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5 Things You Might Not Know About Disney's 'Tron,' Released 30 Years Ago Today

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist July 9, 2012 at 10:55AM

As has been discussed ad infinitum this year, on its 30th anniversary, the summer of 1982 holds a very special place in the hearts of geeks of a certain age; between May and August, a number of films now deemed genre classics hit theaters, proving to be a life-changing experience for many. "Conan The Barbarian," "E.T," "Blade Runner," "The Thing," "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" -- all have only grown in reputation over time. And one of the last of that wave, Disney's "Tron," perhaps inspired one of the most fervent cults of them all.

3. The film contains less CGI than you think.
While the film was undoubtedly pioneering in its use of computer animation (Pixar head John Lasseter said "Without 'Tron,' there would be no 'Toy Story'"), the film's setting, and bold mix of techniques likely tricks modern audiences into thinking that more of it was created by computer than it actually was. The film was originally conceived entirely as animation, but Lisberger's decision to use live-action elements meant that the computer techniques had to be scaled back; the limitations of the technology meant that actors couldn't be incorporated into the CGI scenes (the computers used had 2MB of RAM, and 330MB of storage). In fact, there's only just over 15 minutes of computer animation in the film. Instead, it was done through a technique called "backlit animation." For these scenes, actors were filmed in costume on a black set, on black-and-white 65mm Kodalith high-contrast film (specially produced by Kodak for the film), before being colored both by animators, and through photographic techniques, including lighting through colored gels to give a glow. It also limited what Lisberger could do with his camera -- the techniques meant that camera movements had to be severely limited, and the crew went as far as nailing it to the floor to lock it off, so that "it wouldn't move even if hit by a car." There were still issues, however. Kodak had instructed the filmmakers to use the Kodalith in the order of manufacture, so as to produce a consistent image, but there was a mix up, leaving the film speed to vary during production, causing glitches and glowing outlines on the print. Rather than reshooting on a film that had already cost a then-massive $17 million, Lisberger decided to incorporate those errors into the script, as malfunctions within the film's universe.

4. The soundtrack took 20 years to come out on CD, and originally would have featured songs by Supertramp.  
Thanks in part to "Tron: Legacy" and Daft Punk's contribution to the soundtrack (as well as the band's long-term love of the world), music and "Tron" are entwined in the public mind. But that's always been the case, really, thanks to the terrific electronic score to the original by Wendy Carlos. Carlos came to fame in 1968 thanks to her multiple-Grammy winning album Switched-On Bach which reconstructed music by Johann Sebastain Bach using a Moog synthesizer. She came to the attention of Stanley Kubrick, who hired her for the music for "A Clockwork Orange" (and later, "The Shining"). The score (Carlos' last film soundtrack), was a hit when originally released alongside the film, but Carlos later fell out with CBS Records, which for many years delayed a possible release on CD. Things were pushed back even further when it was discovered that the original masters had deteriorated. Eventually, however, Carlos was able to use something called "tape baking," where the masters were baked in an oven in order to harden the glue that kept them together, so that they could be transferred to digital, and the score finally came out on CD in 2002, to tie in with the 20th anniversary of the film. Carlos' contributions aren't the only ones on the album: there are two tracks by Journey, "Only Solution" and "1990s Theme," which also feature in the film. But the band were in fact a last-minute replacement as Supertramp were set to lend a pair of tunes, but pulled out, according to frontman Roger Hodgson, simply because they were too busy.

5. Keep your eyes peeled from cameos from Mickey Mouse and Pac-Man.
Disney is heading back to the video-game world later in this year with "Wreck-It Ralph," about a Donkey Kong-like bad guy who decides to leave his game, and the film seems to be stuffed with cameos from recognizable characters from Q*Bert to Dr. Robotnik. But this isn't the first time the studio has seen an iconic game star appear in one of their films; if you keep your eyes peeled after the Light Cycle scene, you can see Pac-Man, accompanied by his traditional sound-effect, on the map that David Warner's character studies (Pac-Man is also set to return to the screen, in 3D form, for "Wreck-It Ralph"). Disney also found a way to get their most iconic character into the movie as well. There's a tradition of including "Hidden Mickeys," silhouettes of Disney mascot Mickey Mouse, across the company's theme parks and films -- going all the way back to "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs" in 1937 -- and one can be glimpsed as the Solar Sailer heads to the MPC's core. Watch clips of both below.

This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., On This Day In Movie History, Features, Walt Disney Pictures, Tron: Legacy

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