The Very Analog Making of the Ground-Breaking Digital World Film, Tron #cyberpunk

While Tron is not cyberpunk, it is definitely cyberpunk-adjacent. It came out in 1982, the same year as Blade Runner, and it had a decidedly huge impact on speculating life on the other side of the computer screen.

Tron presented its own vision of life in cyberspace. If William Gibson was looking through the windows of Canadian arcade parlors in 1982 and imagining the players wanting to climb through the screen into the very circuitry on the other side, Tron delivered on that desire.

The original Tron film still holds up remarkably well, especially considering how analog everything actually was. The film was shot in black and white and the glowing-light computer colors were then painstakingly painted on by hand, frame-by-frame. As the director, Steven Lisberger, points out in the making-of mini-doc below, your smart phone has more memory and computing power today than all of the computer processing done on Tron.

One other interesting connection between Blade Runner and Tron is that conceptual futurist, Syd Mead, was involved in both projects. He was the concept artist for Blade Runner and he designed the vehicles for Tron. Although the two films are radically different in style, this added a stylistic connective tissue between them. As did the synthetic scores written by two of the most iconic electronic composers of the time, Vangelis on the Blade Runner soundtrack, and Wendy Carlos on Tron (who also composed the music for another cyberpunk-adjacent film, A Clockwork Orange.

Obviously, the idea that people can be scanned and fully uploaded into a computer isn’t something that has come to pass, but when you think about it, a huge portion of the world’s population now spends much of their waking hours with their minds swimming around in globally-connected circuitry. We very much live here now. We aren’t hardwired to cyberspace, but we are most definitively softwired to it. And I would guess that no one could have fully imagined this in 1982.

I’m just bummed I don’t get to commute to work on a Light Cycle.

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1 Comment

  1. There are those people who SAY ”be excellent to one another”, but are clueless about putting it into practice. [full disclosute: I recently quit a makerspace because, although they had this motto posted all over the premises, it was, in fact, a collection of children of overweening egos and a sense of territory that made a junkyard dog look sociable].

    And then there are the places that are outstanding exemplars of the best of the best: those who practice it. Who have the concept of being excellent so wired into their behavior that it is part of their brain’s firmware. You guys are in that set.

    I have seen this happen only once before. As I would drive from my original family home in Latrobe, PA, to my home in Pittsburgh, I would pass the Turner Airstream Sales up on a hill. This was our local distributor of the iconic Airstream trailers, those round-ended shiny aluminum camping trailers.

    One day, it burned down.

    The owner swore he would rebuild, and put his employees on notice: they would continue to be paid their full salaries while he rebuilt. This was unheard-of, and most of us admired his generosity. I think it took nearly two years to rebuild.

    And while I hope that Adafruit will not be shut down for two years, I can certainly express my admiration for how you handled this. Ya done good, and it makes me proud to be a customer.
    Joseph M Newcomer, PhD (ret)

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