Bay Area TV Show Tours Lucasfilm at Presidio

Pete Vilmur | September 23, 2007

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The local TV show “Bay Area Backroads” recently took a tour of the Lucasfilm digs at the Presidio, and even got a peek at our very own starwars.com servers!

From the far reaches of space…to the depths of the sea…Lucasfilm has been creating captivating new worlds for decades. The new world they’ve created at the Presidio is the Letterman Digital Arts Center, named after the army hospital that formerly occupied the site. The center now houses Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic, and LucasArts under the same roof for the first time. The offices are not open to the public, but we are lucky enough to have Lucasfilm’s Miles Perkins give us a special, behind-the-scenes peak at the new empire that is filled with many familiar faces.

Miles is a senior publicist for Lucasfilm, and he takes us on a tour of the facilities. Stops include the Skybridge (a walkway lined with models from films) and the Data Center, where the incredible computing power reverberates through your body. As the brain of the Lucas complex, the center connects everyone on and off site, including those working in the Singapore office. Miles tells us what they do in one night at ILM would take your own home computer six years to do.

Film tradition and history line the hallways at Lucasfilm. Their centerpiece is the optical printer – a machine that was once elemental in creating their special effects. Miles tells us it reminds the employees of Star Wars and their beginnings. Their special effects are now produced digitally, and the scope of their projects demands computing power that exceeds that of any production house in the world.

We meet John Knoll in his office where he works his magic at his desktop as a Visual Effects Supervisor. He most recently won an Academy Award for visual effects for Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest. His other impressive claim to fame is that he co-authored the breakthrough digital photography software Photoshop with his brother while he was working at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). He says that they don’t decide where they are taking the industry. Instead, they have to look at new scripts and figure out how to make something happen for that story, such as a character made out of fire. He says, “I’ll get a script on my desk and I start reading through it and I go, oh my god, how are we going to do that?

In the very near future, they’re aiming for directors to be able to see on location, what animated characters based on actors in motion capture suits, will look like in real time. For now, it can be done on a motion capture stage. At the motion capture stage, we meet with Michael Sanders, the Digital Supervisor, who suits Doug up in a motion capture suit with reflective markers to help the 40 infrared cameras detect his every movement. Doug transforms into a green alien creature based on a computer generated skeleton, and he roams through a virtual Chinatown.

Although the offices at the Letterman Digital Arts Center are not open to the public, visitors can stroll through the park, dine at the restaurant or cafe, or stop by and see Yoda, one of Lucas’ most beloved characters. Continuing to create virtual worlds and movie magic, Lucasfilm finds that their new place in the Presidio is a fitting home.

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