Square goes Hawaiian with studio lease

HONOLULU — Square USA, a Japanese producer of software and interactive entertainment, has agreed to a three-year lease with the state for part of the Hawaii Film Studio, to make a computer-animated movie.

The film is scheduled to be completed in 1999.

Square USA has been using the 16,000-square-foot soundstage at Diamond Head since October. The three-year lease, worth about $216,000, is the longest continuous occupancy of the $10 million soundstage since it opened in 1994.

Square is paying the state $6,000 a month, a third less than the usual $9,000 monthly fee. The lower rent was agreed upon because of the length of the lease, state officials said. The lease has been approved but the paperwork still needs to be signed.

The company is using just one of two soundstages at the facility. Stage 1, the older soundstage where “Hawaii Five-O” and later “Magnum, P.I.” were filmed, is not being used.

The several production offices there are also vacant; since April, Square USA has rented more than 30,000 square feet at Harbor Court for its employees.

Square USA’s parent company is Square Co. Ltd. of Japan. Square USA moved to Hawaii to benefit American and Japanese talent, said Noriko Wada, the project’s coordinator. Employees from Japan find Hawaii more congenial in lifestyle than L.A., primarily because of the Japanese culture.

The film has not yet been named and actors who eventually will do voiceovers have not been hired, said Wada, who declined to specify the film’s budget.

Square USA has been trying to do motion-capture animation at the Harbor Court facility but needed the larger space provided by the new soundstage. Motion capture requires photographing the movements of a human being who is covered with computer sensors, Wada explained.

Though the long-term occupancy should silence Hawaii Film Office critics who complain that the studio is a white elephant, others worry that the lease may discourage other productions from filming in Hawaii because of lack of available space.

“We still have (Stage 1) and the production cottages available for any productions coming here,” said Georgette Deemer, Film Office manager. “The film studio can be shared by two different productions at the same time.”

State and county film office officials are looking at other possible sites in case a production needs a facility larger than the 12,000-square-foot Stage 1, Deemer said.

Square Co. Ltd. is active in role-playing game development, and is best known for its “Final Fantasy” series, which has sold more than 10 million copies.

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