Tron Legacy_Garrett Hedlund disc crop_Image Credit Disney Enterprises, Inc © 2010 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Tron Legacy: Light Suit Costume

In Tron Legacy, the light suit exemplifies two key facets of the mythology: light, as in energy, and ‘disc’ – lifeblood of the wearer. This suit is a meticulously designed ‘second skin’ that integrates seamlessly into director Joseph Kosinski’s vision of the Tron story universe. Here we examine the design of the new light suit including background to its creation, construction, symbolism and application in Tron Legacy.

‘The Grid’ is such a heavily computer generated world that the light suit was considered a practical means of bringing this environment to life for actors. Moreover, to physically illuminate each suit in post-production would have been too expensive. Costume designers Michael Wilkinson, Christine Bieselin Clark and Neville Page (helmets) really wanted to recapture a sense of awe from the original film – the ‘how did they do that?’, as Christine terms it.

The light suit is made from Spandex (elastane) covered by a hexagonal pattern and interspersed with latex-foam. Sometimes it is a one-piece, sometimes more, depending on the character design. Despite a gleaming appearance there is no leather on any of these costumes; all are covered in an industrial ‘buffing’ gloss instead. Light is passed through the suit via Light Tape® (produced by Electro-LuminX of Chester, VA) attached to connectors and wired to a PP3 9V battery pack hidden in the disc and then attached to the rear of the costume by magnets.

Mike Hardcastle from Light Tape UK, who are currently working with Disney for the UK premiere of Tron Legacy, explains the application of Light Tape® in the film:

To achieve the consistency, quality and brightness Light Tape® is made using GTP (Sylvania) phosphors and Honeywell lamination. The main colour used for the movie was the Natural Blue, though they also used Extreme Orange, International Red and Yellow. These colours are made by overlaying a transparent 3M Vinyl film over the phosphor before lamination.

Building the light suit itself was an expectedly complex process. Notes Christine Clark:

We wanted a perfection, and symmetry, and beauty to the costume, while also incorporating this practical lighting element that had never been done before on this scale.

The majority of the suits were designed in 3D using digital moulding program ZBrush. After downloading an actor’s body scan into a computer, the suits’ original 2D illustrations were overlaid to provide an output manufacturing tool. This was the first step in deciding where the actual lighting elements would be situated.

Taking Garrett Hedlund’s (playing Sam Flynn) process as an example (below), a scan was taken of his entire body then the suit illustration superimposed in order to figure out the costume fabric, where foam could be inserted, etc. Using a CNC (Computer Numerical Cutting) of high-density foam, an initial small scale output would be made so any fine details were perfected before construction of the full size light suit.

The CNC process tends to cause bubbles and striation in the output. As such, lines needed to be refined and a hard coating applied from which to take the final mould. During this process the lighting channels had to be incorporated along with wiring harnesses, which were eventually embedded directly into the foam (causing further striation to be corrected). Christine concludes the process:

The (light) suit is all made of a hexagon mesh which we also printed and made the fabric from 3D files. This would go onto the hard form; it would go inside the mould which was silicon matrix. We would put those together and then inject foam into the negative space. The wiring harness is embedded into the mould and you get a torso. We then paint it and that’s your finished suit.

Around 150 suits were created for different characters in the film. Unusually the costume team was also responsible for their accompanying helmets. Normally these are sourced or made by the prop department, but central to having the suit aligned with the Grid was its absolute symmetry head to toe.

These helmets were incredibly intricate in plan and assembly. They all feature independent power units for illumination, again Light Tape®, ideal for use on rigid pieces, e.g. hard hats. Lead designer for all helmets Neville Page explains his intentions:

The art departments communicated very well with each other to realise Joe’s (Kosinski) vision. We would look over each other’s shoulders to find inspiration from one another. he development of the costumes came from trying to develop the form language which came from within the film.

We will now move onto more specific design elements created for individual characters. N.B. Some fabric and helmets have been viewed close up, while most information was gleaned from first hand interviews/discussions with Christine Clark and Neville Page.

Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn/CLU 2.0

Kevin Flynn was a video game designer who in 1982 created a fantastic digital world called the Grid. After becoming trapped inside the Grid and ultimately escaping back to reality, in 1984 he made a program CLU 2.0 and secretly used his creation to construct a micro utopia. However in 1989 he suddenly disappeared leaving his young son behind. No-one has heard from him since. Not until now.

Being as Kevin is something of a hippie character within the Grid, his costume is organic looking and free flowing. His white polyester cloak in particular has many light panels incorporated to suggest an aura from within.

His alter-ego (or son?) CLU is polar opposite. Though Jeff Bridges was on set to read lines, a stand-in for the actor wore a light suit for blocking, due to the fact that Bridges is no longer physically the young man his computer generated face was intended to project. His build is different, he moves differently; obviously like a 61 year old. The CLU helmet design was Page’s toughest challenge:

The actor cannot see a thing through the helmet. He is wearing heads up display goggles, and there is a little camera in that pyramid shape that is seeing for him.

Considering all the power and technology located inside, the helmet was cooled by internal fans. CLU and all programs loyal to him in the Grid wear suits and drive vehicles emblazoned with orange, red and yellow; conversely Grid dwellers wear only white, blue and silver.

Our analysis of individual character costumes for Tron Legacy continues HERE in Part 2.

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • Fairportfan

    I thought i remembered that the light suits in the original film were decorated with reflective strips and then lit using a variant on the old front-projection special effects system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Front_projection), rather as Lucas originally tried to do with the light sabers in “Star Wars”.

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      The information included in these articles was taken from first hand interviews with Tron creator Steven Lisberger and two Tron Legacy costume designers Christine Bieselin Clark and Neville Page, director Joseph Kosinski, actors Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund, as well as supplemental material supplied directly by Disney. I would love to take a proper look at the original film’s ‘light suits’ at some point in the future too.

  • Flashback Jack

    “His alter-ego (or son?) CLU is polar opposite.”

    Are you kidding me? You clearly haven’t watched the original film closely enough. CLU was Flynn’s hacker program sent to dig through the system for loopholes that would allow him elevated access. This was back when he was investigating Dillinger ripping off programmers to boost his career.

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      No, I’m not kidding you. Watch the new film and they journey deeper into the philosophy surrounding that statement.

  • Pingback: My Tron Legacy Costume Attempt - Page 5

  • Karen

    Where or how can i buy a replica/costume of these amazing suits suits?

  • jony Sonic

    The original TRON suits weren’t active light suits, the look was achieved by retro-reflective tape and camera lights applied to Lisberger’s remarkable and labor-intensive frame-by-frame HC matte system and painstaking planning and rotoscope work, much like ILM’s light-sabre work but incredibly more troublesome and detailed.

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Very interesting, Jony, although I’m not sure it is suggested anywhere in the article that the original costumes were ‘active’ light suits.

  • Jonathan

    Superb article, Chris! Some very interesting and useful information here. I’m working on creating the most accurate replica of Garrett Hedlund’s costume possible. You explained some very useful aspects of the textures and materials used in the suit. Props!

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Thank you so much, Jonathan. Nice to know the article is appreciated. Good luck with your replica!

  • John

    This is extremely appreciated. It backs up a lot of my previous thoughts on the suits and will definitely help me make extremely accurate replica suits. Now to save up the money and get to work. I’m so pumped now!

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Thanks, John. Feel free to post some photos in the comment thread when your designs come to fruition. Oh, and please vote for Clothes on Film in the Total Film Blog Awards HERE Tell your friends!

  • Agustin

    WoW that helmet rox . where do u think i can get one of those?

  • http://yahoo jeff malarick

    Where can I get a real movie tron suit??? Money is not an option when it comes to getting one. Can’t find anything anywhere. Can anyone help me with this??

    • Loren

      I would look up the costume designer on the movie. Contact them, they should have their own company and for enough money, they or a staff member would be make one. Or, contact a local University and the Theater Department’s costume design department head. They can direct you to someone willing to make you one freelance.

  • Loren
    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Yep, Christine Clark and Michael Wilkinson. It’s mentioned in the articles.

  • Sue Andrew

    Please tell me how to get the lights for Tron legacy.. I’m doing a dance and would love to look like Tron, think it looks amazing. Thank you