“Tron” may have arrived at too early a time for Hollywood to fully grasp what its team of visual effects artists were trying to accomplish. Even Disney, who produced the film, had its team working in parking lot trailers and not the offices of the Disney Animation Studios because, according to animator Chris Wedge, the company thought it was “computers just making effects” and not true animation. Director of the film’s sequel “Tron: Legacy,” Joseph Kosinski, expressed in a Comic-Con Q&A in 2010 that, “There’s an interesting irony in the fact that the original ‘Tron’ was disqualified from the visual-effects category in the Academy Awards that year because they considered using a computer ‘cheating’ and that the film’s technological achievements were ahead of their time.”
The real irony is that most of the visual effects in “Tron” are classic in-camera techniques that the Academy was recognizing and rewarding for years. In a process called “backlit animation,” also known as underlighting, artists physically drew and illuminated lines and patterns on individual negatives from footage shot on an all-black film set (this is, of course, a simplification of the intense process). The result created the famous neon world as well as the glowing suits that were, in fact, nominated for Best Costume Design. “Young Sherlock Holmes” in 1985 eventually did receive a nomination for its Pixar-made CG Knight animation, and James Cameron’s “The Abyss” finally won CGI’s first Visual Effects Oscar in 1989. Both have “Tron” to thank for their accolades.