Tron legacy was a Disney film released in 2010 as a sequel to the classic original 1982 film that was a pioneer in computer generated graphics and visual effects. The film reprised key elements from the original including the iconic light cycle races and the glowing lines of light of the costumes.
I have mixed feelings about the film, as many do; it is visually stunning. The light suits and lightcycles in particular are in my opinion up there with the very best film costumes and vehicles of all time. The soundtrack by Daft Punk is fantastic and fits with the visuals seamlessly. Unfortunately I was left feeling somewhat disappointed that the story doesn't fully match up to the visuals.
Whilst much of the film is CGI, there are significant, and important elements that weren't, and having an interest in practical effects, these really appeal to me. Key sets were built fully practical, and incorporated the iconic lighting (End of the Line Club, Flynn's arcade etc.), and importantly the light suits and other costumes were completely practical. I was therefore inspired to try and create a real, practical light suit myself, and so embarked on the significant task of working out how...
I started my costume build by deciding that as others may be interested, I wanted to be able to create more than one costume. I therefore decided to put effort into creating drawings, patterns and moulds to be able to produce multiples of parts. I also wanted to experiment with some techniques and materials not familiar to me, and this gave me a good opportunity.
My vision for the costume is not to produce something fully screen accurate to the film, but neither to create something simple but Tron like. Rather I would make something that to a general observer looks like the film versions, but is of a far better quality than cheap Halloween costumes, is durable, and most importantly has real functioning lighting. It would be very difficult to replicate the cast foam latex method used in the films without a serious budget and a lot of time, and so I chose to use a laminated flexible flat foam method instead.
It has always been my desire to make the costume fully lit, not relying on retro-reflective tapes as others have done. I therefore considered a wide range of options for lighting, but settled for the more expensive, but lower work option of using a kit of pre-cut electroluminescent shapes (from EL wire craft). This ties in with an easier ability to make multiple costumes.
The project started with an information gathering stage- there is a lot of information scattered around out there. My key reference sources are listed at the bottom of the page.
The second stage was to do design work before starting builds- this started with the identity disks.
I have primarily used Draft Sight software for design, this being a free CAD program similar to Autocad that I'm familiar with in my day job, allowing me to produce accurate dimensioned drawings and patterns. Downloads of these drawings are available in PDF format for those interested.
The film is reported to have a number of variants of disk (a), but for ease of handling I chose to go with the more common 10" disk. Many earlier costumes have used the Disney deluxe toy disk, and modified it; however these are now becoming uncommon and expensive, so I took the decision to make my own mouldings.
I started with a picture of a disk sold at auction, and armed with the 10" outside dimension was able to scale from the part to produce a drawing. It can be difficult to accurately scale from a photo, but by making a number of assumptions such as the dimensions will be fractions of an inch (as it is American built), and how big tooling is likely to be, I was able to come up with a design that looks close to the real item.
I made a few minor changes to the screen part for the sake of easier manufacturing (such as the angle of the light ring), but it keeps the general theme, and also ensures that the disk can be easily handled. I am familiar with woodwork and have a good range of tools that made making the pattern relatively simple, although I still had to buy a large 45 degree router cutter- it will be easier to sculpt from clay if you don't have the workshop facilities.
The master disk was made from MDF- the base shape was finished in a couple of evenings' work (6-8 hours), but I then had to spend a much longer time (probably about 16-20 hours) on finishing the disk to a level at which it would be able to make a good mould. This included many layers of primer and paint, spot putty and a lot of careful sanding. I have since learnt of the trick of using superglue to seal MDF that may have saved quite a lot of time.
The mould was made using Mold Max 20 silicone from Smooth on, and backed with plaster. Initially I cast the disks in polyurethane, but ended up choosing to change to GRP due to a number of challenges. The first polyurethane I picked (smooth-on task 15), ended up being too flexible to make a good joint between the two halves, and as I was brushing up and it was low viscosity, it ended up pooled in the bottom of the mould cutting down my internal space. The second version used Sika Bi-Resin, and worked much better, but still left me with a poor inner space to fit the inverter so after discussion with a professional body caster at the Brighton Mini Maker Faire, I chose to change to Polyester based GRP, using material from South Western Industrial Plasters.
The illumination is by EL wire sunk into the C ring and glued in place. The inverter is inside the disk. This is a standard inverter with the case removed and the battery holder replaced with an AAA unit to make it fit. The on off button pokes through the disk and is un-obtrusive. To diffuse the light on the disk, I used clear silicone sealant mixed with a small amount of talc to make it more translucent than transparent. This hasn't proven very durable, so in future I would likely use polyurethane resin instead.
The disk is held together with 4 small screws. I haven't made a lit outer ring yet, but may do so in the future when time permits.
This project was my first using silicone moulds and polyurethane, so I have learnt a lot about the process and would make some changes if I were to do it again, although I was overall happy with the finished product.
Identity Disk blank cut out on table saw from 18mm MDF
Inner hole cut with scroll saw and sanded
Lighting groove routed into the disk
Outer edge angled and perimeter groove routed
Details added, disk sanded and painted- many times
Silicone mould made, jacketed with plaster.
Glass Reinforced Polyester mouldings cast, trimmed and painted
Painting finished, EL wire installed and transluscent infill added
I had chosen to use pre-existing EL tape shapes, and so tried basing the design off a number of still images from the film and details from the supplier. Unfortunately the EL shape drawings supplied were scant of information and distorted, so I had to wait until I took delivery of actual parts to measure and re-draw. These drawings are available as part of my set.
The costume design started by tracing drawings from film stills and production photos into 2D CAD. Unfortunately there aren't many good full view photos, so I have had had to piece together the design from many different images. Once traced in I overlaid the design with the EL shapes. Unfortunately there are quite a lot of differences in these to the film. I therefore had to create a hybrid design using elements of the production design where possible, the EL shapes where necessary and tweaking to suit my body shape with patterns on a duct tape dummy. This sounds simple but has been a long-winded process and in the end might not have been the most efficient method, although it does result in drawings others can use.
My construction concept was to use two layers of flat sheets of foam fitted over a matt cotton-lycra catsuit. I experimented with using silicone foam prior to settling on the more common closed cell polyethylene: Plastazote LD45 (see foam notes below). I felt that as the silicone is more flexible, and already has a semi-gloss surface finish it could considerably cut down on the amount of work needed. When samples arrived, I was disappointed to find the colour to be nowhere near black, being more of a mid-charcoal, and the cost to be impractical.
Plastazote may be a bit more expensive than the commonly used EVA foam and camp mats, however I take the view that one of the key areas of failure in a project can be materials. If I am carrying out a project such as this where I am making a significant investment in time, then I want to be sure that the materials used of a good quality and importantly consistent. With the Plastazote I am able to order to a defined specification, and to be able to order more material to that same spec at any time I need. In addition, the Plastazote tears significantly less easily than the thin EVA foam that was available, a distinct advantage, although the surface structure is somewhat more open. It is difficult to find consistent EVA foam in the UK in the 5-6mm range I needed.
Before starting the build in earnest, and as this was a new type of project for me, I spent time gathering samples and carrying out tests of materials and techniques so that I could have confidence the final project is going to work and be durable. This included making a couple of foam test pieces and wearing them whilst working on other projects to ensure foam durability, adhesive bonding, wiring routing and EL tape mounting methods. Whilst there is much written on foam armour techniques, I have seen little on the method of foam directly attached to an undersuit, and my exact selection of materials differs from other builders. I would strongly suggest that anyone else working on this type of product does their own experimentation.
Bill Doran's (Punished Props) Foamsmith (b) books and Youtube channel are a good source of starting info as is the RPF forums (a), Evil Ted's YouTube channel (c) and 'Costumes and Chemistry' (d). If a project like this is your first I strongly recommend familiarising yourself with the techniques you can find on these.
I chose to use hook and loop tape to secure the EL wire to the costume, however conventional Velcro and its generic equivalents are quite thick compared to the EL tape and foam thickness I wanted to use, so I tried to source 'low profile' types. These are available, but unfortunately not in the black I was hoping to use on the costume side, and the widths available are limited. Enquiries to a couple of manufacturers for retail availability proved fruitless, so I resorted to using a 50mm wide white system that was available. This has a mated thickness of approx. 2mm and so is fairly unobtrusive, and I have been impressed with the bonding ability of the adhesive.
Most of the established foam fabricated costume sites are US based and so recommend 'Barge Cement' as a suitable adhesive for bonding foam together. In the UK this is not widely available, so I chose to use Evostik 528 as this is readily in reasonable size cans- I bought mine from the local builders merchant. It is also possible to get a thinner/ cleaner for it which can come in handy. So far it has proven to be a good choice.
The Evostik adhesive isn't suited for bonding to the cotton lycra, it tends to peel too easily. For these areas I used 3M 76 spray adhesive. This is quite a lot more expensive but is much more effective. As it is a spray adhesive, parts not to be covered needed masking up with a combination of cling film and masking tape.
Once the planning was complete I had the templates printed at the local Staples and cut them out. These were transferred to the foam and this in turn cut out. The two layers of foam were then carefully laminated together.
In areas where joins were made or, places where I felt the foam would not take the stress on its own I added reinforcement by black calico. This was particularly important round the base of the torso section and was used to attach the velcro needed around the waist.
To secure the disk, I manufactured a plastic moulding that snugly fitted into the disk centre by making a wooden mould and vacuum forming HIPS sheet over it. The battery sits in a separate moulding made in the same way and the two are linked together by a sheet of HIPS. This is then laminated into the back of the costume.
To mount the disk to the costume I installed a number of powerful magnets in both the disk and the moulding. This is sufficient to hold the disk, but easy enough to remove.
Velcro was added to secure the el panels and the Velcro and other areas masked prior to paint. For this I used 3 coats of Plasti-dip black which gives a nice matt black and evens out the finish.
The gloves were made from a pair of neoprene diving gloves with the fingers cut off and embellished with foam and then painted with the Plasti-dip.
Once assembled, parts that required it were masked off and the foam sprayed with three coats of black Plasti-dip giving a rubbery and durable matt black finish.
I contemplated doing an undersuit with the hex print, but in the end found the cost too high for this project- material alone would have been around £100. I therefore used a basic cotton-Lycra dance catsuit as the base. Changing to a printed undersuit, or stencilling on the pattern is possible as a future upgrade.
The panels I bought came with a wiring harness, but I chose to redesign this to my own needs. Firstly the connectors used are 9mm thick, thicker than just about any other part of the costume and so would be difficult to conceal. The supplied harness was made with a lot of connectors as joints to connect sections together, again giving me more of a challenge to conceal. I therefore made a harness with splits spliced by soldering in unobtrusive places and insulated with heatshrink. I used a high spec PTFE insulated wire I happened to have a reel of to get the wire diameter down significantly and used JST RCY series connectors (part numbers below) from Farnell & RS to connect parts. These are 4mm thick- much easier to conceal! I used strips of calico to secure the wires in place.
I have used the inverter supplied with the panel kit to drive the costume, and used a modified standard part for the disc, but have been a bit disappointed that there aren't many better options available on the market. When you open up the units they are not particularly well built, have tall transformers and are not very efficiently packaged, being made down to a price. I suspect there would be a market for better units at a modest cost that are more compact than the existing and offer options for external switching.
Duct Tape dummy in build and finished
Raw plastazote, pattern cut and first layer of foam for arm pieces
Holes punched and second foam layer laminated to base, wiring attached to rear
Torso Pattern and laminated torso front
Identity Disk mount and battery nox as moulded on vacuum former and disk trimmed with magnets installed
Battery holder and Identity Disk mount joined with back plate and mounted to rear of torso
Gloves with fingers cut off and foam added
Hook and loop closure added to areas where EL panels to be fitted. Masked up and foam coated with Plasti Dip
Undersuit masked and prepared with 3M 76 adhesive
Suit with leg and arm pieces bonded to undersuit and torso trial fitted
Some EL panels needed trimming to better suit the costume. Others needed amendments such as foam in the centre.
All panels had new connectors fitted and thin loop bonded on for attaching to the costume
I spent some time investigating possibilities for the boots (dance boots, fashion boots, boxers boots etc.) but didn't find anything I was truly happy with. I bought a pair of used motorbike boots of a style not too dissimilar to the film, but once I started experimenting with them I decided they weren't a particularly good option. The leather and lining together were fairly thick, but the boot was going to need covering with foam to give the right shape to accept the EL wire and doing this would end up with a very bulky finished part. As the boots are fairly stiff, and are designed to be worn with leathers the boot opening is largeand therefore didn't give me the look I wanted. I started looking at other options, for which my favoured solution was going to be modifying a pair of cosplay superhero boots- they were much thinner and fitted the calf much better, but were still relatively expensive for something to be modified. At this point I by chance did a Tron search on Ebay, and found someone with a pair of UD Replicas Tron motorbike boots in my size, in virtually new condition in and the UK. After a nervous wait I was pleased to win them for a very good price, and so my boot dilemma was solved.
UD Replicas Boots
I looked into making my own Sam helmet, and probably will still do this at some point in the future, but decided that I didn't have either the skills or time needed to complete it at the present time. I therefore looked around for a good cast from a cosplay supplier/ prop maker but unfortunately didn't find one so took the decision to use a Rinzler helmet instead that RPF member Crimson590 has produced. This has not disappointed! The cast is excellent, the turnaround time has been really good (a couple of weeks) and his communication has been thorough and friendly. If you want to buy a helmet I cannot recommend him highly enough (e).
The helmet was supplied as a raw cast which firstly required trimming. This was done by using a cut-off disk in a rotary tool followed by sanding drum and finished with hand sanding. Slots for lighting were cut out also with a rotary tool and finished by hand. I masked the vision area inside the helmet and following some tips from the supplier sprayed the inside Rustoleum matt black. After a thorough clean the outside was protected from overspray with cling film, enabling the helmet to be held up to the light during spraying to ensure an even and opaque coating. One important thing to note- the clear polyurethane was very susceptible to heat and softened under the hot water used to clean it- luckily I noticed before any permanent distortion.
Lighting is by a length of EL wire. I planned the route out and used black heatshrink to cover the wire where light isn't needed. The wire was then fitted into the helmet with hot glue. A few pads of scrap foam, also hot glued in finished the inside off and made the helmet fit securely.
Helmet casting as received- showing where trimming was required
EL wire initial sizing trial and fitted with heatshrink
Helmet masked up ready for internal paint
Completed Helmet & Storage Crate
Project Final thoughts
I was very pleased with how the costume turned out and it has so far been well received. The durability of most of the costume has been good, and the mobility whilst wearing it was reasonable. I am glad that I had carried out a number of trials on materials and methods before starting the main project and would recommend others doing the same. If I had made my patterning trial parts out of the same material I may have been able to get a better fit around the torso, although this didn't prove a significant issue.
Inverter battery life turned out well, with it lasting about 3.5 hours with no visible dimming.
The only significant thing I would change in the design was how I attached the EL tape on the arms. I will now change this to more pieces with a split at the elbow to allow better flexibility, but could have avoided the problem originally.
This type of project can be very time consuming, especially if you are trying techniques you haven't done before- my total time investment was in the order of 150-200 ours. There are ways this could have been reduced, but if you are starting from scratch, you will need to devote quite a lot of time.
This project was relatively expensive- the cost of the various materials, especially Plasti-dip paint and spray glue mounts up as do the electroluminescent panels- again bear this in mind before you start.
Good luck with your own version.
(b) Foamsmith- How to Create Foam Armor Costumes, Bill Doran, Punished Props, ISBN 9780692388969
(c) Evil Ted Smith Channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/evilted40
(d) Costumes and Chemistry, Sylvia Moss, Costume and Fashion Press, ISBN 0-89676-214-9
Information & Resources
There is a fair amount of info available from people who have made costumes before, and on that used in the film, but it tends to be scattered quite widely. The replica prop forum in particular has a very comprehensive thread on the Tron Legacy film costumes, running to over 200 pages, as well as numerous individual build threads.If you have further useful links or info, I will be happy to add them to this page.
The Art of Tron: Legacy, Justin Springer, Disney Editions, Oct 2010, Hardback, ISBN 978-1423131496
Cinefex 124, http://www.cinefex.com/backissues/issue124.htm
I have gathered many reference images together on my Pinterest page;
The costume budget was reportedly $13 Million, and included at least XX Foam latex based suits manufactured by Quantum Creations FX;
The film Helmets were manufactured by Ironhead Studios;
The electroluminescent panels to light the costumes are Elastolite, manufactured by Oryon Technologies Inc, unfortunately now bankrupt. some details:
All three companies custom manufactured parts for the film, and will not supply individuals, although limited trial kits for the Elastolite are available through Sparkfun https://www.sparkfun.com/
Inverters appear to be NDL series parts from JKL, unfortunately no longer available.
There are a number of very good write ups on other people's costumes around, notable ones for me are;
There are many possible suppliers of EL tape and sheet to manufacture the light up elements. Many of these will be selling the same products, manufactured in China, and so I find there is little to differentiate between suppliers, with the notable exceptions of EL Wire Craft in the UK and E-Luminates in the US. Both sell full sets and components pre-cut to the correct shapes.
Electro Luminescence Inc
The foam in this project is cross-linked Polyethylene, commonly known as XLPE. In Europe, the common brand name is Plastazote, manufactured by Zote Foams. In the US it is available under the brand name Minicel, manufactured by Sekisui Voltek.
The foam is sold by density as well as dimensions and colour. In Europe the most widely available is Plastazote LD45, for the US L200 is the most common. These two aren't directly comparable; Minicel L200 is most similar in density to Plastazote LD33 and Plastazote LD45 is most similar to Minicel L300.
Other manufacturers produce similar XLPE foams and these will also be suitable for costume use if you find them. XLPE is chemically different to EVA foam that makes its way into a lot of costume use. EVA is commonly used for floor mats, camping mats and yoga mats although not all.
UK Plastazote stockisthttp://www.thamesvalleysupplies.co.uk/
I chose to swap connectors to a JST RCY Series connector. These are used as these are cable mount connectors, far more compact than those normally used on EL wire- 4mm thick compared to nearly 9mm.
Pin Contact SYM-001T-P0.6 (reelled), BYM-001T-P0.6 (loose)
Socket Contact SYF-001T-P0.6 (reeled), BYF-001T-P0.6 (loose)
Pin Housing SYR-02TV
Socket Housing SYP-02TV-1
Other useful info
The font used in the film is called encom, and is available only in upper case and numbers. It was available under a disney digital books page, but the link is now broken.
The PDF downloads are available for use by those wanting to make their own costume. Use is restricted to non-commercial.
Please bear in mind that these have been based on the El Wire Craft shapes and sized for my body (I am 181 cm and 70kg) so you will need to adjust for your own needs.
Sam Torso Front
Sam Torso Rear
(c) M. Pantrey 2017