SINGAPORE — Locally-created visual effects could get more play in Hollywood blockbusters, as the regional headquarters for Lucasfilm Singapore, the company founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas, officially opened yesterday.
For Lucasfilm, the new facility at Fusionopolis represents the only location outside the United States where the firm has a regional headquarters.
For Singapore, it represents a shot in the arm for the local digital media industry.
Named the Sandcrawler, after a large vehicle in the original Star Wars film, employees at the 22,500 sqm glass-wrapped building are already working on major movies, including Transformers 4, The Avengers 2, and the fifth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, said Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.
“This is a very robust operation that is comparable to exactly what we’re doing in San Francisco or Vancouver,” said Ms Kennedy. “Many of the top-end movies that are being made in the next 18 months to two years, a vast variety of that work will head in this direction.”
Gracing the opening yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the value-add of Singapore’s interactive and digital media industry has grown by more than 1.5 times since 2008 to exceed S$2 billion at present.
“We expect it to continue growing in future and, to make sure that it happens, we are strengthening Singapore’s position in this field,” he said.
To that end, Singapore will have to invest in infrastructure, said Mr Lee, adding that clustering digital and media firms at One North will spur creativity and innovation. The Sandcrawler is also the regional headquarters for The Walt Disney Company (South-east Asia) and ESPN Asia-Pacific.
Talent will also have to be developed, Mr Lee said, noting that local educational institutions offering specialised degrees in this area have partnered companies to train promising young artists. For instance, more than 100 Singaporeans have been trained under the Lucasfilm Jedi Masters Program.
According to a Deloitte report commissioned by the Media Development Authority, Singapore is on its way to establishing itself as the regional hub in the digital space, although the interactive digital media sector continues to face the twin challenges of rising costs and talent shortage.
“This shortage has resulted in a poaching culture in the industry, further fuelled by its small size. The increasingly stringent foreign labour laws have exacerbated this situation,” said the report. Students and graduates, it noted, tend to be more motivated by job security and hence gravitate towards traditional jobs.
At the opening, Mr Lucas called the facility “a milestone of us being permanently here”. “(It is) a symbol of an achievement which, 10 years ago, seemed vaguely foolhardy, that we’d never reach the standard that Lucasfilm’s accustomed to,” he said.
Lucasfilm opened a studio in Singapore in 2005, growing its staff strength to nearly 400 from 26 artists over nine years. About 130 of its employees here are Singaporeans. The studio here houses the Singapore divisions for Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), which creates digital effects for films, as well as LucasArts andLucasfilm Animation.
“I was met with a great deal of scepticism, especially when I said I was coming to Asia. (They said) ‘Well, it’s good for economic reasons, but the quality is not in the same area that we’re used to.’ So, everyone thought I was a little crazy to try to do this,” said Mr Lucas. Now, he said, the work produced in Singapore is deemed “world quality”.
“We started out begging, pleading ILM to give a little work to Singapore. (They said) ‘Well, I don’t know if it will fit into the movie, if it’s the same quality we have.’ Eventually, over the years, they got more and more, and now, ILM, which is one of the strictest professors in the college of visual effects, has anointed Singapore as equal to what’s going on in California … That’s more important than the Academy Awards as far as I’m concerned.” With agencies