Saturday, 18 January 2014

Sandcrawler: Lucasfilm's regional HQ opens in Singapore

Singapore targets 'creative ecosystem'
New sectors like digital animation will offer exciting options for Singaporeans: PM
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2014

SINGAPORE aims to create an open, vibrant economy and promote a spirit of inquiry - vital ingredients for the success of its growing interactive and digital media industry, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

By also staying abreast of global trends so that it remains relevant to the world, the resulting vibrant creative ecosystem will enable the country to attract a range of overseas talent and develop new sectors like digital animation.

This will, in turn, create exciting new opportunities for Singaporeans, PM Lee added, at the opening of Lucasfilm's regional headquarters in Buona Vista, the Sandcrawler.

Addressing an audience that included Star Wars creator George Lucas and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, he said: "The magic lies not in the equipment or processes, but in the creative spark that resides in human minds... These can only light up in an environment which inspires people, promotes creativity and helps people to realise their dreams and to dream big.

His speech, which kicked off with an emphatic "May the Force be with you", included several other Star Wars references.

The welcome party for PM Lee at the Sandcrawler - named after a moving fortress in the franchise - also comprised Darth Vader and several Stormtroopers. Mr Lee later unveiled a statue of Yoda, the Jedi Master.

Lucasfilm, the world's largest entertainment firm, was wooed by the Economic Development Board to start an office here in 2005. Initially operating out of a small studio in Changi, Lucasfilm Singapore has grown into a visual effects and animation hub with a staff of more than 360, including 130 Singaporeans. They have produced special effects for blockbusters such as Iron Man, Transformers and The Avengers.

The industry is seen as one of the world's fastest-growing, and its value-add to the local economy has grown by over 1.5 times since 2008, to exceed $2 billion.

Singapore, Mr Lee said, will strengthen its position by continuing to invest in infrastructure, such as clustering digital and media companies to promote exchanges. It will also develop and welcome talent. Local institutions offer specialised programmes and degrees that are growing in popularity.

"Our investment in our institutions and in our people reflects our commitment to help every Singaporean to achieve his potential in a wide range of fields," he said.

The digital media companies here also assemble a team of diverse overseas talents, who bring with them not only skills and creativity, but also a mix of cultures which breed new ideas.

Mr Lee held up the local Lucasfilm office as an example - a "United Nations of talent" that has staff from almost 40 nationalities. He also cited Singaporeans like Mr Winston Ng, 32, who rose from an intern to an associate production manager.

Another local, senior effects technical director Adam Lee, recalled progressing from creating simple effects like gunblasts for animated feature Rango, to more complex explosions of big buildings and simulating ocean foam, spray and mist in sci-fi movie Pacific Rim. The 32-year-old said: "If you can do good work, your reward is to get more work."

Lucasfilm's 'crazy' move to Singapore
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2014

WHEN film icon George Lucas first proposed expanding the company bearing his name from the US into Asia a decade ago, others deemed him "a little crazy".

The worry was that the quality of work produced overseas would not match up to the standard of Lucasfilm's California headquarters, the Star Wars creator said.

But the firm's new regional headquarters - the Sandcrawler - now stands as a symbol of Lucasfilm Singapore's achievement against the odds.

"This is a symbol of the people of Singapore and computer animation combining with Lucasfilm to create something that is world quality," Mr Lucas said yesterday at the facility's opening.

Named after the towering vehicles in the Star Wars universe, the building features seven floors of office space, a 100-seat theatre and state-of-the-art production capabilities. Added Mr Lucas: "I'm very proud of what we've accomplished. We couldn't have found a better partner anywhere in the world."

Lucasfilm decided to set up here in 2005 for several reasons. For one thing, Singapore had been "so giving and encouraging" in its education programmes and efforts to build a local industry, Mr Lucas said.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks made it hard for Lucasfilm to bring talent from other countries into the United States, but "Singapore was very gracious in allowing us a very liberal immigration policy, understanding that you need to bring people from all over the world".

The places that Lucasfilm looked at in its expansion plans included India, Taiwan and Japan, but Singapore stood out because "besides having an enormous amount of creativity and talent, (it) is also a very good place to live", said Mr Lucas, 69.

Since then, he said, the Singapore arm has won the stamp of approval from two of the industry's biggest names: Lucasfilm's visual effects division Industrial Light & Magic and animation giant Pixar.

ILM pronounced Singapore "equal to what's going on in California", he said. "That's more important than the Academy Award, as far as I'm concerned."

Besides working on blockbusters like The Avengers, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim, Lucasfilm Singapore has also ventured into animation, producing the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series and contributing to Rango, the Academy Award winner for best animated feature in 2012.

The Sandcrawler is a further milestone showing that Lucasfilm Singapore is here to stay, said Mr Lucas. Upcoming projects include a new animated feature, Transformers 4 and biblical epic Noah.

"We're not running or spacing, we're actually starting a business here," said Mr Lucas.

More Lucasfilm movies made here
Jurassic Park film, Avengers 2 among those being produced in Singapore facility
By John Lui, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2014

The new Lucasfilm facility here is running at "full swing" and its artists are already working on major projects, says its company president Kathleen Kennedy.

Projects include the upcoming superhero movie Avengers 2, the fifth instalment in the Jurassic Park movie franchise, the sequel to 2007's Hitman action movie, the fourth movie in the Transformers series, an unnamed animated feature, and a movie to be screened as part of a theme-park ride.

The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Jurassic World will be released next year. The Hitman sequel is expected to be released later this year. Transformers: Age Of Extinction will also be released this year, during the June and July blockbuster season.

"This will be ILM's busiest year," says Kennedy. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is the arm of Lucasfilm which creates digital effects for films.

"There are a number of projects that we are looking at to determine the amount of work that is moving to Singapore," she adds during an interview with reporters on Wednesday.

Kennedy, who was here for the official launch of Lucasfilm's Sandcrawler building at Fusionopolis, says the work done in Singapore for action film Pacific Rim (2013) and animated feature Rango (2011) are examples of work done "at the highest level".

The Singapore facility has a specialisation in standard and quality control. "There are very few places in the world that has the talent to do that," she says, adding that the work being produced here is comparable to that of Lucasfilm facilities in Vancouver and San Francisco.

Rango won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, while Pacific Rim has grossed more than US$400 million (S$509 million) worldwide.

Kennedy, 60, joined Lucasfilm in 2012 after working as a producer on more than 60 films, including four of the highest-grossing films in history: Jurassic Park (1993), E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008) and The Sixth Sense (1999).

The eight-time Oscar nominee says she will carry on working as a producer. One of her projects is the highly-anticipated seventh Star Wars film, expected to be released next year.

It has been reported that there will be a new Star Wars film every year, starting from next year, with the seventh film being the first of a trilogy. Origin stories will dominate the slate.

These will sit alongside a series of standalone, spin-off movies, focused on individual characters. Names mentioned in previous reports for possible spin-offs include Yoda, Han Solo and Boba Fett.

Asked if she was concerned about the possibility of the spin-offs distorting the story threads laid down in the original saga, she says the universe created by series creator George Lucas was large enough to contain "endless opportunities" for new content.

"George was so clear as to how that works. The canon that he created was the Star Wars saga. Right now, episode seven falls within that canon. The spin-off movies, or we may come up with some other way to call those films, they exist within that vast universe that he created," she says.

But there are rules to follow.

"There is no attempt being made to carry characters (from the standalone films) in and out of the saga episodes. Consequently, from the creative standpoint, it's a roadmap that George made pretty clear," she adds.

Lucasfilm Singapore is now fully housed in its new seven-storey building at Fusionopolis high- tech park. All staff from the previous facility at Changi Business Park have moved into the new space, which features a 100-seat theatre and state-of-the-art digital production facilities, and a public garden.

The building is named Sandcrawler after the mining machines seen in the Star Wars films.

There are now more than 400 employees at Lucasfilm Singapore, the majority of whom are artists. There are 130 Singaporeans employed there, with the rest from other countries in the region.

Since its founding in 2005, Lucasfilm Singapore has contributed to projects such as the animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, while Industrial Light & Magic Singapore was involved in several instalments of the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, the Transformer trilogy, the Iron Man franchise, The Avengers (2012) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).

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