Why “Tron Legacy” Will be Awesome: the Director’s an Architect

Joseph Kosinski trained at the knee of IDEO’s founder, and some of the most famous architects in the world. Will we now seen more architects making Hollywood films?


When Tron Legacy comes out in theaters, it’ll be one of the most expensive movies ever made. But it isn’t being directed by James Cameron or Michael Bay or Peter Jackson. It’ll actually be a first-time feature for Joseph Kosinski–who didn’t train as a film-maker. Instead, he went to grad-school for architecture at Columbia; after that, he founded a Web-design firm, of all things.


And that background might be what distinguishes the movie and makes it great: Kosinski (pictured above, right) knows how to handle 3-D space, and he’s fluent with animation technology in a way totally different from any mainstream director working today.

As you can see in the video, Kosinski has an amazing design background. As an undergrad at Stanford, he took an engineering class with David Kelley–the founder of IDEO–and Kelley urged him to take up design, rather than engineering. That in turn led him to Columbia’s architecture school, which at the time was notable for being on the cutting edge of introducing high-end computer programs into architecture. (One of his professors was Gregg Lynn, a leading proponent of “blobitecture.”)

That eventually led him to create a Web-design firm while dabbling in short-films made entirely on the computer. At the time, people laughed at him for either wasting his architecture education–or presuming that a trained-architect could ever make a decent movie. After meeting director David Fincher (best-known for Se7en, Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), he started working in production, then directing commercials–such as a trailer for the videogame Gears of War–and now, he’s bootstrapped himself up to directing Tron Legacy.

The star of the new movie, Jeff Bridges, has already spotted the benefits of Kosinski’s background. As he told Hitflix:

“It’s interesting different filmmakers where they come from and what they bring to the film and he’s an architect, and so the film has a very, you know, heightened design feel to it,” Bridges says. “And he hired this wonderful production designer, Darren Gilford. And he is out of car design so it adds another thing. It’s not somebody, you know, who is an interior decorator.”

Tron Legacy

In retrospect, it all makes a perfect sense: The director of Tron, which is being shot in 3-D, needs to have a fine appreciation of space and how it flows; the texture of the movie means that he also had to have a knack with graphic design and product-design; and the heavy CGI means he has to understand animation work flows like a master. Who else but a trained-architect has a resume like that?

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.