03/01/2011

James Haygood talking about "Tron" [Interview]

"Are you fans of the original Tron?  Was it difficult to face an edit for a film with so many expectations from Tron fans?
James Haygood: The original Tron is iconic and holds a special place in geek history. That’s the association I had with it. I went back and watched the movie again.  It’s obviously dated in terms of the technology and it’s kind of quaint in a way. Director Steven Lisberger had a very active, probing mind and you can see that in the movie. The Tron fans have their specific attachments to the film, so you won’t reach everybody. The filmmakers approached Tron: Legacy as trying to be inspired by the original film but reach a bigger audience.
Dylan Firshein: When Jim first heard he’d gotten word of maybe doing Tron, I was all excited. I grew up loving Tron. I watched the first one again, as a reminder. I loved the parts of it I always loved: the music, the look, the CG effects and graphics. It brought back a lot of memories and feelings.

What was the “brief” for this Tron? What did director Joseph Kosinski talk about as the style he envisioned for telling the story?
JH: You respond to the material and its constraints and what worked and didn’t in production.  Joe is a methodical, calm, structured funny guy, and we responded to that. His classic, very specific compositional ideas—very formal, balanced and square—lead us in a certain direction.  I like doing that kind of work and a lot of my work has that same feel.

The movie is partially 2D and partially 3D. How did you handle the 3D editing? What gear did you use?
JH: We talked to Avid about their tools and what we knew was the type of work we’d do. We approached it like a 2D film and chose to work in a more traditional way and felt comfortable using tools we were familiar with for blue screen and compositing.
DF: We used Avid Media Composer Nitris DX, MC 3.54, for most of our production. There are newer versions but this one worked and we didn’t want to change anything in the middle. We had up to five Avids, but generally three or four running on Unity. There was Jim, me, Andrew and Wyatt Jones, who had done pre-vis and did some editing and other tasks. It was pretty minimal set-up and a streamlined arrangement: everything and everyone in one big room.
We did have the 3D  material and 3D monitors available to us so Jim could look at the footage in 3D. You would watch parts of the dailies in 3D so you could see what Joe was going for on set, so we could keep it in mind. We’d cut in 2D and if there was a sequence without too many VFX or composites we were doing, or once we started getting VFX back from Digital Domain, we’d watch it in 3D. At the next level, it went to LaserPacific where it was color-timed and further finessed in 3D.  So it didn’t feel as important for us to be dealing with [the 3D images] every day
JH: We thought the reality was that we weren’t going to have many materials in 3D until the very last stage when they do the 3D version of the comp.  So we saw the majority of those shots when we were mixing. We did have the original production dailies shot in 3D, but it might be two characters against a blue screen.  We worked with these images in a 2D world and had faith in the other people dealing with 3D that they were being careful with what they did. We also knew that the production had dealt with 3D in a conservative way so we  wouldn’t be surprised by big exaggerated swings between shots.

How did you work on integrating VFX during the edit?
JH: I think there were 1590 visual effects shots. I have never done anything with this scale and that was one of the appealing aspects of the project. This was huge. Dylan and our VFX editor Andrew Loschin came up with a lot of systems and I tried to be as cooperative as possible so I wouldn’t mess things up as I was cutting. He would create proxies of the shot so I would know if I went beyond the frames we turned over to VFX. They really provided that structure so on a technical level we could interact with all these other companies and departments.
The joke was that Andrew would hear the sound coming from my room and know I was working on Scene 96 and would make sure to check if I’d gone beyond the handles. So it was a conscious choice.  There were so many shots and layers and layers of versions to keep track of. I think in that sense, being in a compact space helped because we could hear and see what everyone else was doing. It helped the information flow.

Looking back, what was the biggest challenge?
JH: I think like every movie, the story is the biggest challenge. There are the technical parts that are challenging in the process. But at the end of the day, you’re trying to make a movie that’s good and people like. On a big movie like this, the ball gets rolling and a lot can happen on set. It’s a big monster and you have to make everything look like it was on purpose. We had a great crew, with Joe setting a no-drama tone that was a lot of fun for all of us there."

By Debra Kaufman on January, 3, 2011.

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