that was that. “

“The most significant real outgrowth of Tron was the people.  They were the artists that worked on the picture.  Because you have to realize that there was nothing like that going on.  And when the word got out in the United States that we were doing a computer animated film, I often say it was like holding up a bug light on a summer night on the front porch. Every bug comes to that light.  Every single person in the United States that had an interest in computer animation came to us to work on that film.  When you look at the people that worked on that film like Richard Taylor, John Grower, John Hughes and all these other guys, they went off basically to form the computer graphics industry.  They started all these companies, they wrote the software, Bill Kovacs and everyone, all the people that were talking to us, connecting with us, went and fanned out and became the seedlings of the computer graphics business as we know it.“

You can find both of Bill’s interview segments hereVisit the FMX Channel on AWNtv to find dozens of interviews and session videos with top industry professionals such as Ken Ralston, Dave Sproxton, Jeff Okun, John Bruno, Alex McDowell, Volker Engel and Marc Weigert, Richard Edlund, Harrison Ellenshaw and many others.

We’ve got more than 200 videos to be posted in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

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