Square keeping ‘Spirits’ up

Hawaii-based operations to remain open for now

HONOLULU — Square USA, which produced box office flop “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” plans to keep its $45 million computer animation facility in Hawaii open at least through March, when it finishes a secret film project for another studio.

That’s good news for Square’s 125 employees working at the Hawaii Film Studio and the production company’s downtown offices. At the height of the “Final Fantasy” production, the company employed about 220.

Parent company Square Co. has “no plans to sell the Hawaii facility or shut us down,” said “Final Fantasy” producer Jun Aida.

Square USA has a month-to-month agreement with the state to use the Hawaii Film Studio under a revocable permit in which the state can ask the company to vacate if it needs the facility, a state official said.

Announcement comes days after the company decided to pull out of the film business after the failure of “Fantasy,” which cost $140 million to produce. Square will focus on its core biz: vidgames. Sony distribbed the pic, which reaped a meager $30 million domestic B.O. and $42 million internationally. Future Square USA projects in Hawaii will be in “collaboration” with major Hollywood studios who will finance the ventures, Aida said. That includes the project on which Square USA started working in March 2000 to be completed by next summer’s film season.

Self-supporting

Square USA’s future in Hawaii is stable as long as it’s self sufficient in financing, and “we’re not asking for money,” Aida said. “Our primary interest is to produce all-digital-animated feature films,” he said. “We’re not interested in becoming just a special effects house or doing commercials.”

Square USA continues to develop new technologies here, including software Aida called “real time rendering.” The software allows the artist to see his finished computer animation in minutes rather than the previous five to eight hours, allowing quick changes saving time and money, Aida said. In 1994 Aida produced the live-action pic “Street Fighter,” which grossed more than $100 million worldwide. He joined Square USA in 1997 as VP of film and entertainment and in 1999 was promoted to president to oversee the Honolulu studio’s CG production efforts.

Square USA’s other Hawaii projects include a possible deal with Columbia Pictures to produce a straight-to-DVD prequel of “Final Fantasy.”

(Marc Graser contributed to this report.)

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