Project | Movies
For Disney’s “TRON: Legacy,” Bradley Munkowitz, better known as GMUNK, was the lead animated graphics artist. He assembled and led a team of GFX all-stars who conceived, designed and animated approximately 10 minutes of UI sequences and holograms at Digital Domain for director Joseph Kosinski and visual effects supervisor Eric Barba.
Q: Other than the custom programming, what other software tools did you use?
We used the Adobe design tools, Photoshop, Illustrator, AfterEffects, etc. We also used Cinema 4D, a 3D package aimed more towards the motion graphics industry, with its insane MoGraph plugin suite… We used it heavily, and also rendered a bunch of key graphics out of c4d V-Ray for proper DOF and motion blur, dlew was in control. We also used Maya for some pipeline enhancements, and Houdini for the DNA and as a host for Nimoy’s openFrameworks applications, which were ported over to Houdini by “The King,” effects animator Andy King. It was definitely the way forward, getting our stuff deep into the visual effects pipeline.
That’s how we did the fireworks during the light cycle sequence. We first wrote an openFrameworks app with Nimoy, creating the design and behaviors of the fireworks, as well as the shape and all the other attributes. We then perfected the app with feedback from Joe; I’d create slider presets of the key design settings that we then ported to Houdini, which ran them exactly the same once the app was ported over. Being able to re-create the designs exactly, we rendered them out of Houdini through the DD pipeline and off to comp it went. Pretty solid design process for sure…
Daft Punk’s cameo appearance in TRON: Legacy provided a rare treat to visualize a fully animated digital readout screen in perfect sync with the duo’s binary beats.
The digital dj pane had to reinforce the advanced computer world technology used by highly evolved musical programs. A flowing dot grid, pulsing energy lines, and digitally dense beat indicators felt appropriate against the visual of these highly evolved djs in their natural element.
The chance to create animated graphics that complement an artist I already love in a movie like TRON: Legacy was indeed a series of fortunate events.
When you’ve authored the vast TRON universe, it only takes a couple deft code maneuvers for the likes of Kevin Flynn to avoid certain disaster.
The graphic interfaces that Flynn summons in the following two scenes help him hijack a lightjet and avoid certain doom on a runaway elevator.
I led the animated graphics portion of both sequences with the masterful animation finesse of David Lewandowski on the elevator interface and solid animation support from Joseph Chan for the guard’s back and kiosk interfaces.
As Flynn and Sam take a ride on the Solar Sailer with Quorra, we pause from the action to witness what our small but agile TRON GFX team was tasked to create from scratch – a series of beautiful organic layered surfaces that ultimately reveal Quorra’s isometric code structure down to her core DNA.
With our work cut out for us, Gmunk and I dived into research mode and found visuals that inspired us with new ideas based on existing natural phenomenon such as voronoi cell patterns, isometric surfaces, and the amazing nature drawings of Ernst Haeckel to just name a few. As numerous other graphics sequences needed our attention, it proved challenging to make headway on the Solar Sailer sequence which we knew needed as much of our attention as possible. After numerous presentations and discussions with director Joseph Kosinski, we solidified a conceptual graphic underpinning behind the various layers of Quorra’s organic code composition as Flynn eventually targets her damaged code and extracts it allowing her arm to regenerate itself.
As a longtime user of Cinema 4D as a 3D program, I knew it would be invaluable tool for this sequence to prototype concepts, designs and animations that sparked further ideas in the animation and technical savvy hands of David Lewandowski (aka dlew) who led the animation charge on the entire hexsphere set of shots using C4D’s mograph tools, xpresso, Vray, and 3d stereo output. The entire Solar Sailer sequence was too daunting in the timeframe for just one key animator due to the additional set of DNA shots, so we recruited an impressive amount of C4D and Houdini talent in the form of Adam Swaab who absolutely nailed the DNA shots and provided a great range of passes for DD’s compositors in Nuke.
Another key section of the Solar Sailer gfx sequence came from an app that Gmunk and I art directed and was custom coded in Open Frameworks by code artist Josh Nimoy. The app known simply as Contour Heart gave us a fantastic range of organic forms and customizable slider control to generate a truly unique looking surface under the hexsphere layers. Joseph Chan helped round out the Solar Sailer graphics team bringing Quorra’s disc data glow to life with delicate animated graphics.
It took the combined best talents of the core gfx team to deliver what ended up as the final graphics sequence in the film. We hope it will stand the test of time and serve as an important reference point in the ever increasing amount of holographic screen interfaces created for films both past, present and future.
Some of my favorite moments from the amazing Contour Heart app that was developed for the Solar Sailer sequence in TRON LEGACY. Art Direction by myself and Gmunk. Coded by Josh Nimoy.
TRON Legacy’s disc game sequence needed a floating scoreboard and tablet interface to help keep track of the action. This was the first of nearly a years worth of animated graphics assignments working deep inside visual effects powerhouse Digital Domain.
I worked with Gmunk on one project before TRON in the commercials division of DD where he quickly assimilated the evolution of custom built apps whose development and evolution I continued to push over the years since my time working at Motion Theory with Josh Nimoy and various other code artists.
Gmunk and I directed the creation of two custom apps for the disc game sequence with Josh Nimoy at the coding helm. Once the initial design and animation direction had been settled on, we experimented and integrated image sequences based on custom sliders that controlled a host of different parameters to nail the desired effect. Gmunk saw the scoreboard through to completion while I focused on finishing the tablet interface used by Jarvis, Clu’s intelligence officer. The disc game sequence also introduced us to the 3d pipeline and associated workflow at Digital Domain. Well worth the extra process when the 3d glasses went on in the screening room.
Although our small TRON: Legacy GFX Team was knee deep on other parts of the film, there was no passing up the opportunity to work on the opening sequence where a single graphic line ultimately transforms into a photoreal city, all in a single camera move.
Gmunk, David Lewandowski (dlew) and I worked closely with director (and architect) Joseph Kosinski to strike the right visual balance that evoked the feeling of the original 1982 light bike battle in its graphic simplicity with the need for the light lines to ultimately build enough structure for a transition to a photoreal city.
I spent some good one on one time early on with Google Maps to analyze the building structures of downtown Vancouver B.C. for building shapes that would allow for interesting line animation. From there it was a study in the composition, styling and animation quality of the linework to find what worked best. I pushed for the idea to have the traveling light lines light up a grid of points that defined the 3d space of the traveling line(s) to give the grid more parallax and interest throughout the line animation (in the process video below).