You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Disney likely to treat Lucasfilm like Pixar

Lucasfilm will face task of ramping up production

As far as many visual effects mavens were concerned, the Disney-Lucasfilm merger sent a great disturbance through the Force.

While Disney is the ideal company to exploit “Star Wars” through theme parks, the acquisition included Industrial Light & Magic, the greatest name in visual effects.

Vfx pros remember Disney’s acquisition and dismantling of another vfx studio, Dream Quest Images, and still resent it.

At the 2006 Visual Effects Society Awards, just weeks after the Disney-Pixar merger, John Lasseter recounted his early days at Disney (He was fired for daring to experiment with CG animation), and some in the audience booed the very mention of the company. Those wounds may not be fresh, but they are deep.

I think their concern is misplaced. It’s the larger Lucasfilm, not ILM, that I’m going to be keeping an eye on. I expect Lucasfilm will be treated a lot like Pixar, and that’s not entirely a good thing.

Pixar is one of two relevant precedents for such an acquisition under the Bob Iger regime, the other being Marvel.

Pixar and its leadership were paid billions to come in and resuscitate Disney’s animation operation, and if the excellent “Wreck-It Ralph” is any indication, that effort seems to be succeeding. But in exchange for Disney’s billions, Pixar had to commit to making sequels, which it had refused to do before the merger. They’ve had to ramp up production from a movie every one to two years to a movie about every nine months.

The problem is that Pixar’s approach to filmmaking, which made it the most reliable hitmaker in the business and the most trusted brand in entertainment, can’t be scaled up that much, so it had to change. Originally, every staffer worked on every Pixar feature, sometimes doing multiple tasks on each picture. Now they have multiple production teams and more specialists.

Moreover, their “brain trust” approach, in which every Pixar director participates in reviews of every other director’s footage, works well when there are two or three movies in production but is much harder to implement when there are eight or nine movies in the pipeline.

Pixar’s tech side, its animation and CG, is magnificent and always improving. But their once-unerring story sense seems to be wavering. “Cars 2” and “Brave” looked gorgeous but weren’t great stories. They seem to be slipping.

What about Marvel Studios? It has long had a road map for up to three pics a year, so Disney didn’t need to ramp it up. Marvel doesn’t have a vfx company, but Marvel’s Victoria Alonso oversees vfx on Marvel pics, taking over some of a vfx studio’s traditional management functions.

Disney lets Marvel do what it does, and since Marvel already does it inexpensively, it’s a good fit. Under Alonso, Marvel opted not to bring back ILM for vfx on “Iron Man 3.” (It had done the first two “Iron Man” pics.) Vfx work on that pic has been split between several vfx studios, including Digital Domain and a Chinese company. Alonso says Disney wasn’t involved in that decision, and given Marvel’s penchant for keeping costs down, I don’t see any reason to doubt her.

Like Pixar, Lucasfilm has a built-in tech operation that’s the envy of the industry, plus a layer of creative and business leadership to protect it from Disney micromanagement. Like Marvel, Lucasfilm has its own pre-existing intellectual property. But Lucasfilm doesn’t have a proven history of being able to make several movies a year. It will have to go from making a movie every now and then, when the spirit moved George Lucas, to delivering movies on a consistent schedule. In that respect, too, it’s more like Pixar.

So I’m not worried about ILM under Disney. Given the pressures on the vfx industry in California, Disney is the least of ILM’s problems. I think Kathy Kennedy’s bigger challenge is revitalizing Lucasfilm to meet the new production schedule. She’s taking a roadster that’s been up on blocks for a while and restoring it for a punishing cross-country rally. ILM’s the one part of the car that’s road-tested and proven. It’s the rest of the vehicle that needs adjustment.

Kennedy must make the rest of Lucasfilm’s development and production operation match ILM’s quality, speed and flexibility. I expect Disney will leave her alone to do what she does, like Marvel. And I expect that internally, ILM will show the rest of Lucasfilm the way.

But, as Pixar has found, accelerating production to meet Disney’s hungry merchandising and theme park pipelines can bring tradeoffs. Let’s hope Lucasfilm is ready for the race.

Bits & Bytes

Paramount’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” will be released in the Dolby Atmos audio format. Dolby has announced pre-sale availability for the Dolby Atmos Cinema Processor for theaters. … The Blu-ray release of Lionsgate’s “The Expendables 2” is the first to feature DTS Neo:X sound, which delivers 11.1 surround sound to the home. High-end home theater receivers released this year support Neo:X 11.1. … Mixer Paul Hurtubise has joined Fotokem’s Margarita Mix audio post company.

Cinedeck has appointed Suzette Ferguson VP of Sales for North America. … Createasphere’s biannual Post Production Master Class will be held today, Nov. 8, at the Entertainment Technology Expo at the Burbank Marriott. Oscar-winner Hughes Winborne is among the speakers. … OnePlusHub will hold an “Animation in New York City” event on Nov. 15 at Professor Thom’s on 2nd Ave in Manhattan. Guests include Lisa Goldman of Women in Animation; Linda Beck of ASIFA-East; and Sarah Wallendjack of Children’s Media Association.

The Emily Carr University of Art + Design has produced a variable-high-frame-rate live-action short, “Soulmates.” Pic includes scenes at 24, 48 and 60 fps to show the creative potential of changing frame rates within a single movie.

Look Effects did over 125 vfx shots for “Alex Cross.” … Method Studios did 398 vfx shots for “Cloud Atlas.” … Level 256 did over 70 vfx shots for Paramount’s “Fun Size.”

Technicolor has pacted a strategic alliance allowing Mexican logisitics provider Contiendo Alternativo to offer integrated d-cinema distribution services in Latin America, including drive replication and support.

RealD has pacted with Womei Theaters of China to put RealD 3D on 100 Womei screens. RealD is also the official 3D technology provider for the world premiere and the 65th Royal Film Performance screening of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Preem will be held Nov. 28 at the Embassy Theater in Wellington, New Zealand. The Royal Film Performance will be Dec. 12 at the Odeon Leicester Square in London.

3D computer graphics rendering solutions maker Lightworks has formed a partnership with online software store Novedge. … Autodesk has released its Flame 20th Anniversary Edition. … Autodesk has also released game “Starforce Battlement,” which was created by the company’s Gameware team to show off its Scaleform Moble software development kit. …

Thinkbox Software has launched Cinelab, a video editing app for Windows 8 devices, including the new Surface tablet. … Facility management software company Xytech has expanded East Coast services as part of an overall expansion. Jim Hegarty, principal consultant, has taken on primary responsibility for client implementations and service deliveries for the Eastern region. Todd Avenarius is now director of sales. He is based in Los Angeles.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

  • Running Against the Wind

    Young Africans' Dreams Are Focus of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda Oscar Picks

    Films about young Africans trying to fulfill their dreams in the face of war, poverty, tradition and other forms of adversity have been submitted for Oscar consideration by three East African nations. The selections by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda to compete in the international feature film category reflect the relative youth of filmmaking in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content