Lucasfilm's Singapore studio expanding as industry takes off

By ANIMATION XPRES... | 17 September, 2009 - 16:25

    The Force is growing in Singapore. Lucasfilm Animation Singapore, the only studio set up by Lucasfilm outside of North America, is still actively hiring. It has plans to add 30 more to its animation, games and visual effects teams by the end of 2009. Each of these divisions works closely with their US counterparts Lucasflm Animation, LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic in the United States - the holy grail of many an aspiring digital artist. So far, the Singapore studio has produced visual effects for Hollywood blockbusters like Iron Man, Transformers and Star Trek.

    Who would have thought that tiny, corporate Singapore, better known for its trade, finance and, more recently, research and technology sectors would be conducive for Hollywood effects magic?
    Back in 2004-when Lucasfilm first announced plans for a Singapore studio-the city's Interactive and Digital Media (IDM) industry was small and its capabilities untested. But as Yoda would have said, "size matters not."

    "Lucasfilm chose Singapore because of its advanced infrastructure and location for attracting talent," said Jacqueline Tan, Deputy General Manager for the studio. "It's important to be in a location that functions reliably, is geographically central, safe and attractive enough for people to relocate to and live in."

    Almost four years to the day Lucasfilm opened a 60,000 square feet Singapore facility in the east of the island, the studio has quietly and steadily built its capabilities, expanding from an initial headcount of 35 to a multinational force of 300 artists and support staff.

    Production on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, now a hit animation series, started in March 2006, followed by ILM Singapore in November doing visual effects creation for feature films. By October 2007, the studio had lined up a game development division, LucasArts Singapore.

    "Another reason for choosing Singapore is that Lucasfilm develops original IP (intellectual property) and therefore it was of great importance to the company to be in a location where that IP is secure," Ms. Tan said. "Singapore is a great location where Lucasfilm Animation Singapore can operate safely in that regard."

    The presence of Lucasfilm has brought Hollywood clout to Singapore's fledging IDM industry. The industry, loosely defined to include interactive applications beyond games and animation and related services, is attracting high-profile investments.

    Top companies such as Electronic Arts from the United States, Ubisoft and Rainbow from Europe, Southern Star from Australia, and Koei from Japan have set up shop here. Rainbow, an independent production house from Italy, is setting up the global headquarters for its video gaming business in Singapore, employing some 300 animators, artists, merchandising experts and other staff to create a new massively multiplayer online game. Electronic Arts (EA), a leading developer and publisher of interactive entertainment, chose Singapore as its Asia Pacific headquarters and is home to a growing and vibrant EA Development Studio with two studio locations around the island.

    The industry is projected to generate 10,000 new jobs and over S$10 billion worth of value added by 2015. That means many more animators, designers, programmers, artists, producers, managers, and IT engineers are needed.

    The challenge for the big players is not the lack of artistic talent, but finding talent with experience. Recognising this, Lucasfilm took the unusual step of developing a training program to bridge the gap between what traditional media schools teach and the needs of its production pipeline. Hence the Jedi Masters Program (JuMP), a six-month paid apprenticeship that serves as the main training pipeline for the studio in Singapore. Singapore is the only studio in its network that offers JuMP. For more information on the apprenticeships offered, please visit

    This works well for Singapore's goal to become the leading IDM education centre in Asia; a key part of its strategy to differentiate from regional competitors that may have a larger pool of raw talent. Singapore is also focusing on R&D and cutting edge IDM technology to distance itself from the image of animation and game development sweatshops in Asia.

    Lucasfilm is already putting that innovation focus to practice.
    "The studio is also smaller than Lucasfilm in California, which makes it easier to cross-pollinate and experiment with innovation and efficiencies," Ms Tan said. "We often learn new ways to collaborate in Singapore that can be applied to the work we do in the U.S."

    Yoda was right after all. May the Force be with you.

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