The low-down on Lucasfilm

Lucasfilm Ltd. and its two subsidiaries, Lucas Digital Ltd. and LucasArts Entertainment Co., employ nearly 1,000 people and together constitute the largest private taxpayer in Marin County. George Lucas is the sole owner.

Lucas Digital includes Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound. ILM has more Silicon Graphics supercomputers under one roof (close to 200, with new units being plugged in every day) than anybody this side of the Pentagon, according to chief Jim Morris. But the division’s bit-stream crested at the high-water mark with “Casper.” The leading digital characters for the Amblin-produced pic required more than 40 minutes of computer animation shots, compared to the less than six minutes of digital dinos in “Jurassic Park.”

The friendly ghosts occupied so much of ILM’s man and machine power that the f/x house was forced to turn away other pics, including Universal’s “Apollo 13.”

That decision was especially painful, since the film’s director is Ron Howard, star of Lucas’ first hit, “American Graffiti,” and the director of Lucasfilm’s “Willow.”

Morris expects that the upcoming “Star Wars” will occupy as much as a third of ILM’s 450 staffers, about the same as “Casper.”

LucasArts Entertainment, the computer games division, has an advantage over all the other CD-ROM titles on the crowded shelves: the “Star Wars” name on its series of combat-simulator games.

But it took the company 10 years to launch a “Star Wars” title. Lucas says earlier efforts were of unacceptable quality.

Staffer stuff

The company is the only division of Lucasfilm where original content is pitched and developed by staffers. One new title is “Full Throttle,” involving a renegade biker battling an evil corporate executive – no doubt a favorite theme of Lucas’. The villain’s voice is dubbed by Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.”

Another new title is “The Dig,” based on an idea from Steven Spielberg as carried out by top game designer Sean Clark.

LucasArts has seen a number of top-level defections over the years, including the recent flight of company president Randy Komisar to rival games company Crystal Dynamics. Jack Sorenson was upped from the ranks to take his place.

But while there are rumors that Lucasfilm may sell all or part of LucasArts, Lucasfilm prexy Gordon Radley denies it for the moment. “There is no need to sell off assets. We are committed to interactivity,” he says.

Although Lucasfilm was among the first film companies to venture into the digital interactive realm, the rest of the movie business is catching up. That has brought some pressures to bear on Lucas’ empire, particularly in the area of talent.

Responding to rampant talent-poaching from all corners of the industry, Lucas says that Lucasfilm has an informal agreement with DreamWorks that neither will poach employees from the other. Such a pact is highly unusual in the competitive and specialized special effects business. But the friendship between Lucas and Spielberg was the motivating factor.

“We’ve had discussions about them not raiding us,” says Lucas. “I want DreamWorks to succeed. They want me to succeed. And we’re going to help each other succeed.”

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