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Interview: Animating the Grid With ‘TRON: Uprising’ Writers Eddie Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, and Director Charlie Bean

Writers Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are the architects of the modern TRON universe. The screenwriting duo, who also wrote TRON: Legacy serve as producers on TRON: Uprising which bridges their film with the 1982 original. And with Uprising, the duo saw a chance to tell the story of the Grid from another perspective: that of the programs that operate and live inside of it. They’re joined by animation vet Charlie Bean, who serves as director for the CG/2D animated series making its debut on Disney XD this week. Bean has worked on everything from Tiny Toons Adventures to Samurai Jack, and has worked with Kitsis and Horowitz to bring a unique version of the TRON universe to the small screen.

Here’s what the trio had to say about their vision of the Grid, infectious ideas, and the free will of programs.

MTV Geek: What were some of the challenges of creating a timeline between the first film and TRON: Legacy?

Eddie Kitsis: We kind of designed it with the timeline in mind. When we wrote the movie and included the flashback where Clu overthrew Flynn and took over the Grid, we always knew that we wanted to explore what that was like for programs on the Grid at the time. So that’s kind of how we developed the show—with that in mind.

Adam Horowitz: In the movie, we had two hours to tell a very specific story, and try to make it as exciting and engaging as possible. But in doing so, we thought there was so much rich mythology to delve into and we didn’t have the chance to. This show proved to be an incredible opportunity to to do that.

Geek: Tell us a little about this period that interested you so much. What are things like before Clu takes over and after the fact?

Kitsis: I think you see that in the prelude [“Beck’s Beginning”]. You see that in the way that Beck is happy—the world is free, and it’s kind of becoming what it’s going to be. [Programs] do their job, but they also have fun. And when Clu comes and basically enslaves them. I think it’s a struggle for freedom, and in a lot of ways, it’s a story about learning that you can be more than you think you are under dire circumstances.

Geek: Those ideas of freedom and free will are peppered throughout both TRON and TRON: Legacy. What were some other ideas you were looking to bring out through the fiction?

Kitsis: Well, I think for this one, we were really interested in telling the story of the Grid through the perspective of the programs in a sector or city. And I think in a lot of ways, thematically, both the movies and Uprising are similar in terms of themes.

You know, Sam is trying to find more of himself [in Legacy], and I think that’s where Beck is. Beck was programmed to be a mechanic, but he realizes that he’s more than a mechanic. But that’s frightening. It’s frightening to find out you’re different from everyone else, it’s frightening to find out that that difference can be helpful to other people, and I think it’s a lot about that kind of journey as well.

Horowitz: I think one of the things with both Legacy and the show is that with Legacy, you’re with Kevin Flynn who is the creator of the Grid who presents himself with so many more possibilities than he intended or thought were possible at first, and it has expanded way beyond his dreams. And I think that theme of being more than what you are at first is what’s peppered throughout both Legacy and Uprising.

Charlie Bean: Yeah, it sort of deals with this idea of free will—one of the things that gets touched on in the series is that idea that are these programs written? Is there fate or do they have free will and can they go beyond their programming and become something more than what they were written for.

Geek: There’s also a bit of Batman or Zorro to the story of Uprising as well. To what degree were you thinking in terms of framing Beck as something like an inspirational superhero?

Horowitz: I think that kind of theme was very much in there and that TRON himself is such an imposing character that hangs over the franchise, that the idea of having a character who might have to step into his shoes felt like a really cool way to explore themes of “are you capable of doing more than what you’re told,” and having to hold yourself to the highest standard possible.

Bean: TRON’s something more than a person and something more than the original program—it becomes an idea and a symbol of freedom and hope for all of the other programs that are enslaved by Clu.

Geek: Looking at the physicality of the show, it’s interesting to contrast it with the movie where you’ve got these solid physical constraints. And there’s only so much that you can do with an actor and CG. How were you thinking about visualizing the action in the show, and what were some of the ways you may have been looking to push the envelope in ways that you couldn’t in Legacy?

Bean: I think that more than what’s possible in live action and what’s possible in animation, it’s more about that we got more time to tell more story and to go more places with a long series.

In a way, it’s like live action and animation are sort of meeting in the middle in this day and age with computer-generated technology. I remember being on the set watching these guys work on Legacy, and parts of the set were really built and a lot of it was green screen. And Justin Springer, one of the producers, turned to me and said “It’s not so much different from what you’re doing, except there’s live-action actors.” So the similarities are getting closer and closer between live action and what you can do in both mediums.

Kitsis: But what I think that what Uprising has is a lot of action and setpieces that would be financially prohibitive in movies. And sometimes, even though they’re green screen, [with animation] you get to to do a lot of stuff that you can’t do in live action.

Bean: Also, it’s just stylized. We’re stylizing the action and stylizing the look of it. So we can push it to be stylized and exaggerated too.

Geek: Charlie, how do you feel like the tools have changed between now and when you were working on something like Samurai Jack in terms of allowing you to get the original vision up on the screen?

Bean: Well, it’s just new tools and it’s really not that different. Alberto Mielgo, who’s the art director, and Rob Valley, the lead character designer, and I, we all come from a real 2D background and we’re jumping into CG and we’ve just got a lot more tools available to us. It’s all made it extremely complex and we’ve all worked a lot of hours to achieve the things that we want to do.

As far as the animation style, our approach to this has been that we can use every trick in the book and nothing’s off limits to us. I mean, we’re using 2D technology in the same way things were done on Pinocchio, as well as the latest compositing technology and we’re using Maya as well. So nothing’s off limits to us, and it’s really about what’s the best way to get the shot and we’re using everything that we can to do that.

Geek: What were some of the visual points of reference you and your team were looking to draw on for an animated version of the TRON universe?

Bean: Really, it goes back to the two films. The level of artists like Moebius on the first film as well as what Dan Simon, Darren Gilford, and Joe Kosinski did with the new film, it’s an extremely high level of design.

So I think from an artistic perspective, I think it’s what can we do to sort of carve out our own designs as part of the TRON universe, and we just started playing around with design. I mean, as far as influences, it starts there and then we just start throwing everything at the walls, seeing what was the most interesting thing.

From a design perspective, we wanted to do something in the design of the show where you could take these characters seriously, and from the stories that Eddie and Adam were writing, I wanted to believe in these characters and believe in their plight. So I didn’t want to do the typical thing of sort of squishing the characters down and giving them big eyes and making them cute. So we just went in the other direction in the style that Rob Valley draws in anyway, elongating them and making them more stylized humans.

Geek: Who iss a particular character or what as an element that you were just absolutely excited to add to the TRON canon with Uprising?

Bean: Well, I think Beck for one. We’ve got this new character and it’s pretty exciting to introduce him to the new world. Part of the point of the whole series, really, is to introduce this new character, this new hero into the universe.

Horowitz: It’s a tough question, because while there are certainly characters that are familiar from the films here in Uprising, there are a whole bunch of new characters that we’re really super-excited for people to see experience, starting with Beck and his friends and his adversaries.

Kitsis: And I think for us, we’re just kind of excited to tell the story from the Grid’s perspective. We’ve seen a user come into TRON in both films, but we’ve never actually told the story from the point of view of the programs. And for us, that’s exciting, because Kevin Flynn talks about what this world could have been, and through this show you get to see that—you see that these programs, left on their own, were beginning to evolve. And for us, that’s an important concept, because it lets you see how important the Grid is.

Horowitz: I would say also, the city of Argon itself as a character, which Charlie has done an incredible job of realizing and creating something new and fresh that feels wholly within the boundaries of the movies.

TRON: Uprising premieres Thursday, June 7th at 9 ET on Disney XD.

TRON: Uprising Press Event Featurette

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