Continuing our look inside Disney XD’s Tron: Uprising, I recently sat down with series director Charlie Bean to get his take on tackling the franchise – and what it really means to direct an animated series.
“Tron had such a huge impact on me as a kid,” he told me. “For a lot of people my age, who sort of witnessed the dawn of video games and computers, the idea of a virtual world and playing around inside of a computer [was] too interesting to pass up. Tron had such a huge impact on me from a design point of view, but also it was my first introduction to computer animation. It’s just a huge honor to be able to work on Tron.”
Being a fan of the property, he explained that “I didn’t have to go back and watch the original Tron too much because I had seen that quite a bit, although I did probably go back and watch it 15 times and told everyone ‘It’s research!’ As far as the new film [Tron: Legacy], it hadn’t come out yet, but I worked really closely with the feature guys and they sort of gave me access to all the artwork and everything that was going on in terms of story.
“I worked closely with Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who wrote the film and created the series, as well as with Sean Bailey, the executive producer of the film, and Justin Springer, who was a producer on the film and is also a consulting producer on the series. Justin was really my go-to.”
Being that Uprising airs on a Disney channel, one might assume that this is an animated series targeted at children, but Bean said that’s not entirely the case.
“It’s definitely a show for a younger audience. We made it and designed it in a way that they are going to really enjoy it. The episodes are really engaging and compelling and the art direction is really interesting,” he explained. “But I don’t think it alienates older audiences. The stories aren’t dumbed down. I don’t want to alienate the fans like myself. I’m a fan of Tron and we made the show for us as well, as fans. My goal with it is that it is hard to pin down.”
As far as what we can expect to see this season, he promised that the show will answer at least one burning question. “We’re going to get into the backstory of what happened to Tron. We have this flashback in Legacy where we see Tron defeated by Clu, and a lot of people are asking, ‘What happened?’ We’re going to get into that.”
He also gave me a look inside the show’s creative process. “It’s completely different,” he said of directing animation as opposed to live-action, “in the sense that we’re starting from a completely blank page. We’re creating everything. The environment, the characters, the props, the vehicles, the lighting, every element is created from scratch. There’s no filming anything.”
As far as putting episodes together, “We do the whole thing like an assembly line. We’re working on all the episodes in varying stages. I’m working on episode 18 as well as episode 7 right now. But if you were to break it down, [each episode takes] anywhere from eight months to a year. I’ve got the whole series in my head.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be given the keys to this castle,” he continued, “but it’s also tremendous responsibility, because of the pedigree of artists that have come before. The bar is really high. And that’s great. That’s what’s pushing us.”
“All these things are so collaborative, in television and film, and never moreso than aninmation,” he told me. “The strength of this project is in the team. I’ve got this incredible team here, that’s not only here but also in Japan. I think it’s important to mention how strong everyone is that’s on this. Everyone likes to talk about the cast, but we’ve got a tremendous team of artists.”
But speaking of that cast, which includes Bruce Boxleitner, Elijah Wood, and Mandy Moore, “It’s like a dream come true. All of them are so fantastic and they bring so much to it. The voice cast elevates everything that all of us do. The writing, when they know who they’re writing for, they know how far they can go. And the animators, myself and my team, once we are animating to their voices, it has so much more depth to it.”
He sees Uprising as hopefully adding to an already rich history of modern animation. “I worked on the original Batman series and that had a big impact on me. The stuff that Bruce Timm has been doing, he’s really paving the way for advanced animation. I’m a big fan of the Last Airbender guys, I think those guys are fantastic. I’m looking at stuff from all over. Television has really stepped up its game and it’s gotten better and better in the past few years and I feel like animation should follow suit.”
Tron: Uprising premieres tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on Disney XD. Visit the official website and check local listings for specific channel. You can also follow Charlie Bean on Twitter at @bean_charlie.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my BuddyTV writer page, and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.
(Image courtesy of Disney XD)