Design Crazy

Well, ladies and gents, it’s once again time to talk about TRON.

Morphology is apparently like the most elusive critter the Crocodile Hunter could have ever spotted. No sooner than he says “Crikey!” it’s scurried off again, without even giving him time to say “She’s a beaut, ain’t she!” Or whatever it is that Steve Irwin said before he got stungrayed by that stingray. I don’t actually really know anything about him, except that he got shivved by a goofy-looking fish and that’s sad but also kind of fantastic.

Anyway, Tron: Morphology is clipping ahead, but the shoot date is slipping again. That’s kind of a good thing. Actually it’s kind of an awesome thing, to be honest. It will give me time to make the costumes way better than we’d initially planned and it will mean that I have more time to do things like LOOK FOR A JOB and GET MY LIFE TOGETHER while we make this flick. And I seem to have been shanghaied into doing line editing and fight choreo for another short film, Silent Night, information about which can be found over at my buddy Chris’ Bent Pin Studios ( In fact, we spent the afternoon today playing script doctor (which really isn’t as saucy as it sounds), and I didn’t get back to doing what I wanted to do until much later.

I’ve been working recently on the costumes and props for the movie. This involves design and fabrication, only one of which I’m really used to. But I am known to be able to put good-looking costumes together from time to time, and since now I have more time with which to make good-looking costumes, the pressure’s kind of on to make us look better than originally intended (namely, wearing black clothes that glow).

So here’s what I’m gonna do, I said to myself, being the self-talkin’ kind of guy I am. I’m going to make the Black Guards in Morphology¬†look something like a more advanced version of the guards from the original Tron, borrowing elements from them and then updating them to make them appear to be an intermediate or interstitial stage, an inflection point of sorts. Morphology takes place, for those in the know, during the Purge. This period is some time before the events of Tron: Legacy, and involves Clu’s forces committing genocide against the Isomorphs. Niko’s a homebrew terrorist, fighting against Clu’s forces, and Kadij is… well, you’ll have to wait for the anthology to learn everything about Kadij’s backstory!

Back to the Guards, though. Here they are in Tron:

Guards from the original TronAnd they were seen in a different incarnation in Tron: Legacy:

Tron Legacy Black GuardsSo basically I wanted to keep everything that I thought was cool and get rid of the stuff I either couldn’t do due to time/money constraints or lack of tools or whatever.

Regarding the helmet, I realize that having three CGI helmets in the movie is far too many already. Even though I, as Niko, will only wear mine in like three short shots and Lesley will only be wearing hers briefly as well, and a third character will only be wearing his briefly too (OOH CRYPTIC), I think it’s best to minimize the already MASSIVE amount of work that I’ll be doing in post. Further, I simply don’t have the resources to make the Black Guards’ helmets. So in one delirious evening’s musings, my brain went like so:

And then, combining the elements I decided to keep, my brain (and subsequently my hands) then went like so:

So there are some elements of the black guard, there are some elements of the Tron guards, there are elements of the Tron guards’ boss, Sark, from the first movie, and there’s even a bit of Clu in the styling. But something still didn’t quite work properly. And it looks kind of chintzy, very much “old Tron painted black,” which is something I have been consciously trying to avoid in designing the digital sets and costumes etc. for this movie. So the next step was to introduce more elements of the black guard to modernize the look–and also to streamline it a bit.

This design (even though it’s white, not black, as it will appear in the movie) made me MUCH happier, and I’ve started on this design in earnest. I even mocked up a mini version of the costume as a proof-of-concept, because I’m like that:

The Black Guard costumes are being made from upholstery vinyl, bright magenta flannel (to key in the glow effects), various kinds of black foam, bristol board, and, my favourite thing ever to goof around with, rigid insulation foam. It’s insanely lightweight, is fairly durable, and cuts really nicely. So I hacked up some foam and threw together a mockup of the face mask. My sister was on hand to help model the piece:

She’s watching Ghost Hunters as she does this, incidentally. NERRRRD.

With the basic shaped hacked out, I began to refine the costumes, shaping and sanding it down, and finally adding some more detail and the bright magenta that will serve as the glowy stuff:

Little known fact: I know nothing about the royal wedding except for Kate Middleton’s name and the fact that one of the people there had a spectacularly stupid hat that was so mind-bendingly terrible that it is being auctioned for charity. Newspapers about said royal wedding make excellent mats to cut, paint, and apply gloss on. Moving along.

It then took me six tries–SIX–to cut two mouthpieces. It was really seriously super embarrassing and I took no small amount of ribbing for it from said aforementioned sister. I mixed some paint into some Liquitex… stuff… and started filling the cracks and crevasses left when I put together the pieces of the mask. Then sanding, then gloss.

And they’re mostly done. They need a bit more refining–sanding and another layer of gloss in a couple of places–but they’re ready to integrate into the helmets once I get head measurements of our extras. The nasty thing in the foreground there is an early test of a prosthetic application for some of Lesley’s special effects makeup. That piece will NOT be used. I’ll post again in a couple of days once we’ve got that properly tested.

Anyway, the masks look good and I did a quick VFX test with them to make sure they’d work:

Regarding this video, this is from the description, some musings about the effects I did as the video was processing:

Using Adobe After Effects CS3, the magenta and the blue are both separated onto their own layers using the Keylight plugin. A solid is then created using the base colour of the glow (white for the bright glow, yellow for the orange glow). That solid uses the keyed layer as an Inverse Alpha track-matte. That results in the solid only showing where the keyed colour is.

At that point, the layer has an Inner Glow layer style applied to it (to add more definition to the effect) and then is precomposed. A Glow is then applied to.. well.. make it glow, and smooth out some of the artifacts that develop in keying.

A couple of things that I’ve learned while doing this: one, mottled paint makes for a mottled effect (see the example with the outer ring of the disc). Two, even lighting is key, and these tests were both done with just fluorescent overheads and ambient lighting. Even lighting from all sides will ensure that the colour I’m keying out is even and doesn’t get those jenky edges you see from time to time.

The effect colours still need work, too. I need to find some HD screencaps to get some good samples of core and glow colours. Once I establish a palette the effect can get more consistent and closer to what we see in the movie.

Moving on!

Here’s a couple of quick concept sketches of Clu’s carrier that will be hovering in the background the whole movie. I’m not up for going right to the Rectifier from Legacy, since it’s all part of his grand plan and I’m not entirely sure that Clu had the let’s-take-over-the-real-world scheme from the get-go so his carrier was probably less a floating aircraft carrier/troop transport and more along the lines of Sark’s command ship from Tron.

Last thing, then I’ll cut this post off and go to do something else productive with my time. Remember this costume design for Kadij?

Well, like I said before, since we’re not just going to be satisfied with black clothes and glowy stuff any more Kadij needed a bit of an upgrade. I think the main antagonist could stand to be a little more visually interesting as well, right? We had already agreed that Lesley’s costume would be sleeveless, more along the lines of Quorra from Legacy. So I added some texture, changed up the glow, and threw in a bit of additional detail:

Still maintains most of the lines from the original design, but is FAR more visually interesting now, I think.

Anyway, that’s me for now. Soon: effects makeup test for Kadij, and the new costume design for Niko. With summer coming, everyone’s going sleeveless. And now I need to go work on Operation Make My Arms Big for Morphology.

Paddle your own canoe, guys and gals.


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  1. Pingback: I think I Finally Have a Costume « spillway(brain)

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