Disney's Tron: Legacy  might not be a game changer like Avatar , but it's a groundbreaker for Digital Domain. In addition to creating thousands of digital assets that comprise the dark, neon world of the Joe Kosinski-directed sequel, DD had to design a tracking system for handling the stereoscopic 3-D shoot, improve their workflow, management system and pipeline, raise their game for performance capturing Jeff Bridges as the younger Clu 2.0 avatar, seamlessly integrate a new satellite DD studio in Vancouver and coordinate all of the work from the five vendor partners: Mr. X, Whiskeytree, Ollin Studio, Prana Studios and Prime Focus.
Indeed, out of a total of 1,565 vfx shots, 882 were done by DD (723 in Venice and 159 in Vancouver).
What was the experience like? "Very daunting," admits Eric Barba, DD's visual effects supervisor, who oversaw the production, taking full advantage of his design background as well as his extensive vfx experience. "To me, I feel like I [was] a creative partner from the very beginning with Joe. And DD [was] a partner to help bring the production to life. A large part, of course, [was] happening virtually here and through our five outsourced partners and our other company in Vancouver. As far as the stereo aspect [using the new Sony F35 with Master Prime lenses, which open up to 1.3 for less light but shallower depth of field], both Joe and I had never done a stereo movie before and we did our homework and just had to plan out as best we could and we looked at it in bite-size chunks, and we wanted to make sure that all the previs was in 3-D, so we could literally cut the movie together and watch it."
DD also created a more efficient lighting system. "We spent a lot of time working on the transition from previs to layout and how that would get into anim, and we wrote a whole new set of tools to have the lighters aware of what should be in their shot," explains Steve Preeg, DD's animation director. "The suite consisted of a file that could be customized per sequence, where you could define a group, say Clu and all the items in the Light Cycle sequence. We wrote a UI that would allow us to load, update and change assets, and you could define the shot better."
DD additionally rewrote internal tracking software to allow simultaneous stereo camera solve and also incorporated V-Ray for the first time into the feature pipeline, adding to the shader development and allowing artists to launch renders more easily."What is carrying over immediately is our stereo workflow," Barba suggests. "This show had to get that first pipe up and running. How we fix stereo issues and deal with the workflow is now being used on Transformers: Dark of the Moon."
Still, there is no getting around the difficulty of trying to recapture Bridges in his prime, even if he is driving the performance. The physiology is different. "Trying to get Jeff's performance on set was ideal for Jeff but maybe not the most ideal thing as far as our needs in terms of the number of cameras to position around him and lighting," Barba offers. "But it allowed Jeff to get into character and be Clu with the other actors. We had EA in Vancouver helping us on set with the cameras and tracking the data and handing it back to us, which we ran through our solve. That part of the system worked great. We have ideas on how to get better cameras that weren't available when we shot, and how to get better results next time. But we're happy with the results."
Now they await the assessment of their peers.
"For me, besides the obvious challenges we had with the Clu character, I hope people will see the artistic challenges we had along with the technical challenges," Barba concludes.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.