GeekDad Interview: Eric Barba – Tron: Legacy Visual Effects Supervisor

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GeekDad recently had a chance to participate in a Virtual Roundtable discussion with the Visual Effects Supervisor for Tron: Legacy, Eric Barba. In Tron: Legacy, he supervised all 1,565 visual effect shots needed. You may have also seen his work in a few other blockbuster films such as The Fifth Element, Supernova, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – for which he won an Oscar for visual effects. Eric also worked at Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Imaging on shows including SeaQuest DSV, Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Emmy award-winning pilot of Star Trek: Voyager.

Q – What are you working on right now, and what are its challenges? What experiences from Tron: Legacy are valuable to you now?

A – I’m working on a few projects with Joe Kosinski actually. I’ve learned so much over my time on Legacy that all carries forward. I’m not trying to be vague, but there really is so much I learned from the experience. I like to say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Q – What was it that inspired you to get into your line of work in the first place?

A – Like a lot of artists in the visual effects world, I was inspired by everything from Star Wars to the original Tron film. But what got me intrigued with visual effects was the idea that computers could be used as art and design tools to help make things that we hadn’t seen before.

Q – What percent of Tron: Legacy was visual effects? Would you say the movie was 90% your work?

A – I would say that probably 85 percent of the film had a visual effects component.

Q – Tell us about the inspiration for the evolution of the Light Cycles.

A – I think Joe has spoken about how the original Syd Mead design was an open cycle. But due to the computing power of the day, that was scraped for a simpler design. Joe wanted to bring the original idea back, and make the new light cycle an evolution of the original.

Q – What would you say to an aspiring filmmaker trying to get their foot in the door?

A – Kick the door open. Make a small movie with whatever tools you have available, tell a story, and then do it again. I tell young artists that one of the best director reels I’ve seen was a guy who shot everything in his bedroom on a hi8 camera, and he was the star. Practice your craft, and if you have talent, it will show.

Q – Do you have a favorite scene that you worked in the film?

A – Yes. I think for me, the Disc Game sequence is the favorite. That sequence went through a lot of changes and complex problem solving and I was very happy with the final result of the team’s efforts.

Q – Did you feel a lot of pressure because of the original film?

A – Yes, we felt a huge burden of living up to what all the Tron fans would want this movie to look and feel like. It was constantly on my mind. The first film made an indelible mark on me, and that was a tall order for us to live up to.

Q – What was your favorite sequence in Tron: Legacy, as a fan?

A – As a fan, the Safe House sequence where Sam meets his dad after all the years. I think that sequence is really great and had minimal help from visual effects.

Q – Did you also create “invisible effects” in the film, for example to erase or correct things we should not see? Can you cite some specific examples?

A – There are plenty of invisible effects in the film. One good example might be that Jeff Bridges did not sport his natural beard for the shoot and there were digital retouches to the fake beard.

Q – Did filming in 3D make your job any harder than it otherwise would have been?

A – Filming in 3D made everything harder. The whole 3D process was new to me and my team, and the rules had not been written, nor the tools when we started. We had to make stuff up as we went.

Q – What movie has influenced you the most?

A – I have to say Star Wars. It made a mark on my creative inner child.

Q – What creations in Legacy are uniquely yours?

A – One of the cool parts of my job is working collaboratively with everybody. Joe was great with everybody and I would throw out ideas and show him things to see what he thought. Most of the time he did like what we brought to the table.

Q – Was this film your most difficult assignment in terms of effects? If not, what was?

A – This film was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It was a huge challenge. From a visual effects standpoint, so much had to be invented and live up to what we all remembered and loved about the original Tron.

Tron and Tron: Legacy are now available on Blu-ray and DVD. See GeekDad’s earlier post (here) for a special offer.

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