Report: ‘TRON: Legacy’ and Disney Imagineering at USA Science and Engineering Festival

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This past weekend, tens of thousands of families partook in the inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival held on the National Mall in Washington, DC as well as satellite events throughout the country. The two-day free festival was created in order to inspire the nation’s youth to pursue careers in maths and sciences by offering various hands-on activities. One of many participants, The Walt Disney Company presented a booth and multiple presentations in conjunction with the National Academy of Engineering featuring TRON: Legacy as well as Walt Disney Imagineer Lanny Smoot.

The concept behind the booth was  ’14 Grand Challenges,’ created by the NAE, which is essentially a list of tasks that the NAE believes will need to be addressed in this and future generations. Inside the booth were a few exhibits that demonstrated some of the challenges in practice as well as items from the Disney film. On display from TRON: Legacy was the life-size demonstration model of the lightcycle as well as the SHIVA laser invented by Kevin Flynn which was actually used during the movie’s production.

Relating to the sci-fi SHIVA laser scanner (which the original TRON featured back in 1982) was an exhibit on 3D scanning which helps scientists understand objects better. By using a scanning in a physical object, the computer can generate a point cloud which then translates into a mesh model and finally a digital representation of the object, which can then be explored further in digital space, modified and even re-printed as a physical object.

The next demonstration made every one into a virtual brain surgeon, even if — especially in my case — they aren’t one. Using the the NeuroTouch VR brain surgery simulator developed by the National Research Council in Canada. The NeuroTouch takes MRI data and generates a virtual copy of the patients’ brain and allows the surgeon to visualize and even practice operating on the brain, even providing physical feedback in the virtual 3D space. The exhibit offered visitors the opportunity to remove a brain tumor while controlling any bleeding that was occurring as a result and scored the visitor’s performance. As I mentioned earlier, I’m no brain surgeon, so we’ll just leave it at that.

The final demonstration in the booth was created by Walt Disney Imagineering specifically as an offering for the festival as well as the film’s premiere and uses a new innovention called ‘light painting.’ A two-step process, the visitor first finds him/herself alone in a room with what essentially amounts to a sawhorse. Reclining on the sawhorse as if one were riding a lightcycle, the system uses stereoscopic imagery to take a 3D photo of the visitor. Following the photo, the visitor is handed a wand whose tip is tracked by the cameras placed all around. This allows the visitor to virtually paint their missing lightcycle in the virtual 3D space. Imagineer Lanny Smoot, who talked about the exhibit during his presentation which I’ll cover next, compared it to using a digital camera at home and leaving the shutter open so that the camera constantly captures every movement, but here it’s in a literal 3D space, not just the 2D space a single camera could capture.

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