S'pore Sandcrawler unleashed

Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong and filmmaker George Lucas are greeted by Darth Vader and Storm Troopers during the opening of the Sandcrawler Building on Jan 16.

SINGAPORE - Interactive and digital media is currently one of the most exciting and fastest-growing industries.

And Singapore's investment in developing this industry here has borne fruit, with the value-add of the industry having grown by more than 1.5 times since 2008 to exceed $2 billion, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking at the official opening of Lucasfilm's new office in Fusionopolis, he said that this was possible because of Singapore's promotion of local production companies and talent, along with attracting leading industry players to set up shop here.

This industry holds tremendous opportunities for Singapore, PM Lee said.

"We are located here in the heart of Asia, where the growing middle classes will demand more and more of such services. We are at the crossroads of East and West, whose diverse cultures are critical to this creative pursuit," he said.

Singapore will continue to invest in infrastructure and develop talent here in the industry, while attracting talent from all over the world as well, he said.

Ultimately, whether the interactive and digital media sector continues to flourish will depend a lot on the overall culture and environment of society.

'Magic'

PM Lee said: "The magic lies not in the equipment or processes, but in the creative spark that resides in human minds.

"And these can only light up in an environment which inspires people, promotes creativity and helps people to realise their dreams and to dream big. And that is what we are trying to create here."

PM Lee praised the award-winning building that will be the regional headquarters for Lucasfilm, The Walt Disney Company (Southeast Asia) and ESPN Asia Pacific.

Dubbed The Sandcrawler and modelled after the transport of the scavenger race of Jawas from Star Wars, the eight-storey building boasts a 100-seat theatre, modern production facilities and energy-conservation features.

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy had high praise for the company's 130 Singaporean employees.

She said: "By investing in local talent, we've been able to significantly grow our Singapore studio into a world-class digital production facility."

Q & A with George Lucas

Star Wars creator George Lucas was in town yesterday for the official opening of the Sandcrawler building, the regional headquarters for Lucasfilm Singapore.

In a speech, he spoke about the struggles of getting his colleagues to believe in his production studio in Singapore and how far it has come since it started here in 2005.

1. ON MOVING OPERATIONS OUTSIDE THE US

When I started this and I told those at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic, the visual effects division of Lucasfilm) that I was going to start an animation company and that we may do some of our visual effects overseas, I was met with a great deal of scepticism.

Especially when I said we were going to Asia because they said: 'Well, it's good for economic reasons, but the quality's not in the same area that we're used to'. Everybody thought I was a little crazy to try to do this.

2. ON WHY HE CHOSE S'PORE

We looked at all the countries involved - India, Taiwan, Japan - and felt that Singapore, besides having an enormous amount of creativity and talent, is also a very good place to live in.

So... if we were going to attract people from all over the world, they were going to come to some place where they'd enjoy living. And that was a big factor...

Most of the people who have arrived here from anywhere in the world have been very happy to call this home... and that is really one of the major factors in the success of (the studio).

3. ON THE STRUGGLES OF BUILDING CONFIDENCE IN THE S'PORE STUDIO

When we started out, (we were) kind of begging, pleading, bludgeoning ILM to say: "Give a little bit of work to Singapore". (They replied): "Well, we don't know. We have to fit it into the movies, it's got to be of the same quality that we have..."

So we got little tidbits and things, then eventually over the years, they got more, and more, and more. And now, ILM, which is one of the strictest "professors" in the college of visual effects, has annointed Singapore as equal to what's going on in California.

And you can't tell the difference. The people here are more than qualified, more than talented, and that's an achievement that's more important than an Academy Award as far as I'm concerned.

4. ON HOW FAR THE S'PORE STUDIO HAS COME

When we sold the company (Lucasfilm) to Disney, our stepchild... Pixar, and the head of Pixar, John Lasseter, was like everybody else, (saying): "Well, we can't do that overseas. Only in America you can get this kind of quality".

And so Kathy (Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy) brought John over here and showed him some of what we're doing, and this feature we're working on. And (we) convinced him that this is quality that is, if not equal to what they're doing, in our minds superior to what they're doing.

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