Talking TronsMedia with Steven Lisberger

A few weeks ago, I sat down for a conversation with Steven Lisberger, director of the original Tron, to discuss our shared passions for science fiction cinema and transmedia entertainment. Mike Bonifer organized the meeting, filmed the exchange, and edited the footage. He has gradually been rolling it out in short three to four minute chunks via YouTube ever since.

I have to say that it was thrilling to me to meet Lisberger — having long admired how far forward the thinking behind Tron had been about the directions games and digital culture might take. In the first few installments of this conversation, Lisberger shares with me some of his experiences in making Tron and also considers the current project to re-engage with these characters, their world, and their stories for the next generation. In case you’ve missed the news, a new Tron movie is going to hit the theaters later this year, and we are already seeing a fair amount of buzz build around it.

Tron took advantage of cutting edge digital graphics to imagine forms of computer gaming which were not yet technically possible at the time. Many of us struggled to even understand what was happening in the movie because it was so far out beyond our previous experiences with things digital. In many ways, subsequent generations of game designers and digital effects artists have helped to design and fully realize many aspects of that vision. So it is interesting to imagine what Tron would mean for today’s generation.

This second section discusses Tron’s light cycles and the challenges of communicating how they worked and what they could do to people who had yet to have an immersive digital experience. Along the way, he gives us a taste of what it was like to work with futurist designer Syd Mead.

In this next installment, he describes his meeting with one of the “old men” on the Disney animation team and what a break Tron felt with what Disney had done before.

And in this installment, he gets into the ways that the new Tron movie engages with the franchise, including the decision to make the new film in 3D.

By the fifth and sixth installments, we begin to broaden the discussion outward from Tron to the larger context of contemporary digital culture. In part five, I hold forth about the concept of participatory culture and how it is changing the way media gets produced and circulated.

And in part six, we discuss Avatar‘s impact on the culture, including beginning to talk about the coming wave of 3D films emerging from Hollywood in its wake. I should note here that I discuss Alice in Wonderland as a film conceived in 3D but I have since learned it was shot in 2D and thus does not fully exploit the potentials of 3D cinematography.

Part Seven includes some discussion of political activism that has originated around James Cameron’s Avatar and the way popular culture can become a catalyst for social change movements and Steve talks about how Cameron brought together radically different aesthetics from previous science fiction and fantasy films.

In the next installment, we get into the construction of the alien in contemporary science fiction and how this may reflect some shifts that are occuring in American society around race and culture.

By Part Nine, we are back onto transmedia, discussing the ways advanced publicity may help frame and shape audience expectations and how different audiences bring different kinds of knowledge with them into the theater when they engage with the new Tron movie.

This is not exactly My Dinner with Andre, but I think you will find it interesting. I will run a second installment when the rest of the material is up, but you can follow them as they are posted, one a day, on Mike Bonifer’s Game Changers YouTube Channel.

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  1. Hello. I am from Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. This is a wonderful post. I am in awe of it. I am excited to see the new TRON movie. I am showing this post to my friends! Thanks for your videos and thoughts.

    Amberly Elmore

  2. Leigh Ankersen says:

    Hi! I am a student of Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I loved your post. My brother is a computer animator and talks about these movies all the time. It was very interesting to hear how these movies are actually based upon shifts in American race and culture. The movies were interesting too because they gave me an insight to what my brother is actually talking about. I never really know what he is saying, I simply smile and nod! Thank you for sharing this!

    Leigh Ankersen

  3. Interesting interview, Henry although I think you might have focused a wee bit too much on Avatar. It’s obvious from Steven’s reactions that he doesn’t think as highly of the movie as you do, however, I will say that you did bring up some interesting points in discussing the movie.

    Around ten years ago I was fortunate enough to work for Donald Kushner, the producer of the original Tron. Steven’s wife Peggy was also with Kushner’s company at the time and I had a talked with her about Tron and she told me of the planned sequel.

    First off, I told her much of a HUGE fan I am of the movie. I didn’t go into the following details but back in 1982 I was very much a video game junkie thanks to the first generation of home video game systems, namely the pioneering Atari 2600. That simple and now thoroughly antiquate game system led me to get an Atari 800 “personal computer”, which wasn’t my first exposure to home computers. I had cousins that were Apple people from day one, so I would go over to their place and play games on their Apple II, Apple IIc and Macintosh.

    All this early dabbling with video games and computers led to me getting my Atari 800 and entering programs from the various computer magazines published at the time(and there were many!). I would spend hours entering code from magazine pages, hoping I entered everything right to produce a working game. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.

    Anyway when 1982 came around and this movie called Tron was about to come I of course was on it. I understood the language, the bits, the bytes, ram, rom, input, output, data and so on. Needless to say the movie was light years ahead of its time.

    I think if you were the first generation of kids growing up like me with video games and home computers you naturally gravitated towards Tron because it all seemed like familiar territory. But besides which, it had heroes and villains, something every good story has.

    But back to my discussion with Peggy Lisberger back around 2000(?). She told me of Steven’s struggle to get Disney on board for a sequel so needless to say I am extremely happy to finally see this new Tron movie come to fruition.

    In 1999 we had the return of Star Wars with the first new Star Wars movie since 1983 and we had a little movie called The Matrix come out in ’99 as well. I always identified The Matrix as essentially being a Tron remake, although obviously a more darker, gritty and violent take.

    So ya bring on Tron Legacy!!!



  4. Hello Henry,

    I just recently found your blog while searching around on Google. This interview was extremely enjoyable to read, being a huge fan of Tron. It brought back all of my distant memories of seeing Tron for the first time as a young teen. Tron itself ignited my interest in computers. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading through the rest of your blog.

  5. Shall I say “the Big Man and the Big Fan?”

  6. I’m very excited to see this, I’m from Dr. Strange’s 310 class at the University of South Alabama. Thank you very much for posting this.

  7. I’d like to say that my obsession with Tron started with test footage for Tron: Legacy that debuted at Comic-Con three years ago. But the truth is that I have been a fan of Tron since some time in the early 1980s, when its oversized white Disney clamshell box stared back at me from a video-store shelf, promising a weird, unforgettable journey behind (and beyond) the screen of my favorite video games. I wish I had the opportunity to assist at this interview…

    oh by the way there are only 54 Days until Theater Premiere!

  8. I have seen the Tron movie and i will honestly agree that it went somewhat tanget to me and had to again see it to understand it fully. But overall i would say a great direction and great use of digital technology. Steven Lisberger has put great efforts in it. I am excited to see the new Tron which is expected this year. I will go through all of these videos. This looks to be a very interesting conversation.

  9. Wow! what a great conversation.Steven Lisberger has been a very talented and world class director for me. I read lots of movie reviews he directed and it brings me the excitement to watch it. Thanks you provide videos on your conversation.

  10. free credit report says:

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  11. I’m such a huge fan of Henry, thanks you provided videos of interview with Steven Lisberger.

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  12. I’m such a huge fan of Henry, thanks you provided videos of interview with Steven Lisberger.

  13. Steven Lisberger has put great efforts in it. I am excited to see the new Tron which is expected this year.

  14. I just recently found your blog while searching around on Google. This interview was extremely enjoyable to read, being a huge fan of Tron.

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  15. I used to love tron as a kid. I saw the movie just the other week and was very impressed

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  16. Tron was a ground breaking movie when first released. Very interesting opinions about 3D and 3DTV Glasses

  17. My friend watched a promo making-of film about Tron: Legacy, and the 3D director spoke very well about how big, jumping-out-at-you 3D had already been done, and that the use of 3D in Tron: Legacy was intended to create a much more subtle depth-effect of looking into a quality links screen. I though the difference between the 3D Tron world and the non-3D real world was just right.

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    I am impressed by this interview. I am glad to see that you are able to take a interview like this one. It’s a lot of great info in this interview and I am simply amazed. Thank you !

  19. I just saw Tron: The Legacy yesterday. It’s a direct sequel to Tron. Jeff Bridges reprises his role from the first film. Flynn’s Arcade is one of the main locations from the first film. But I must say the original Tron holds up well and was awesome. Free Credit Report

  20. You got to interview Lisberger?!–thank you, thank you, thank you, for posting the videos. I am obsessed with Tron! I am anxiously awaiting the new one to come out, I almost had a heart attack when they leaked a trailer, I think I might have to re-up my health insurance.

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  40. jimcurtis89 says:

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