Three decades after Tron and two years after the sequel Tron: Legacy, Disney is returning to the Grid with Tron: Uprising, an animated series that bridges the gap between Flynn’s first foray into that virtual world and his son’s fight against the evil Clu.
Premiering June 7 on Disney XD, Tron: Uprising follows Beck (voiced by Elijah Wood), a young program trained by Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) who becomes the unlikely leader of a revolution against the brutal military occupation of Clu (Fred Tatasciore) and his henchman General Tessler (Lance Henriksen).
“I think a lot of what excited us was telling this story though the point of view of a program, so we’re really in the Grid and exploring the Grid in this one,” said co-creator and producer Edward Kitsis, who teamed with his Tron: Legacy and Once Upon a Time collaborator Adam Horowitz for the 10-episode series.
Joined by director/executive producer Charlie Bean, the two sat down with journalists last week to talk about the show, which combines CG animation with a cel-shaded 2D aesthetic.
“I’ve done traditional animation for about 25 years and only really poked my toe in the water of CG within the last five or six years,” Bean said. “To jump into something like this was hugely challenging, but now I’ve got all the new toys and tools to play with!”
Working with art director Alberto Mielgo (an artist whose work appeared in Image Comics’ Popgun anthology) and character designer Rob Valley (animation director/artist for the Gorillaz music videos), Bean explained the idea was to combine the two types of animation to create a distinct style for the CG show not seen elsewhere on television or in film.
“We approach it from a 2D aesthetic, and that’s why it has the look that it does,” he said.
The first episode debuts June 7, but the pilot Tron: Uprising, Beck’s Beginning is already available online (it also airs tonight on Disney XD). The prologue introduces Beck as a mechanic program who lives in an outlying part of the Grid called Argon City. While the virtual world has been peaceful for years, Clu has begun to take over, marching an army into Argon City in an attempt to conquer an all of the Grid. Determined to stand against Clu, Beck disguises himself as long-lost hero Tron and takes the fight to Clu’s henchmen General Tessler and the general’s right-hand-woman Paige (Emmanuelle Chriqui).
“In Legacy, Flynn talks a lot about what this world could be and these programs and how special it was, and for us it was important to show that,” Kitsis said. “What was great about Beck, for us, thematically, it’s about a character who learns he’s more than his programming.”
“It’s the oldest mythic story there is, finding out there’s something special about you -- that you have a destiny, resisting it at first and then learning to embrace it with all the dangers that entails,” Horowitz said. “These are programs, but as we saw in Tron and Tron: Legacy, programs are starting to evolve, to go beyond their programming. For us it was a good opportunity to look at these programs as real, three-dimensional characters.”
While Tron: Uprising is set before Clu secures power in Tron: Legacy, Kitsis and Horowitz revealed the series takes place after Clu’s purge of the Isomorphic Algorithms mentioned in the 2010 film.
“Literally, it’s right after Clu has taken over the Grid -- he’s purged the ISOs and now that oppression has come to Argon City, and we are telling that oppression through the eyes of Beck,” Kitsis said.
Alhough the two couldn’t say whether Flynn, Sam or any of the other main film characters would appear in the series, they did hint that fans should keep an eye out for cameos and bridges between the three Tron installments.
“There’s definitely connective tissue between the series and both movies, but the goal of it is to allow new fans to come in while rewarding old fans of the franchise,” Horowitz said.
“If you’ve never seen Tron, you can watch the show, and if you’ve seen Legacy and say, ‘Well, Clu wins, why am I watching?’ you haven’t learned the whole story yet, so I would keep watching!” Kitsis laughed.
Delving into the show’s visual combination of traditional 2D animation and CG, Bean explained that the style of Uprising was influences by a variety of genre sources, from Star Wars to Batman.
“We’re very into science fiction, and we’re tremendously influenced by science fiction as well as many other things: comics, animation,” Bean said as Kitsis added, “Design, fashion -- the idea for this show was just find inspiration everywhere.”
However, there was one cult classic that proved more influential than the others: MTV’s 1991 animated series Aeon Flux.
“I’m a huge fan of Peter Chung, as is Rob Valley, who did the character designs -- Rob actually worked on Aeon Flux, Bean said. “[Tron: Uprising’s] long, lanky characters was really an intentional choice and the reason I brought Rob into it, because that’s the way he draws naturally. If you know his comics, that’s his style. I think we are definitely influenced by Aeon Flux -- that’s a huge compliment!”
Throwing it back to the original film, Bean and his animation team also decided to use the black-and-white palette from Tron, accentuating the world with splashes of color in an otherwise monochrome Grid.
“[The character’s] gray faces was a choice I was making from the beginning, which was sort of an homage to the first film,” Bean said. “I just love the way that it looked that they shot the film in black and white and colored in the suits later. It’s something quite unique in animation and something you haven’t seen since.”
Kitsis and Horowitz concluded with the hope for many more seasons of Tron: Uprising, and added that while there is an endpoint in mind, the animators and writers will be flexible in their storytelling.
“When you’re mapping out a series, we want to have the big ideas of where we want to wind up eventually, but also leave the flexibility to tell the story over however long we are fortunate to run,” Horowitz said.
“As you start to get into it the storylines sort of explode,” Bean said. “It’s all characters talking back to us and finding where those stories are going to go!”
Watch a behind-the-scenes featurette below. Tron: Uprising premieres June 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Disney XD. Tron: Uprising, Beck’s Beginning airs tonight at 9:30 ET/PT, or can be viewed online now.