Best Decade for Films Ever – The 80s – Enter the Computer

Heading into a new decade, out of the Disco 70’s and into a decade filled with shell suits, the mighty Filofax, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Live Aid, the Space Shuttle, coal mine closures, various wars around the globe, genetic research, Ceefax and Teletext and the New Romantics. I’d spent most of my life in the 70’s, did we do okay?

During the first three years of the 1980’s we had two new Star Wars films, Empire and Jedi, more of those in other blogs. But apart from the afterglow of a galaxy far, far, away, there were other gems that have captured my imagination and stayed in my heart for over 40 years. Aw!

I’m mainly going to focus on the films that I actually attended the cinema to see as I have a whole new blog about the VHS years, video rental and inappropriate advertising. More of that later.

Greetings programs, when 1982 came around, computers were everywhere, arcade games, the Atari VCS, the ZX81 (I had one of those), and at the end of the 70’s a bunch of handheld electronic games and Tomorrow’s World was telling us about the future of musical entertainment, Compact Disks.

We had spent a lot of our time around computers, but what about going inside a computer and seeing what it is like to be a program from the inside.

TRON was released by Disney, written and directed by Steven Lisberger director of the 1980’s Animalympics to celebrate the Olympics in 1980. In fact Tron was originally conceived to be an animated film.

At that time PCs didn’t really exist in homes and computers were giant monolithic mainframes running secret programs and collecting data about you…. so the director through his interest in computer graphics decided to conceive a story about travelling into the computer.

Earlier to promote Lisberger Studios they created the first animation featuring Tron. He did throw disks around but he wasn’t quite the Tron we know today.

It was the time when if you were creating programs on a Mainframe computer you had to plan ahead and book time using a monitor and keyboard that would simply be a window into the big room filling computer. The monitor you sat in front of was a simple dumb terminal, sending and receiving information from the main computer.

Lisberger had developed techniques to make line based drawings glow and took their near completed and developed story, storyboards and designs to Disney. It was different and experimental and it fit with Disney’s ethos to produce something unique and exciting which was away from their Herbie movies at that time. Plus video games were cool. So it was greenlit.

For the live action filming the costumes were black and white, filmed against black backgrounds so that the sets would be added and animated later.

The actors were filmed on black and white film, the individual films were projected onto another film and the shots were blown up creating a kind of black and white cells. They were split into five different areas per character, face, body, eyes, teeth and circuits some were positive and some were negative. So the faces, teeth and eyes were positive and the circuits were negative. What was filmed in black was now white so that they could be backlit to make the sections glow. It was a complicated live action animated film and that was before the true CGI animation was added.

There were four different companies used to create the 15 to 20 minutes of CGI animation.

Information International Inc. better known as Triple I.

MAGI (Mathematical Applications Group Inc.) Synthivision

Robert Abel and Associates

Digital Effects Inc

Each company has their own hardware and developed their own software to create their associated elements for the film. You couldn’t just load up one companies models and animation into another an composite them together. They had to be produced separately and combined optically on film using a film optical printer. The individual frames were actually ca[ptured onto film by putting a camera in front of a monitor and recording each frame one at a time. The frames themselves took up to six hours to render.

Syd Mead produced the designs for Sark’s aircraft carrier, the light cycles, the tank, and the solar sailer which was split between the four companies. Originally the light cycles were to have the characters on the outsides of the cycles but due to constraints they had to place them inside so they could hide the actors when the film went full CGI during the light cycle games. With the advance in technology they managed to to this for sequel, Tron : Legacy.

Triple-I created the MCP, the Solar Sailer and Sark’s Carrier.

MAGI produced the majority of the digital landscapes, light cycles, recognizers and tanks.

Digital Effects Inc created the Bit character and the forming of the Tron character in the opening sequence.

Robert Abel produced animation for the opening sequence and the transition of the main character Flynn as he is sucked into the digital realm.

There were some toys available in the Summer, but I think they go a little overwhelmed by the ET behemoth that was to come.

In the 20th Anniversary year I did manage to pick up a couple of pieces to feed to my Tron habit. These were reproductions of the original Tron figure and a blue lightcycle.

Just last year I also picked up new versions of Tron and Sark. More authentic to the film. I just have to get myself a Flynn and I’ll probably be happy. 🙂

Heading back to 1982, I still have my original Tron Poster magazine that spent at least two years on my wall. It has a few creases but it is still tucked away safe.

It had and still has, a unique look, with the mix of live action which was subsequently animated with added computer graphics. There is no way that any film could ever look like this or be produced in the same way. Who would be that crazy? It stands up as a very unique film. I lapped it up, like I loved my computers. As well as being a model maker and compositor for ILM, I also wanted to do this. So I just had to spend a bunch of cash on various computers through the years and wait for the time when I could sit at my computer at home or at work and produce a range of 3D models.

It wasn’t a big hit at the time, but I loved it. So many people have discovered it over the years and through this love of nostalgia the sequel was produced, a short lived animated TV series and now Disney has a theme park ride. We are hoping for a third movie.

See you back on the grid soon.


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