What does TRON have in common with the Burning Man festival and Madonna’s famous conical bra?
The 1982 original TRON film evokes some very specific imagery. Recognizer tanks zooming by in defiance of the laws of aerodynamics, lightcycles racing through the city leaving behind light trails, and above all else neon reds and blues crisscrossing against a sleek digital world. These still form the basis of the re-imagined world spearheaded by the film TRON: Legacy, but as we found out, the tie-in video game TRON: Evolution goes a bit further.
Up until the game’s release we’ve only seen brief glimpses of the expanded world in Evolution, including the stately Spiritualist faction, who seem to form some combination of the Grid’s political and religious identity. In stark contrast are the Outlands, the likely home of the Survivalist faction (more on them in a bit). There, the sleek cityscape is replaced by rocky cliffs illuminated in organic green light, while ‘rain’ falls from above.
David Patch is the senior art director at Propaganda Games, and was tasked with fleshing out the game’s unique locations and factions that add a distinctive twist to the tried and true formula – while still fitting into the overall aesthetic. He’s been working with art direction in games for about 17 years, having studied at the California College of Arts (“I was a teamster,” he notes with a laugh). With past credits including Sim City and The Sims, I was able to talk with David recently about the artistic influences for TRON: Evolution. His answers may surprise and even shock you.
Dork Shelf: How closely did you work with the art directors of the movie, and how did you sync those projects together?
David Patch: We worked primarily with Joe Kosinski, and Shawn [Bailey] and the producers. They were our gateway, our liaisons. So they gave us the chance to show Joe what we were doing and get his feedback. He’s a very visual art director, so he had a lot of input into what we were doing. We also had a lot of input pushing up to them.
DS: Was there a mandate on Disney’s “style guide” to the new TRON film that you had to follow?
Patch: The IP was in development, which was a plus and a minus. We didn’t know exactly what we could do, but at the same time we didn’t know exactly what we couldn’t do. So we had to often get approval on things, because the movie’s going to be the lynch pin that holds the whole IP together. But we had a lot of leeway, and we could press and push to make decisions based upon gameplay that wouldn’t have been made if this wasn’t a game.
Along the lines of that are what the ISO cities looked like that no one ever sees in Legacy. But we’ve got a chance to take the design concepts that were being established in TRON, apply those high-level concepts to very different architectural styles, different styles of costumes, different ways of moving and behaving, and apply those to the different ISO factions.
DS: Can you give any examples of the new ISO factions in the game?
Patch: The Spiritualists who live in Arjia City. When you come up there, it’s not the stark grey and blue. All their outfits are very white, and the piping has just the hint of this nice cyan. We took the ideas that they’d established, like what is piping and how does it interact with the clothing, so it’s not just a decorative pattern, it’s an integrated part of their body. So we applied that to our design decisions, but our designs were very influenced by monastic robes.
We also looked at Jean-Paul Gaultier’s couture: how would he make a monk’s robe? Last year he came out with some pantyhose that were bare right down the front, so it actually looked like piping going down the pantyhose. I saw them and was like, ‘Okay. I’m going to look at more of this guy’s designs, take those two aesthetics and cram them together in a meaningful way.’ And that’s how we came up with the look of the Spiritualists.
DS: Were there any points of reference for you that you used in helping create the new factions?
Patch: Not necessarily movies, per se. I drew more on architectural stylings. Getting back to the Spiritualists, I looked to gothic architecture, and what the key tenets of it were: height and light. So not necessarily making churches everywhere, just understanding [and] taking all those key elements and applying the minimalism of TRON over that. And that’s how we came up with the huge hub that you see coming in. It looks sort of the church-i-est thing we have, but it’s not a church.
And the other [faction] is the Survivalists. They’re almost a sort of counter-culture to what was going on in the rest of the Grid. So what’s the best counter-culture going on right now? That’s Burning Man. I’m involved with it, I know friends who are a part of it. It’s a collective community, it’s that hive mind that expressive artistic atmosphere that became the key words to developing their look.
DS: What exactly is Burning Man?
Patch: On Memorial Day, Black Rock becomes the second-largest city in Nevada for a week. Everyone goes out to the middle of the desert plateau, nothing there but sand – actually, not even sand, just dust – and they build a city. At the end of it, they build a giant wicker-stick man. And then at the end of the celebration they burn the wicker-stick man down. Everyone just comes up and there’s this spirit where money doesn’t matter.
DS: it sounds very different from anything that fits in with TRON. How do you sync that in?
Patch: Again, it’s in the high ideals. It’s not being a slave to what Burning Man is. With the gothic architecture, we aren’t a slave to multicoloured glass windows and all that sort of stuff. It’s just the key elements. For the Survivalists they are rebelliousness, but also community and a sense of wanting to create. And so taking those ideas and being outside of the norm, and then incorporating it with a look of high style, high design, haute couture, then laying that over these key elements.
DS: Do you have any advice to aspiring video game artists?
Patch: If you want to be an illustrator or concept artist, draw. Draw, draw, draw. Learn your colour. Learn your composition. Learn your anatomy. Become fluent in very different styles. Know your art history, because you need to be able to know when to break the rules, and why those rules are there. If you don’t know the rules, you’re not going to be able to break them in a believable or meaningful manner.
TRON: Evolution is in stores now.