Tron (1982)
Original animation Kodalith Set 001

This is an original set of cels, transparencies and mattes relating to a single frame of a single shot (shot "CL43" in the 1982 Disney science-fiction classic Tron. The shot features Clu (Jeff Bridges) and was titled “Mister High and Mighty”. Tron was a unique accomplishment in filmmaking, with a visual style that had never before been seen - and was accomplished in a pre-digital, photochemical era of visual effects.

The electronic world in the film was accomplished with a unique system of animation and processing that was conceived specifically for the film. This involved creating numerous high-contrast mattes for different elements of a particular shot (or frame), such as the body matte, circuit reveal, face reveal, etc. Each of these mattes were processed one pass at a time by exposing a piece of film, backing it up in the camera, and then exposing the next element - sometimes up to 25 different passes were done on a single piece of film. These were all compiled in-camera, so that there was no need for optical compositing.

This set includes 9 different cels, all measuring approximately 20" x 12.5", and having animation stand registration holes at the bottom.

The cels relating to the characters in the shot are:
  • Continuous tone image of the actor in costume, marked "CT" for continuous tone.
  • High contrast negative image of the actor, marked “HC” for high contrast.
  • Paper exteter matte, 2nd pass
  • Face reveal, 2nd pass, marked “FR pass 2”
  • High contrast matte, marked "HC 1" for high-contrast
  • Hand-painted body matte, marked "BM 387"
  • Paper exeter matte, pass 3 and 4, marked “CR 378-475”
  • Circuit reveal, marked “CR 387”

The cels relating to the background elements in the shot are:
  • Background air brush matte, marked “B.G. A.B.”
 All these elements were needed to create a single frame of a single shot for the film, representing what an enormous undertaking it was to produce. These elements have been kept together ever since production wrapped and are still in the original cardboard box from the production. While single Tron "continuous tone" Kodaliths have surfaced before, we have never seen a full set of elements and mats offered together like this on the collector's market before. [PSoL]

The finished film frame.


Originally published in Cinefex, April 1982
Article by Peter Sorenson
Entitled "Tronic Imagery"
Printed with permission from publisher Don Shay
Additional text by Harrison Ellenshaw (2011)

Fifty-three minutes of the electronic world was shot first in 65mm on Double-X black-and-white film. The reason for the large format is to maintain quality. You take a piece of 65mm negative that has been developed and you put it into a photo-roto -- which is nothing more than an enlarger -- and you enlarge each frame onto a 12 1/2x20-inch piece of kodalith transparency film. You process it with continuous tone chemistry and what you get out appears to be a black-and-white cel with a photograph on it. That is then taken and a contact print is made of it on the same kind of film -- but it's processed this time with high-contrast chemistry, so what you get is a high-con reverse of the first. Now if there's a person in the scene, you have to produce a body matte to hold that person out from the background. When you make the negative enlargement, the black lines that were the circuit designs on the costumes become clear, so we could light them up, but the black behind the characters also became clear, so we had to make what we call a circuit reveal, and to do that you have to paint out all that clear area behind the characters. Then you have to make a matte for the face and the reversal of that -- a face reveal -- where everything is black but the face. And there we just add a little more exposure to the face, to make the face a little lighter than the body. When you put this on the animation stand, you combine photo elements with at least two cels. For example, when you do the backgrounds you always have to have a body matte over it. When you expose the circuit on the costume, you put down the hi-con and the circuit reveal. Then you run through the one element, shooting it, and you back up the film, run through another element, back up the film, et cetera -- as much twenty-five passes on one piece of Vista Vision film. We never went smaller than Vista Vision. Since the release prints are 35mm Panavision and 70mm, we shot in VistaVision to maintain quality.

It's really beautifully simple. The complexity comes when you think about the volume of work. We have seventy-five thousand frames of live-action in the electronic world. That means we have seventy-five thousand continuous tones, seventy-five thousand hi-cons, seventy-five thousand body mattes, seventy-five thousand circuit reveals. Forty percent of the time we have face reveals and face mattes: fifteen percent of the time we have eye reveals. And we've got seven hundred backgrounds to worry about -- some of which are set pieces that you may have to generate separate elements for, some of which are computer-generated, some of which are painted. If you look at all the elements -- not counting backgrounds -- that we used on the film, and stacked them five-feet high, that row would be fifty-eight feet long! I had to figure that out just to see how much room
we would need to store it.

In essence, the live-action for the electronic world was shot in black-and-white so that it could be made into both positive and negative transparent enlargements which could then be used, in effect, as stencils for backlighting.


To add for your understanding.

Kodaliths (or just non-cap'd "kodalith"), both the CT (Continuous Tone positives) AND the corresponding contact negative image HCs (High Contrast negatives without midtone gray -- that's what made them Hi-Cons) were sent to Taiwan and and that's what the rotoscopers/inkers/painters used as guides to paint the "mattes" on separate same size clear cels. After that was done the Kodaliths AND the·corresponding cels had to be shipped back to the US for photography. The cels needed (drawn by hand) were, at the least, circuit reveals (CR) and body mattes (BM). But depending on the scene, there might also be needed (again drawn by hand): a face matte and/or eye/teeth blob (to go over the circuit reveal so there's no glow on the eyes, for example); circuit separation (e.g. a bad guy in the same shot as a good guy); a face reveal (to go over the CT); an eye reveal (making the eyes brighter in close-ups); and even a teeth reveal in a small number of shots.

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