back to article We talk to Tron artist Syd Mead: On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, Aliens, TimeCop, Johnny Mnemonic and Elysium all benefitted from the design magic of Syd Mead. He created gadgets, vehicles and locations that might have been science fiction but had a crucial sense of realness and practicality that made us believe in the worlds of tomorrow that we …

  1. DJO Silver badge

    I've been misled

    Tron for electronic.

    I always thought it was from the command "Trace On" shortened to Tron.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I've been misled

      "I always thought it was from the command "Trace On" shortened to Tron."

      Me too. TRS-80 Level II BASIC, which I was using at the time so naturally assumed it was the source of the name. Did other BASICS use TRON/TROFF back then?

  2. Haku

    If you love Tron, perhaps it's best you don't watch this cartoon:

    Savior of the Earth (1983) aka Korean Tron

    Trailer - youtube.com/watch?v=ME5l6UOxask

    Full film - youtube.com/watch?v=kuSor3NRdLs

    Backstory - youtube.com/watch?v=VMlpEPKZn_U

    1. TheVogon Silver badge

      No Money, No Honey!

      "If you love Tron, perhaps it's best you don't watch this cartoon:"

      It wouldn't be the first time someone has ripped off a popular concept:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eulSdeHxmLw

      (NSFW - swearing)

  3. WeeHeavy

    Back in the mid 80's

    I was fortunate enough to go to a class in Los Angeles that was instructed by some of the technical folks involved in the film (sadly I don't remember their names). It was 3 or 4 seminars that described the use of computers to generate the digital assets on frames of film. My recollection is that they were using first generation Cray computers to do the work. I was fascinated and eventually worked my way into a graphics career and then an IT career supporting modern video production workstations due to that experience. Thanks for the reminder of my origins. It is not often that I think of that excellent class!

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "My recollection is that they were using first generation Cray computers to do the work. "

      Actually TRON predates that.

      OTOH "The Last Starfighter" was essentially done on a Cray 1, at a phenomenal (for the time) 1/24 of real time.

      Which saved the film makers a ton of cash.

      A magazine article of the time said basically all the systems for Tron were (more or less) bespoke (or heavily moded) number crunchers.

  4. LDS Silver badge

    "The original 1982 Tron was actually disqualified..."

    The Academy always find ways to give awards to the worst movies... and shows what group of old farts they are.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "The original 1982 Tron was actually disqualified..."

      always find ways to give awards to the worst movies... and shows what group of old farts they are

      What Mr Weinstein wanted, Mt Weinstein got.

      Although hopefully he won't come back from his present situation, and ideally the fat, revolting abuser will enjoy a good long spell in a particularly nasty US prison. Then again, it's all unproven as yet. Maybe he's a really nice guy, and we've got it all wrong.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mr Weinstein

        Still, clever fellow though. Came up with the theory of relativity.

        1. Haku

          Re: Mr Weinstein

          Isn't that the theory you only tell your relatives?

        2. Jan 0

          Re: Mr Weinstein

          > clever fellow though. Came up with the theory of relativity.

          No, the relativity guy was clever enough to know how to say his own name, unlike Wine Steen.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Mr Weinstein

            He wasn't keen on the idea of virtual actors for some reason.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Mr Weinstein

              Phwoar. Get your bits out.

  5. PhilBuk

    Foonley

    The Foonley F-1 was a fast copy of a DECsystem 10, the old 36-bit platform that most US Unis were using at the time. Also the major computing power for Compuserve (remember them?).

    Phil.

  6. handleoclast Silver badge

    LSD in the water supply

    Some bastards have put LSD in the water supply. Again.

    I read the article and came away with the impression that Tron was a good film instead of a boring pile of steaming shite. I hope the LSD stays in the water supply for the next 3 years. I need it so that Trump looks good.

    1. Amorous Cowherder
      Mushroom

      Re: LSD in the water supply

      Oh I see your mistake, you watched the remake. No, you see you want to watch the original version.

      You see to most of us who were born in the late 60s and 70s we knew computers and films tried damned hard to present us with the best they could do at the time but they always fell slightly short so you know how we dealt with that? Well, we'd all been brought up reading these papery things called books that demanded we have this thing called an "imagination" and that is especially important to have when reading sci-fi. So you see when we played those early video games and watched early sci-fi films we simply filled in the blanks with our imaginations and that lead us to be more rounded, imaginative and creative people. We don't demand that everything be perfectly formed and spoon fed to us. We can ignore the bloke in the naff rubber monster costume, we can ignore the naff dialogue and concentrate on the overarching key messages being put forward in the piece of art. We're not bogged down by all the minutiae so we can head out onto Twitter to complain about every little tiny detail because our favourite thing has some small flaws in it!.

      I suggest you take your pathetic millenial attitude that anything prior to 1995 is shite and piss off!!

      1. handleoclast Silver badge

        Re: LSD in the water supply

        @Amorous Cowherder

        Good comment, apart from one minor error: you're completely wrong about me in every fucking way.

        I'm in my 60s. I watched the original Tron and haven't seen the remake. I generally prefer books to films because films are always distorted, abbreviated versions of the book and therefore always disappoint to some extent.

        Even though I prefer books, I can enjoy films despite crappy special effects, as long as they have a good plot. I can forgive poor special effects, poor characterization and even bad acting, as long as the plot is coherent, consistent and does not contain contradictions. When the plot is a pile of steaming crap then special effects, characterization and acting cannot rescue a film, as far as I am concerned.

        The plot of Tron was just fucking idiotic. Crappy as the special effects might have been compared to what can be done today, they far outshone the plot.

        Subtracting the downthumbs I got from Big John and bombastic bob for attacking Trump, that means at least four other people thought Tron was a good movie. *sheesh* What is wrong with you people?

      2. Steve Taylor 3

        Re: LSD in the water supply

        Meh. I was born in 1963. I saw the original Tron. It wan't that great.

        1. CliveS
          Coat

          Re: LSD in the water supply

          I was born in 1965. Thought Tron was an okay verging on reasonably good film. John Sheridan was good in it, though I thought Londo died far too soon. And when did Aldous Gajic stop seeking the Holy Grail and become an evil bastard?

      3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: LSD in the water supply

        I saw the original in a theater and as a newly minted computer systems engineer, was impressed with the accuracy with which the internals of the hardware and OS were depicted. It's one of my favourite movies, along with 2001.

      4. ravenviz
        Facepalm

        Re: LSD in the water supply

        @Amorous Cowherder: Gen-Y here; less of the (supposed) Millennial bashing, we all have our time and things move on.

        1. handleoclast Silver badge

          Re: LSD in the water supply

          @ravenviz

          Your comment and another comment in the thread made me think. Since the cowherder got everything about me (apart from the fact I thought Tron was a bad film, and I'd already made that obvious) completely wrong, I'll return the favour.

          My guess (probably as wrong as the cowherder's) is that those people who thought Tron was wonderful were under 30 when they first saw it, and at the time they saw it hadn't seen many films with better effects made after it.

          In fact, I'd guess the majority were under 25 when they first saw it.

          In fact, I'd be surprised if many of those who think Tron was great were over 20 when they saw it.

          I'll make another guess. If they watched the original now they'd think it as flawed as they say the remake is.

  7. Tikimon Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Pong was not the first commercial video game...

    Pong was the first economically successful commercial video game. I played the first commercial game called "Computer Space", which was Bushnell's earlier endeavor with Nutting Associates.

    A beautiful blue-cabinet Computer Space appeared in the local electro-mechanical arcade for about two months. It was very ahead of its time, nobody knew what to make of it. Everyone found the Right-Left-Thrust-Fire controls confusing, ironic considering how ubiquitous that format would soon become.

    Pong gets all the fame, but it was dumbed down so the shuffling public could handle it. Computer Space was a much more interesting game. You can find good emulators for Computer Space, and if you're interested in game history you should track it down.

    1. Stumpy

      Re: Pong was not the first commercial video game...

      IIRC, Computer Space was itself not actually the first Video Game (may have been the first commercial one), but was itself a version of 'Spacewar' which was built at MIT.

      However, the American Physical Society does have a page up claiming that a version of Pong was itself the first actual video game back in 1958 ... so who knows ????

      https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200810/physicshistory.cfm

      https://www.jesperjuul.net/thesis/2-historyofthecomputergame.html

      1. Amorous Cowherder

        Re: Pong was not the first commercial video game...

        People quote Steve Russell as being the first computer game writer with Spacewar but the first computer game was by Willy Higginbotham, who worked for the Dept of Defence, when he used an oscilloscope to make a simple game of tennis which he exhibited and allowed people to play way back in the late 50s.

  8. kaseki

    Let's get Pong's history straight

    The video game that became Pong was invented at Sanders Associates (then headquartered in Nashua NH and now part of BAE SYSTEMS) by Ralph Baer and a supporting engineer (forgot his name, but it appears in the article at http://www.ralphbaer.com/video_game_history.htm). I recall seeing it working as a breadboard in a lab at Sanders. Every video game is a refinement of past games, but the originator of the Pong type games should not be buried by history.

    A game named Space Wars was running on a PDP-1 at MIT even earlier, but this would be better assigned to the evolutionary path of computer games rather than to video games displayed on home TVs.

    1. Amorous Cowherder

      Re: Let's get Pong's history straight

      Look up the name Willy Higginbotham, he was making computer tennis games using an oscilloscope back the 1950s during his day job at the Dept of Defence.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "was invented at Sanders Associates "

      Didn't they do a lot of deeply classified DoD stuff? Radar, ECM, Elint?

      Not surprised they are got taken over by BAe.

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Syd Mead

    That's a hell of a big name! Thanks for the interview.

  10. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Boffin

    Vision on

    Personally I just wish the actual future looked as superbly good as his vision of it...

  11. ITnoob

    "painted frisbees" - I knew it!

  12. SVV Silver badge

    Every time

    I have to do a "kill -9" I think of one of those shiny blue people disintegrating. However, they can be quickly reborn as a new PID by running the ./startup.sh script. Usually these days it's some guy or girl called "java".

  13. bobajob12

    1982 Academy Awards

    It's a shame that Tron was not allowed to compete for the Oscars of 1982, but I just looked it up, and boy, that would have been some tough competition:

    - ET

    - Tootsie

    - Gandhi

    - The Verdict

    - Missing

  14. James Wheeler

    Early CGI

    The "Bit" was one of Tron's CG characters, rendered as a morphing 3-D solid, and was coded in APL. Judson Rosebush of Digital Effects arranged to use late night CPU cycles on STSC's mainframe APL time sharing service, at an extremely deep discount from normal rates. APL's matrix operations made 3-D transform calculations very straightforward to code, though hideously inefficient in those pre-GPU days.

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