Dec 232010
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Physicists give TRON filmmakers the lowdown on how to digitize a person and transport him into a computer game

When Steven Lisberger made the original 1982 cult film TRON, he was ineligible for an Academy Award for visual effects, because he’d used computers—and believe it or not, that was considered a form of cheating at that time.

Fast forward 28 years to the sequel, TRON: Legacy, and not only have computers become a celebrated part of its filmmaking, but the movie’s story and design address the significant advances made in the fields ofquantum computing and artificial intelligence since then.

“We weren’t interested in making a movie about technology—we’d talk about the technology through the relationships between characters,” says director Joe Kosinski. “You won’t hear about gigabytes and Twitter and Google, because any technical jargon would be dated five years from now. Once you got into the world of TRON, we thought of it more as a Western with another set of rules.”

But those rules had to be plausible. Long before TRON: Legacy began filming, Kosinski and producer Sean Bailey spent hours picking the brains of physicists, neuroscientists and roboticists for ideas on how to ground high-concept plot points and scene design in actual scientific principals.

In fact, science and technology have been woven directly into the film’s promotional campaign, with the latest event occurring Monday night when Kosinski and Bailey reconvened with two of the film’s consulting scientists—California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll and retired Jet Propulsion Laboratory physicistJohn Dick—on the stage of Disney’s El Capitan Theater in Hollywood for a screening and panel discussion.

“We wanted a strong science foundation at key moments throughout the film, so we invited some of the smartest people we could find to provide answers we could incorporate,”  Kosinski said. “The discussion improved parts of the story and served as a springboard to better things in the movie.”

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