The San Diego Convention Center has become a very familiar setting for the filmmakers behind the new film "Tron: Legacy," and this year, their third in a row at the now-gigantic pop culture event, was easily the most impressive, with eight minutes of new footage and audience participation just part of the appeal for the 6500 assembled fans.

The panel today consisted of Joseph Kosinski, the film's director, as well as producer Sean Bailey and the writer/director of the original "Tron," Steven Lisberger.  From the cast, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleitner and the great Jeff Bridges all showed up to discuss their work in the film and to get their first look at some of the finished footage in 3-D.

Kosinski and Bailey talked about the process of putting the film together and the unorthodox way it progressed through development over the last few years.  They talked about the way the camera technology for shooting the 3-D kept evolving right up to the minute they rolled film, and how that means we're seeing maybe the most cutting-edge live-action 3-D yet with this one.

Asked about playing the young version of himself, Jeff Bridges called the experience "psychedelic."  It's so great to watch him in front of a crowd these days, because it feels like people are finally fully appreciative of the man and his gifts.  He also seems to be just plain enjoying it right now, and there was so much love for him in the room today.  He talked about the thrill of butting up against the cutting edge of technology in 1982 and again today, and how exciting that is.

Garrett Hedlund, who really is the audience surrogate in this return to the world of "Tron," talked about wearing the skintight suits that the cast had to wear in the film, and then Olivia Wilde also discussed having to learn to perform all the stunt work in the movie in these restrictive electrified suits and, in her case, four-inch heels.  Wilde's character is ambiguous in the film, "a companion to Kevin Flynn for many years and a warrior."  She and Hedlund both discussed worth with the 8711 stunt group to train for the film.

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[To get a larger version of the new image above, click here.]

Michael Sheen talked about how he prepared for shooting in a completely false environment by moving to Los Angeles recently, and then spoke more seriously about seeing the original "Tron" at the age of 11 in the theater, and how excited he was to be part of this update.  His enthusiasm was infectious, and a nice reminder that for people his age, this is a major nostalgic pop culture moment, a sequel to something no one ever thought there would be a sequel for, and he seemed to speak for fans in general with his excitement.

Boxleitner, asked how he responded when the got the call to do the sequel, said, "I started by throwing my walker in the corner."  He looked great, fit and happy, and I believed him when he said, "I am the biggest 'Tron' fan there is."  He addressed how "Babylon 5" was a great training ground for this generation of FX, even if not on the same scale as what they're trying here.

It's genuinely surreal to see Boxleitner and Bridges onstage now talking about the way technology in filmmaking and in daily life has changed so profoundly in the 27 years since the original movie came out.  I remember reading about how "Tron" was the introduction of the idea of "computer animation" back in 1982 when it came out, and the dirty secret was that a fair amount of "Tron" was hand-animated and rotoscoped and didn't use computers at all.  Today, though, they're able to do things that Lisberger couldn't even imagine when they made the first film, and the result is something more immersive than they ever could have tried before.

Oswalt referred to Lisberger as "The MCP" when directing a question to him, and Lisberger was able to enjoy some well-deserved gloating as he talked about the way the world caught up to his vision.  "Good things take a really really long time to happy."  Some people would assume that with the state of special effects today, this would be much easier than the original, but Lisberger says that they're pushing so hard to do things no one's seen before that this experience is very similar to making the first film.

And with that, they introduced the footage.  I'll embed the new trailer here, which features some of the same footage as the extended clip we saw:

 

 

The sequence they showed to us was the extended version of what happens when Sam shows up in the game world and they capture him, then take him to be fitted for his light suit, then assigned to the game grid.  It was a chance to really inspect the level of world-building work that Kosinski and his talented team have done here, and rendered in 3-D, it's mesmerizing.  It really does make me feel altered when I watch this stuff.  There's something about the palette of "Tron" and the dreamy quality of the design work that is timeless and iconic. 

I love the light jets that are promised at the end of that trailer.  If they do lightcycle-style fights in the sky, that may well be one of the coolest premises for action scenes that I've ever head.  I've already heard a few people complain about some of the detail work on the 35-year-old version of Bridges that we see in the film playing Clu, but as polished and pretty as all of this is, it's still in production, and they're still fine-tuning it.  I would expect they'll work on the young Bridges right up till the last minute, doing everything they can to sell the effect.  After the main scene they showed us, there was a montage of action beats, including some amazing shots of the main arena for the discs game.

And after the footage played, they asked if we wanted to try something special that involved all the crowds in that arena.  Using onscreen cues, they asked us tor record various phrases that can be dropped into the final film, including "Disc wars," "Rinzler," "De-rez," and various foot stomps.  Great idea, and the crowd seemed to have a lot of fun recording it.

The audience Q&A was just as awkward and odd as most Comic-Con Q&As are.  I really do feel for the fans who are so nervous when they get up there that they sort of lose their minds a little bit.  It's a lot of pressure to suddenly have 6500 people hanging on what you're saying.  Still, people seemed excited to talk to Bridges and Wilde and the rest of the cast and the filmmakers. 

After they showed us the trailer you saw above, people started to rush for the doors so they could get to whatever was next.  They missed two surprises that Disney had built into the panel.

First, we threw on our 3-D glasses again and were rewarded with footage of Captain Jack Sparrow, almost too drunk to talk.  He explained that he absolutely is not recruiting crew members for a new voyage, and pointed out that even if he was, he'd still need a map to the Fountain of Youth.  He also pointed out how dangerous it is to try to find, listing off things that scare him about the adventure.  "Zombies, cutthroats, mermaids, and Penelope Cruz."

If that was the only surprise they had for us, it would have been a good one, but the announcement that Guillermo Del Toro is making a "Haunted Mansion" movie was a total blind-side, and a great one.   Greg Ellwood did a great job writing it up quickly, but what I'd add is that I've been to Guillermo's house, and he's not kidding around... he is a raving Haunted Mansion fan, with all sorts of toys and items that are based on the attraction as part of his collection of geek stuff.  I love that he plans to use the Hatbox Ghost as the main lynchpin of the mythology he's designing for the film.  If you're not familiar with the character, check him out:

 

 

And if you're still wondering if this is connected to that awful earlier movie, Guillermo told all of us today, "I am not returning Eddie Murphy's calls."  Niiiiiice.  His last comment before the panel wrapped was, "This is a dream come true, and I hope to steal as many props as possible."

Overall, a great panel, and Disney is so far proving to be the master of keeping secrets until they reach the stage of Hall H. 

"Tron: Legacy" will be in theaters December 17, 2010.

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