A Talk With Joseph Kosinski – Director of Tron: Legacy

Today I had the chance to talk with the director of Tron: Legacy and was able to ask a bunch of questions that definitely fall into major spoiler territory.  If you haven’t seen Tron: Legacy, you might want to watch it before reading this interview! Mr. Kosinski was kind enough to answer questions for three hours and his answers helped clear a lot of plot points that I wasn’t clear on.  He also talks about what changes he made to the movie for its Blu-ray release!  Read on Programs!

Q – In ranking your own personal movies you’ve directed, where would “Tron: Legacy” stand?

Joseph Kosinski: #1, definitely.

Q – Were there any conceptions you planned but weren’t able to realize in TRON: Legacy?

Joseph Kosinski: Yes, there are always limitations.  For instance, Sam was initially supposed to battle four sentries on his way to get his father’s disc.  Unfortunately we ran out of time and weren’t able to shoot that sequence.

Q – What were the biggest challenges in directing this movie?

Joseph Kosinski: I think the biggest challenge on TL was the same as on any other film — creating a compelling story and characters you care about.

Q – How much pressure did you feel in not only making a sequel to Tron but also in continuing the story?

Joseph Kosinski: A lot. The first film was ambitious in so many ways — visually, conceptually, and technologically.  I wanted this film to be just as ambitious in all of those respects.

Q – There’s a poster of TRON game in Flynn’s house. Why is there no movie poster?

Joseph Kosinski: The Tron movie does not exist within the fiction of our story.  ENCOM was a game developer in the 1980s and Kevin Flynn used the experiences he had in the first film as the foundation for the ENCOM Tron game that he created upon his return to the real world.

Q – How much of a burden was the “Legacy”-part in TRON?

Joseph Kosinski: The 28 years of back-story was certainly a challenge from a script writing point of view.  However, it was important to me that our film did not require prior knowledge of the first film.

Q – Since the original TRON was not considered a hit, what do you think made the difference this time around?

Joseph Kosinski: The first film was conceptually decades ahead of its time.  Now the notion of ‘cyberspace’ and a digital avatar is almost second nature.  Also, our story is more than anything a father son (or sons) story, which hopefully appealed to those who normally wouldn’t go see a ‘sci-fi’ film.

Q – Was Jeff flattered to see himself as a young man again?

Joseph Kosinski: I think he found it to be a bit strange as you would imagine.  He described it as feeling like the first moment you ever hear your own voice on tape — not exactly what you would expect.

Q – Before starting shooting the movie did you draw a story board?

Joseph Kosinski: My sketching abilities are pretty limited, but I did have a small team storyboard about 90% of the movie.

Q – How did it feel to work on a project for so long and then finally see it in all its glory on the big-screen?

Joseph Kosinski: It was a 3.5 year process so it took me awhile to realize it was actually finished.  I am very proud of the film and particularly all of the thousands of people who worked on it.

Q – Was there ever any thought of setting the world of Tron in cyberspace instead of making it a place of its own?

Joseph Kosinski: From the beginning I was not interested in making a movie about the internet.  I liked the idea that this world had been sealed off since 1989 and had evolved on its own, like the Galapagos Islands.

Q – How are you planning to expand the TRON Universe?

Joseph Kosinski: Disney is currently developing an animated series that takes place in the Tron universe before the events of Tron Legacy.  I am currently brainstorming with my team of writers and producers on what the next chapter of our story would be.

Q – On the big screen Tron Legacy was visually pure magic. Do you think it works on normal TV?

Joseph Kosinski: I find that the quality of movie theaters out there can vary widely, particularly for a 3D movie.  For me, seeing the movie on Blu-ray on a nice HD plasma screen is about as good as it gets.

Q – Can you tell us how it was working with Jeff Bridges?

Joseph Kosinski: A wonderful experience, everything you would hope for.  I learned a lot from him.

Q – Few directors make their feature debut shooting in the new style 3D, was that a particularly daunting task?

Joseph Kosinski: I knew this film had to be shot in 3D from the very beginning. There certainly are a lot of challenges it presents. The cameras a more cumbersome and prone to more technical issues.  They slow down the shooting process a bit.  And they make the visual effects process much more difficult, particularly on a film like this.  However, in the end I’m glad we went the way we did.

Q – Is it more challenging for a director to manage a sci-fi movie rather than the usual drama/comedy/thriller genres?

Joseph Kosinski: The biggest challenge of a movie like this is that there is no location you can go to to shoot it.  Everything has to be created from scratch.  I spent a year designing this world with my team before we even began shooting.

Q – Cillian Murphy only briefly appears in TRON Legacy. Would it be fair to assume his appearance here is only a primer for possible involvement in a potential sequel?

Joseph Kosinski: Yes that would be fair to assume.

Q – What advice do you have for aspiring directors?

Joseph Kosinski: Go out and make something that reflects your interests, your taste, your ideas.  No one will pay you to make something until you have a few things you can show that you’ve directed.  I got my start by making short films on my own.

Q – Can you tell us how much impact the Comic- Con presentation trailer made on the final movie?

Joseph Kosinski: That teaser test was designed to show the studio what the look and feel of the movie was going to be as well as a hint of the narrative.  What the Comic-Con presentation showed was that there was still a strong interest in this property and it gave them the confidence to push forward with the production of the film.

Q – How much of Tron Legacy was computer animated?

Joseph Kosinski: The Light Cycle Battle and the Light Jet Battle are almost 100% computer animated.  The rest of the movie is a blend of live action and digital backdrops.

Q – On the subject of things you weren’t able to put into the movie, are there plans to release a director’s cut?

Joseph Kosinski: Almost everything I shot is included in the movie, there is very little on the cutting room floor.

Q – What memories do you personally have of Tron 1?

Joseph Kosinski: I remember watching it on VHS sometime on the mid-80s and that it looked and sounded like nothing I had ever seen before.

Q – With a wardrobe budget of $13 million, you had some issues with the LED lights on the suits. Why the reliance on practical suits over digital?

Joseph Kosinski: Actually the suits used an illuminated fabric. It was important to me that the characters would illuminate their environment and each other. That would be something that would be incredibly difficult to simulate in post-production.

Q – ‘Tron’ surprised us with groundbreaking special effects. ‘Tron: Legacy’ did the same and even added impressive 3D technology. What do you think will shock us in ‘Tron 3’, assuming it happens (we’re all rooting for it of course!)?

Joseph Kosinski: I think the final scene of TL leaves open some very interesting possibilities.  If Quorra can cross over into our world, what other elements from the Grid could do the same?

Q – How specifically did you make Jeff Bridges look so younger?

Joseph Kosinski: We used Jeff’s performance of Clu and remapped it onto a digital version of himself at 35 years old.  I used the movie “Against All Odds” as a reference for Clu’s appearance.

Q – Can you please talk about the transformation of Tron into Rinzler and back again? If he could return to being Tron then why did it take him so long to do it? Did he survive?

Joseph Kosinski: Only once Rinzler saw the face of Kevin Flynn again did he recall his true identity.  As he sinks into the depths of the Sea of Simulation, you can see that his lights turn from orange to white — back to the colors of Tron. He still remains there, alive but dormant.

Q – There are lots of fans of the 1982 Tron movie. Did you fear their opinion?

Joseph Kosinski: Since we decided to embrace the mythology set out by the first film, I felt that fans of the original would generally be supportive of this film.  Of course there are always exceptions but opinions are not to be feared.

Q – People know Olivia Wilde from House M.D. TV series. Why did you choose her to play Quorra’s part?

Joseph Kosinski: I felt that she embodied many of the qualities that I wanted Quorra to have — she’s smart, strong-willed and has a very striking look.  She is actually the first actress I met for the part and I think she gave a fantastic performance.

Q – While you come from a visual background and have said the film was 90% storyboarded, what did cinematographer Claudio Miranda bring to the table?

Joseph Kosinski: Claudio and I had done over a dozen TV commercials together before I asked him to join me on TL.  From the beginning I told him I wanted this to be an “uplit” world, light had to come from the floor whenever possible.  That was a huge challenge for him in that he had to coordinate with the production designer in order to incorporate lighting into the architecture.  We also pioneered a ceiling mounted motion control rig for the End Of Line club which was another “first” for our movie.  The thing I love about Claudio is that he is not only an incredible artist, but a brilliant technician.

Q – From a special effects standpoint, what was the most challenging scene to create?

Joseph Kosinski: Probably the Light Cycle scene due to the complexity of the choreography.  It was like 4 dimensional chess.

Q – What was key to making the story relate-able for young people today now that video games are so far removed from arcade games of the 80s?

Joseph Kosinski: At its core the movie is about a son trying to reconnect with his father which is something I think almost anyone can relate to, regardless of how old you are.

Q – How much input did Jeff Bridges add to the script or story?

Joseph Kosinski: Jeff was involved from the very beginning. The Buddhist qualities that Flynn has taken on since being trapped in the Grid was something that Jeff brought to the table.  There are a quite a few lines in the film that Jeff came up with or adlibbed in the scene.

Q – Could you define what the “Tron Legacy” means to you in one sentence?

Joseph Kosinski: The film is about finding human connection in an increasingly digital world.

Q – What was your initial reaction when you were approached to direct Tron Legacy?

Joseph Kosinski: I was very flattered; I felt the project had so much potential.  I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me to convince the studio that the movie was worth making and that I was the guy to do it, but I certainly was excited to have the opportunity.

Q – How did you make the professional transition from architecture to filmmaking?

Joseph Kosinski: Rather than getting a job as an architect after school, I started a small digital design studio with a friend of mine called KDLAB.  I started making short films and eventually got a few small commercials to direct.  I then moved to LA to work on larger projects and after a year or two met with Sean Bailey and started talking about doing a sequel to Tron.

Q – Many of the best video gamers are women. Did you consider the possibility of Flynn having a daughter instead of a son?

Joseph Kosinski: We did briefly, but in the end we felt that Quorra (the last of the remaining ISOs) would be a more interesting female character.

Q – If someone hasn’t seen the original Tron, would you recommend they watch it or Tron Legacy first?

Joseph Kosinski: Although not required, I would recommend they watch the original Tron first as it will help them understand the back-story of Legacy.

Q – The marketing for this movie has been very intense all throughout production. How much influence did you have over the way Disney presented TRON Legacy to the masses outside of the actual viewing experience?

Joseph Kosinski: I was very involved, in fact Disney allowed me to cut the first two trailers.

Q – How open was original Tron creator Steve Lisberger to updating and adapting the TRON universe for the 21st Century?

Joseph Kosinski: He was very open and an essential part of the creative team.  He thought of himself as the “spiritual advisor” to the project and helped us all keep an eye on the big picture.

Q – Were you always adamant that the movie would focus entirely on The Grid? Could future TRON adventures focus more on the Grid’s relationship with reality?

Joseph Kosinski: Yes, the focus of TL had to be on the relationship between Sam, Flynn, and Clu in the world of the Grid. I think as the last scene of TL hints, the future lies in blurring that line between the Grid and our world.

Q – What aspect of the upcoming TL Blu-rays are you the happiest with?

Joseph Kosinski: After TL opened theatrically, I was able to go back to Skywalker Sound and fix approximately 100 different aspects of the sound mix that bothered me.  So, the domestic Blu-ray contains that completely remixed and remastered 7.1 audio track.

Q – The IMAX presentation was flawless and amazing. Can you explain working in this format?

Joseph Kosinski: Because they are so precisely calibrated and maintained, I found the IMAX presentation to be the best reflection of the movie I wanted to make.  I spent a lot of time working with the folks at IMAX to make sure we delivered that experience.  I was happy to see that we were able to include the IMAX version on the Blu-ray.

Q – How’s the Blu-ray presentation? Are there open matte scenes from the IMAX like The Dark Knight Blu-ray presentation?

Joseph Kosinski: Yes, all of the IMAX scenes are presented in full frame.

Q – Some viewers criticized CLU’s face – they say it was unreal, a little bit fake – do you think there is some truth in this criticism?

Joseph Kosinski: Clu was certainly the most technically and conceptually ambitious aspect we chose to tackle on this film.  There is nothing more difficult than creating a realistic human face, especially if it is someone we know like Jeff Bridges.  I do hear the criticism, but I think I speak for the whole team when I say that we would rather be criticized for trying something new rather than for not trying at all.

Q – Why couldn’t Flynn just reprogram Clu to accept a less than perfect existence? I’m not sure how Clu grew more powerful than the Creator. Can you explain?

Joseph Kosinski: Clu represents a copy of Kevin Flynn at an age when he was at his most ambitious and one could say most egotistical.  Over the last 20 years, Kevin Flynn has wisened with age and learned the hard way that his priorities were out of balance.  Unfortunately, Clu does not mature in the same way; he is essentially frozen in time. Flynn’s battle with Clu is in a way a battle with the man he used to be and Sam is caught in the middle.

Q – What do you want people to remember from your film 20 years from now?

Joseph Kosinski: Hopefully it will be seen as an ambitious film for its time and inspire some young kid out there to dream, as the first one did for me.

Q – Do you think the world of Tron will be a very similar to the future of Humanity?

Joseph Kosinski: I hope not.

Q – Tron Legacy has an interesting digital relationship with real technology in our lives. Science-fiction can sometimes be an outline for our technological growth. Was there anything in Legacy that you modeled from real-life?

Joseph Kosinski: The idea of ‘genetic algorithms’ and ‘quantum teleportation’ are real concepts currently being researched right now.  We met with scientists from CalTech and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) to make sure that the science in our film was accurate.

Q – Did you rework or re-edit any of the actual shots in the film? Maybe clean them up like the Star Wars Special Editions?

Joseph Kosinski: No, I just tweaked the soundtrack for the Blu-ray.

Q – How do you think 3D helps draw viewers further into the world of the movie?

Joseph Kosinski: I think when used correctly it can create a more immersive experience.  It should never be a distraction.

Q – Who came up with the idea to name the barkeep “Zuse”?

Joseph Kosinski: I asked the writers to pull together a list of computer pioneers.  Konrad Zuse created one of the first functional computers.

Q – I’m a big fan of your supporting cast from James Frain to Michael Sheen. They’re such marvelous actors, were they a joy to direct?

Joseph Kosinski: Yes, they were both fantastic to work with.  Both brought unexpected aspects to their characters which as a director is exactly what you hope for.

Q – After making TL, do you feel that society should be concerned about technology or should it be embraced?

Joseph Kosinski: Both. I think that technology can be an incredible tool.  We wouldn’t be able to create a movie like this without it. However it needs to be watched so that it doesn’t interfere with our personal relationships.

Q – If Kevin Flynn’s body was transported into Tron and he seemingly sacrificed himself at the end of TL, does that mean he is no longer alive, or has he transformed into something else?

Joseph Kosinski: Reintegration is a mysterious thing.  Flynn’s code is still in there, fragmented….

Q – Do you think that you were chosen to direct Tron Legacy because of your background in design and architecture?

Joseph Kosinski: Not solely, but to make a movie like this you have to be interested in creating a whole world and for me that was an exciting challenge.

Q – How much virtual time *did* Flynn spend on the Grid? I believe the writers mentioned something about 28,000 cycles…?

Joseph Kosinski: The ratio of Grid Time to Real World time is about 50:1.  So 21 years would be over a thousand years on the Grid.

Q – What is your favorite shot in Tron Legacy?

Joseph Kosinski: I always liked the shot of Sam and Quorra in the dark hallway, illuminating each other only with the light coming from their suits.  It’s a shot you can only have in Tron.

Q – If it’s up to you, would you want to helm Tron 3?

Joseph Kosinski: If we can come up with the right story, then absolutely.

Q – Could you talk a little bit about Daft Punk’s participation? Their score was awesome, who had the idea to involve them with TL?

Joseph Kosinski: I have been a fan of theirs for a long time so I set up a meeting with them back in 2007, before I had even shot the test piece.  I told them I wanted to create a classic film score that blended electronic and classical music in a way that hadn’t been done before.  They were amazing collaborators and I am very proud of the work they did.

Q – Are you working on the Tron animated series at all?

Joseph Kosinski: No, but a number of writers and producers from TL are involved with it.

Q – Which character in the film is most like you in your real life?

Joseph Kosinski: Well when I started working on this film I would have said Sam, but now I feel more like Flynn.

Q – The first Tron became a reference for geeks. Weren’t you afraid that your film would be categorized as a geeks’ movie and only that?

Joseph Kosinski: Absolutely.  We tried to get the word out that this was a film that non-geeks could enjoy.  Thankfully word of mouth helped with that.

Q – Would you like to live in a world like TRON?

Joseph Kosinski: I did for three years.  It’s nice to be back in the real world now.

Q – You’re also developing the Black Hole remake. What can you tell us about that?

Joseph Kosinski: We are currently working on a script with Travis Beachem.  I am very excited about the potential of this project.

Q – How exactly was it possible for Quorra to materialize into the real world? What impact will she make on the real world?

Joseph Kosinski: Quorra was reconstructed from the Carbon and Water stored in the Shiva laser from Flynn’s teleportation.  If you look closely, you’ll see the various canisters arranged around its base.

Q – Daft Punk created an amazing score, but were you concerned that the score would become such a character in itself that it would distract the audience away from the story?

Joseph Kosinski: No, but I was very pleased to see that the soundtrack is one of the best selling in years.

Q – In your opinion, which was the most difficult effect to make/ pull off for this movie and why?

Joseph Kosinski: I wanted to make it so that the audience had no idea what was real and what was virtual.  I’ve always been interested in blurring the lines between the two.

Q – Which was the hardest shot? How many times did you have to shoot it?

Joseph Kosinski: The shot of Sam rising in the Recognizer, it required many, many meetings to figure out how to do it.

Q – After you read the Tron: Legacy reviews – did you find the criticism in reviews is useful for you as young director?

Joseph Kosinski: Absolutely.

Q – With 3D booming and only getting better, how do you think Tron Legacy translate to home 3D with the 3D Blu-ray?

Joseph Kosinski: I was impressed with the Blu-ray 3D. It holds up well even on a smaller screen.

Tron and Tron: Legacy come out on Blu-ray April 4, 2011 so pre-order yours today!


5 Responses to “A Talk With Joseph Kosinski – Director of Tron: Legacy”

  1. Aaron

    Can you stop posting these awesome interviews already…;)

  2. Gregg

    There are a few things that really caught my attention in this interview. First was the mention of the animated Tron series. I have the graphic novel that’s a prequel to Tron: Legacy. It was a great read and to see this story in motion will be entertaining to say the least.

    The next thing is the Recognizers that Sam was supposed to fight that didn’t make it to the film. This was disappointing because the film really needed another good action sequence in there. The games were about the only substantial fight in the film. I didn’t feel the light jet battle was heavy enough. The games sequence rocked though!

  3. Jiminy Critic

    Not having seen the original, I really enjoyed the new version. Some of the visuals were breathtaking, and I can imagine this looks really good on Blu-ray! see it!

  4. Gerard Iribe

    Yeah, they put out a Tron animated series trailer out weeks ago.


  5. Sean Ferguson

    I’m glad you liked this one too Aaron! It’s going to be interesting to see how the cartoon and future movie turn out. I’m glad they are moving forward though!