Traumantic Studios Logo

2022 - TRON 40th Anniversary

Written 7/09/2022
Story By: David Arnspiger

July 9th, 1982 a movie premiered, TRON. I didn't know it yet, but my 17 year old self was about to be set on a path. I'd like to share the story so far.

The first time I saw the movie I knew I was seeing something special, but there was an additional element to it, the video game.

I spent so much time on this video game and it's follow-up, Discs of TRON. If an arcade had a TRON machine, that is where you would find me. I was addicted. I loved the concept of a world inside the computer. I had no idea how involved I was going to be in the world.

I remained a fan of the film and the games as I moved through my 20s. I got married, and the concept of taking care of my family became important. I went to a technical school called National Business Academy to learn computerized accounting. I discovered computers. By the end of my courses, I was assisting the teachers in teaching the classes and even showing them things they didn't know. Computers just clicked for me. I think it was inevitable that they were going to a big part of my path.

I started out with a job as a personal assistant at an architectural firm. I took over setting up their first computer network and getting machines to talk to each other. I built a role for myself as their internal IT, much to the chagrin of my boss. I also started my own company, Traumantic Software, doing consulting for small businesses and individuals setting up their computers.

I learned about modems and the world of BBS (Bulletin Board Systems). The precursors to the internet. Dial-up servers people set up in their homes or businesses to share files and information. I was fascinated, and it would lead to the next big shift in my life related to TRON.

I was dialed into a BBS that was for Disney fans. I found two images on that site that I downloaded. A drawing of Jessica Rabbit, and the image below.

It had a BBS name and number attached, The Disney Software BBS. I figured they'd have lots of TRON stuff over there. Boy was I wrong, but they did have something interesting, a job posting for a QACS Representative. I didn't know what it was, but my first thought was that if I could get a job there, maybe I could make a TRON game someday. I made friends with the SysOp of the BBS, Scott Cuthbertson, and sent in my resume. I was told at one point that they didn't believe my extensive computer background and interviewed me to see if I was lying. I was not, I knew my stuff and I was hired. TRON changed the course of my life with a simple image on a BBS.

Fast forward to April of 1999, I was working at Activision as a QA Manager and happy in my role. I got a call from Frank Evers who had been a Producer at Activision but was now over at Disney Interactive. He asked me if I would be interested in running QA at Disney, and he told me one of the first big projects as going to be TRON 2.0. Needless to say, I resigned from Activision and made the move back to Disney. TRON changed my life again.

One of the first things I got to do at Disney Interactive was to work with the TRON 2.0 Producer, Sam Palahnuk. He and I started to kick around story ideas. He let me write up a treatment for TRON 2.0 that I thought would have made a great game, but at that time Sam left the company and the game moved into new hands. I love the game that we made, but I really wish I had been able to make the one I wrote.

This period of time, from 1999 through 2004, the biggest TRON changes kicked in. TRON 2.0 was in full production and my office was s shrine to TRON. I had developed an obsessive collecting habit for anything TRON related.

The first big thing was meeting Syd Mead at E3 2002. He provided many of the designs that were used for buildings and vehicles in TRON. We hosted a signing in our booth and the line stretched around the booth and down the hall. Syd's artwork and designs had a profound impact on so many people in the gaming industry. I have met hundreds of people who are in that business due to his work having an influence on them. I got some autographs and enjoyed meeting him, but we were not through.

The Producer of the game, Cliff Kamida said that Syd Mead was coming in to get a closer look at the game. Syd had designed a new Lightcyle for the game, and we were keen to show it off. The day arrived, and Syd was brought to my office/TRON shrine to view the game.

We spent about an hour showing him the game, and then we went into the main conference room to do some presentations. I had a plastic box on the table in front of his seat that contained the TRON lightcycle toys and action figures from 1982. Syd spent the entire meeting picking it up and turning it around and looking at it from every angle. after the meeting I asked him about it and he told me that he had never seen the toys based on his designs. I decided on the spot to give them to him. To me, it was a crime that the man who had designed them and brought so much joy to me and my fellow fans didn't have them.

Syd would not accept the gift without reciprocating, so he signed and handed to me one of his amazing books that is still in my personal library. Syd and I remained friends until his death. I visited his home a few times and received an annual Christmas card every year. He and his partner Roger are wonderful people. SIDE NOTE: It cost me $400 to create an identical set of TRON lightcylces and action figures. My wife was not happy with my generosity at the time.

For E3 2003, my TRON circle expanded again. We hosted a signing by TRON stars Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan, Steven Lisberger the Director, and Richard Taylor the Visual Effects Supervisor. It was great to meet all of them, but I had no idea what would come next.

Just like with Syd Mead, we brought Steven Lisberger and Richard Taylor in to view the game in detail and give input. Once again, we held that demo in my office.

As we demoed the game, we were discussing TRON and at one point Steven commented that I knew more about his movie that he did. My nerd flag was flying high that day. He was amazed/shocked by all of the paraphernalia in my office. He mentioned that he had boxes of stuff from TRON at his home and invited me to come down and check it out. I didn't know what to say. I gave him my card and I kind of assumed he wouldn't call me to set up a time, but he did!

The day came, and I went down to where he lived near the beach and we spent a couple of hours looking through his boxes of TRON materials. I was in heaven. I was trying hard not to be a total fanboy geek. Then he mentioned how the sea air was damaging a lot of the paper items he had. A light bulb went off in my head. I told him about how I had been archiving materials I had scanned into my computer, and I mentioned to him that if he wanted to, I could scan his materials for him and give him a digital archive. He loved the idea, and by the end of that first meeting a plan was formed, and I drove home with boxes of materials to scan. The TRON Archives were born.

Today our private digital archive is over 178 GB of materials. Ranging from Fan Art through Production Materials and even a Rule 34 section. (Look up Rule 34 if you want to know what that means.) If it is TRON related, I gather it and add it to the archive. At one point in time, I had a physical archive to rival it, more on that in a bit. It used to be stored on CDs, but it just became too big, so larger and larger hard drives became involved and it is triple backed up for security.

From that point on I have been friends with Steven and Richard Taylor as well. Richard contributed some materials to the TRON Archive once he became aware of it. Steven and I talked frequently during those years. He and Richard have been great friends to me.

In 2004, TRON 2.0 finally hit the streets. It was critically acclaimed, and it had its fans, but it wasn't the hit we had hoped it would be. Work on a next game ceased, but I remain proud of the fact that I was part of bringing a new part of thr TRON world into existence.

Somewhere during this time I also became friends with Cindy Morgan. I am pretty sure Dave Hernly from the TRON Sector web page had reconnected us, the memory is a bit hazy, but she needed a place to stay while she was in LA for an event, and we made arrangements for her to stay with us. We had a nice guest house and I picked her up from the airport and got her settled in.

This was the first of many visits. I had really gotten into my photography by that point and I was looking for people to photograph. In 2005, Cindy said that on her next visit she was seeing a photographer for a shoot and that I could shoot some headshots for her if I was interested. We set up in my living room, and I proceeded to take about 800 photos of her. Only 1 was any good, and that shot became her headshot for several years after that. Cindy Morgan was my first photo session with a person! How cool is that?

The icing on the cake was that people liked that headshot so much that a photo printing company used it on their flyers for at least two years. So I give Cindy a lot of credit for kicking my photographic goals into high gear. Sadly, we had a falling out a couple of years later, and we have not spoken ina long time. I'd love to rebuild our friendship, but so far that has not happened. Maybe someday.

I had met Dan Shor who played RAM in TRON at about the same time as everyone else. Another visit to Disney Interactive that resulted in a new friend. We remained in touch, and in 2007 he was my fifth photo session for headshots. I do not think he used any, because frankly I didn't do the best I could do. Sorry Dan! However, we still talk once in a while online and I consider him to be a friend too.

Finally, there is Harrison Ellenshaw. Part of a dynasty in the Disney world. I met him through Steven and Richard. Harrison and I do not have much of a photographic history together, but his friendship lead to a major expansion of the TRON Archives. Steven had several boxes, Harrison had a truckload of materials and for the better part of a year they lived in my house while I converted them to digital formats. He was an amazing contributor and even though we have not spoken in a long time, he is still a friend to me.

My TRON experiences have connected me with a lot of great people whom I am friends with to this day. The many members of the TRON Sector web site, people from Disney like Howard Green and Michael Bonifer who got me involved in the build up to TRON Legacy. Working with them I helped to create a video clip of TRON cultural references that was shown at D23 in 2010 in advance of TRON Legacy.

I've been part of many events, screenings, game demos, fan meet ups. It's been great. One of my favorites was the NFFC event held at the Disneyland Hotel in 2004. Steven Lisberger was going to speak about TRON and I was going to speak about TRON 2.0. It's a great memory. The speaking portion is just a blur in my memory, but the thing that I will always remember is when they asked us to autograph a banner. I had never signed an autograph before. Steven did one with his usual flourish, and I simply signed my name. Steven mocked me and said loudly "That's your autograph?". It was hilarious. I have only done one autograph since and it wasn't much better.

One other TRON actor I got to meet was the man himself, Kevin Flynn, or as the world knows him, Jeff Bridges. He was in Hollywood signing copies of his photography book and I went down and got an autograph. I passed on a greeting from Steven and gave him a copy of some scans of images from TRON that I thought he might like. Total geeky fanboy moment.

Those people and memories filled my life right up to the present day, but there was one more TRON twist in my world. After two years out of work, I got a call. A job had opened up with Arcade1Up, a company that makes 3/4 scale arcade machines. I interviewed and got the job. One of the main reasons I did was due to my knowledge of the TRON and Discs of TRON arcade machines. Arcade1Up was going to produce a new version, and I was going to get to be a part of that.

In 2021, that became a reality with the release of our TRON Arcade cabinet that features both games in a cabinet styled like the original TRON cabinet. It's something I am very proud of.

I could go on and on, I already have, but there are many stories I could tell about the joy TRON brings to my life. Love it or hate it, I know it is a film that affected many people in the gaming industry and other related fields. I am sure other people have similar stories to mine. I just wanted to share a bit about how this wonderful film changed my personal life for the better and brought me some great friends like Martin Fisher, Bill Bynum, David Hernly and so many others.

I don't know if TRON will provide any other twists in my life at this point, but I hope it does. I look forward to them.

I will wrap this up with some additional memories. I may add a few more as I tihnk of things.

Enjoy the images below.

The time I got interviewed about my TRON Collection. It was supposedly going to be an extra on the TRON Legacy DVD but got cut. I was probably too boring. I have never seen the video they did, but I have the photos. This is a picture of the physical archive I mentioned earlier. It took up half of my garage at one point. I sold the majority of it when I left Los Angeles. Couldn't take it with me. A sad day.

Part of that collection were the two original arcade machines. My babies. I hope they are well in their current homes.

Hanging out with Bruce and Cindy at a "Celebrity Petting Zoo" (Cindy's term).

That time I came home to find Steven Lisberger in my backyard cutting up the trunk of a tree I had recently cut down. He was invited and he used the wood to make some amazing bowls in his woodworking shop.

The time I was up in Toronto, Canada and met up with a couple of fellow TRON fans.

After the NFFC events, Steven joined my wife Jan and I as we went into Disney California Adventure. First we had to get a photograph with our benevolent ruler in front of the Disneyland Hotel.

Steven posing with a statue of Mercury from TRON 2.0 at our launch BBQ.

Not sure how I go talked into this, but I took a duvet cover and a pillowcase from TRON and became Captain TRON.

Finally, my DaveTRON bobblehead.

I am DaveTRON.