‘Tron: Legacy’: Jeff Bridges face to face with CG issue

Dec. 26, 2010 | 7:59 a.m.

WELCOME TO THE MACHINE: The new Disney film “Tron: Legacy” picks up the story of the 1982 movie “Tron,” which was neither a critical nor a commercial success but somehow still echoes in pop culture as an early signpost of the digital era’s glowing frontier. “Tron” is remembered more for its ideas and images (and its namesake video game) than for its story or characters, and that is a challenge for this new film, which stars Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde. Here, a chat with Bridges and a look at one of the shutterbug’s on-the-set photos…

jeff bridges on tron set2 Tron: Legacy: Jeff Bridges face to face with CG issue

Thomas Nellen and Jeff Bridges on the set of "Tron:Legacy." (Credit: Jeff Bridges)

Jeff Bridges has three roles in “Tron: Legacy,” and for two of them — a flashback-era Kevin Flynn and a computer-world fascist named CLU — his visage was digitally altered to make the 61-year-old Oscar winner look decades younger. The transformation team was led by Eric Barba, who picked up an Academy Award of his own for the CG work on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Bridges dislikes the overuse of CG and the loss of living, breathing performance, but he said he was assured that, in this film, his performance would come shining through. That didn’t make the process any less alien, especially at the point when Bridges left the set of “True Grit” to came back to the “Tron” world.

“It was so bizarre. We did the reshoot on ‘Tron’ just a couple of days after we finished ‘True Grit.’ It was so strange. I had the same make-up man, Thomas Nellen. A couple of days before, he was painting me up for Rooster, and then the next day he’s putting dots on my face for performance-capture stuff, which is very disorienting. The thing you hope for is the performance to come through, and you don’t want the audience distracted.”

jeff bridges as clu1 Tron: Legacy: Jeff Bridges face to face with CG issue

Jeff Bridges as CLU in "Tron: Legacy." (Walt Disney Studios)

The filmmakers had some particular challenges in this project. Moviegoers don’t know what “Button” star Brad Pitt will look like as an old man, but they do have years of insight into what Bridges is supposed to look like, so there are steeper expectations right off the bat. CLU and young Flynn also presented profound problems just in amount of screen time and engagement, conversation and combat with other characters.  There was a notable setback too. Make-up master Rick Baker was brought in to manufacture an ultra-realistic likeness of young Bridges, and that head was intended to serve as the base-line model for all the CG work. But the filmmakers decided they couldn’t use it as they had hoped — they needed an even younger version of Bridges, they decided — and a greater percentage of  their sculpting work was done by computer.

The final results left many people cold, frankly. Bridges seemed to search for the right words when asked about the face-to-face issue. There have been some fairly harsh appraisals of the dead-face appearance of CLU in some sequences,  and he wasn’t prepared to argue with them, but he did look for a bright side.  “It does change the way you watch a movie. But for that thing you’re talking about, what greases that a little bit is that in this movie it is a computer world. Things are off a little bit. You’re looking into a different reality. Not everything looks human there.”

— Geoff Boucher


tron jeff bridges poster Tron: Legacy: Jeff Bridges face to face with CG issue

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22 Responses to ‘Tron: Legacy’: Jeff Bridges face to face with CG issue

  1. Tran Nung says:

    Tron was excellent!!

    • SHAUN S says:

      Has this type of CGI ever been done on someone so old? Keep in mind this technique only needs to be perfected. It is technology…like all new aspects of science there is room for improvement! It's just entertainment dude. As a technician I know we can perfect it. So much so that soon there will be no human element needed in the world of CGI.

  2. Alex Andersson says:

    I am sick of hearing the 'digital world' excuse. The fact remains that this was poorly executed CGI and no amount of explaining or exposition will correct that. The creepy looking young Flynn was evidence of this. No digital intentions there, I'm afraid.

    • drx1 says:

      I'm sick of people being sick of… CLU. The young Flynn should have looked more human in the real world, but the Tron world – the Grid word – CLU was fine.

      • Philip says:

        I agree. I thought at first that the cgi face was an intentional effect given the whole computer theme. So i thought it was great

    • Sam says:

      You have no idea what you are talking about. The CG work on CLU is top notch. Not yet perfect but easily amongst the best facial animation work in the industry.

  3. albert says:

    Hey Alex… I think u have no idea what u are talking about… the movie was fantastic and groundbreaking!!

    • dp(219) says:

      I agree with the guy above me, this was very very underated great ass film. they did an excellent job I think. a lot of people I no who've seen this movie and liked it, they thought clu and youger Flynn looked as if it was a younger jeff bridges. I was stumped myself on how they did it. Excellent movie!

  4. AnonSciFiFan says:

    Only the mouth animations and CG in *some* scenes looked a bit akward, but other than those few scenes; there are other scenes where the CGI Clu looked excellent IMO.

    • clockdryve says:

      I was just having a friendly argument with my Buddy during the movie we just finished watching (our first time watching this movie) as he thought CLU was a real actor and I kept saying…"look at his mouth"… they did a VERY GOOD job but that IS a computer animated person"… I had assumed this ONLY because of the mouth and this is what I was pointing out to my buddy. Excellent job otherwise. They've came a long way and are "just about there!!" I just searched on line to find my assumptions were correct with CLU.

    • clockdryve says:

      To me the mouth looked a "little tight" in those scenes were it just "wasn't quite right".

  5. Sark66 says:

    For all you people out there……Tron set the bar back in the day as it does with Legacy. It seems alot of people are trying to pick apart this movie. In reality the movie was done top notch, sure there was one thing I wish could have been different—–Tron taking off the helmet at the end—but hey–thats for the sequel. If movies like Eat Pray Love is your cup of tea..do not see Tron. Go watch "fockers"again with the same jokes(boring), Tron is really going to change movies again, and Tron really rocked the house visually and with a great sound track.——oh and Alex, poorly executed CGI?? you are soooo sadly mistaken. end of line.

  6. David Mota says:

    It was a good movie with great music but the cgi clu and young dad in the beginning was weird. Since I never saw the first (nor plan to) I would have settled for an actor that looked just like Bridges when he was younger…

  7. Fabrisse says:

    For me the "uncanny Valley" moments with CLU were perfect. Usually, it creeps me out, but if I hadn't read this, I would have thought it was a deliberate choice on the part of the film makers to emphasize the difference between the program — which accretes, but doesn't evolve — and the human from which the program was created.

  8. Sark66 says:

    I was there at Comic Con when they played the teaser …and let me tell you something that was a great moment…..the crowd went crazy.

  9. Blake says:

    I saw the original TRON at the theater when it first came out, and loved it.. Legacy, however, was much more then I expected. It was not all action like Tron1 – characters were top notch. I need to see it again before it leaves the theater.

  10. Electricweeb says:

    I went in to see a move that pushed production, It delivered. The movie felt BIG, the soundtrack will become iconic. Very much a Blade Runner sound. I have all ready bought it. The style and imagination were top notch. Imax3D was used well. I will go again!

  11. Wesley69 says:

    Having seen Tron Legacy for the second time, I looked to see how well Disney was able to pull off what CGI has been attempting to do – reproduce a human actor's face on the screen CLU, for the most part, looked convincing in the TRON world. I believe this is a major step forward for the entire industry. How long will it be before George Lucas does the same thing with LEIA, LUKE and HAN SOLO in Episodes 7-9, or Christopher Reeves returns to the role of Superman?

  12. Cyndee26 says:


  13. Dave says:

    The biggest issue that should be discussed is that, in Benjamin Button, the artists could rely on 2D paint techniques (over the 3D-modeled animation) to finess the final product and make it look absolutely perfect on a frame-by-frame basis.

    Those 2D techniques couldn't be used for a movie shown in *stereo* — 2D brushstrokes, filters, and shaders only work over 3D animation when the final product is only shown in 2D. So the "digital makeup" aging techniques in "Button" couldn't be used in "Tron: Legacy" — making their job all the more difficult.

    IMHO, I think the *eyes* sell it, in both Young Kevin & Clu's scenes. If you look into the eyes, like you would with any other actor's performance, it's *flawless* (my favorite moment is in the scene when Clu scan's Sam's disc, realizing who he's dealing with — Clu looks up, gives a brief sideways sinister look and says, "Got it." It's really subtle and awesome).

    The challenge is, everyone KNOWS it's not real — so that eye-connection we normally make with an actor becomes more critical, more "browserly". We let our eye wander to every detail, and when something *isn't* right — like the mouth, which is the weakest link in the animation, IMHO, and a bit rubbery — we can't break our focus from it.

    Watch it a second time, and only look in his eyes — Bridges really sells the performance this way, and the animators did a beautiful job of translating that.

  14. Maria Gi says:

    I really liked it. Let's not read too much into it, after all Clu is a program and a copy. I liked how he looked I think it added to the realism of it. Good movie, very entertaining!!

  15. John Jones says:

    I really enjoyed the movie…even if young Jeff Bridges looked a bit creepy. I thought it had a bit of the Overman/transcend current man motif. I thought it was a great movie, I don't get those who hated it. They must not like message movies and like to keep their Science Fiction light, violent and meaningless.

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