On the heels of last months opening of Lucasfilm Animation Singapore, Barbara Robertson discusses the operation and production plans with gm Christian Kubsch.
On Oct. 27, Lucasfilm officially opened the doors to Lucasfilm Animation Singapore. Created through a consortium that includes Lucasfilm, EDB Investments and Creative Technology Ltd., the 40,000 square-foot digital animation studio plans to create content for television and film projects. The first project will be a TV series titled Clone Wars based on the time between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith that is scheduled for 2007.
VFXWorld spoke with Christian Kubsch, gm, who left DreamWorks Animation, where he was an associate producer on Over the Hedge, to help found the studio. Prior to that, Kubsch was a visual effects consultant on The Matrix Revolutions and The Matrix Reloaded and, while at ILM, was visual effects producer for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where he also produced Tom Bertinos animated short, Work in Progress.
Barbara Robertson: How many people are working at the studio now?
Christian Kubsch: We have 35 people from 19 different countries. Most are entry-level character animators, although a few are more experienced. In Asia, there is more of a generalist approach, so were trying to figure out what the people do best through a course of training both technical and artistic. Were starting a td training class now, so I can tell you more about the breakdown in three months.
BR: Why are you hiring entry-level people?
CK: Some of the people are straight out of school; others have five years of experience. We were happy to find so many excited people with any experience at all. Singapore is very young in doing this.
BR: Why establish the studio in Singapore?
CK: They are really trying to kick-start an animation business and putting a lot of money into universities. It seems that every school is enhancing or establishing a wing for animation. Some are building entire campuses for film production including animation. We hope to be able to benefit from the talent coming out of these schools. Its not the case yet, but weve been talking to seven or eight schools out of probably a dozen with programs. The kids are extremely excited; its been exciting for us.
BR: Whos doing the training?
CK: Were bringing in folks from all over the place, from other parts of Asia, California and Europe. Oliver Acker who was in Disneys Paris studio is heading up the training department. Also, Rob Coleman [and] other folks in California are helping us shape this group with their experience and background, allowing us to not only evaluate talent but train them with the assets were going to use for the TV show. Rob came over for the opening, and to teach masters classes. [Phillip Stamp, whos worked on INUK Season II, Alien Planet and The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, has been hired as director of animation.]
BR: Are you continuing to recruit?
CK: Weve been doing a massive recruiting drive all over the place, and it will continue as we go forward. Once we get going on the TV show, we want to have a little more than 50 people, and when we get into the feature, well want quite a bit more than 100, I think. Well probably bring in higher-level folks once we finish with training. Well see how far we get in the training program and complement the staff with additional talent with more experience.
BR: How are you recruiting?
CK: The major recruiting is, of course, in Singapore, but were also looking all over the world. Weve set up interviews in a variety of cities, and weve had a lot of people from other countries fly to Singapore for interviews. We fly in those with more experience.
BR: What language do you speak in the studio?
CK: The business language in Singapore is English, so thats what we speak. Even with folks from all over the world, everyone speaks English.
BR: Tell me how youre working with the teams in California.
CK: On the television show, the writers, directors and story team and the art department are at [George Lucas] Ranch. This group is all under Gail Currey (vp and general manager of Lucasfilm Animation). The Singapore group will pick up the execution the animation, lighting, rendering and what have you. This relationship could migrate into different shapes and dividing lines as we go along, but this is how were starting. I cant tell you much about the plan for the animated feature. Its in development, but we wont assemble a team and kick off the front-end development until next year.
BR: What about games?
CK: Games arent in the plan right now, but were certainly considering them.
BR: You mentioned that you were training people using assets for the television show. Where did they get the assets?
CK: The look is being done in California and some of the architecture. The people in Singapore will build the models. Its a stylized universe. Were using the live-action assets as reference, but the animated show has a very different look.
BR: What software tools will you be using?
CK: Well start small with off-the-shelf tools and complement with others as needed. Were confirming Maya and evaluating others. We dont have any other firm choices yet.
BR: Are you using Zeno? [The pipeline used by LucasArts and Industrial Light & Magic at Lucas Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Franciscos Presidio.]
CK: Its possible, but its not confirmed. It will depend on project needs. We dont require all the tools ILM requires.
BR: What about the infrastructure?
CK: Its very much like the Presidio; its under [cto] Cliff Plumers guidance working with IT in Singapore. Its all tied in we, hopefully, have one big pipe between the Bay Area and Singapore and can pipe all the stuff back and forth. We have our own render farm, but the render farms are connected, so we could render in California. Its the same configuration almost a mirror infrastructure of the Presidio.
BR: Do you plan to use the new previsualization and layout tools being developed under Plumers guidance?
CK: Making the previs/layout tool is high on the agenda and we hope to be using it soon. The front end can be so time consuming, especially for action-heavy animated projects there are an enormous number of storyboards. And then, when you translate the storyboards to 3D, often stuff doesnt work so you have to redo. So, if you could start in 3D space and get the same quality out of the animatics that you do with storyboards, youre ahead of the game. Its an exciting prospect.
BR: How long have you been in Singapore?
CK: I started coming here a week at a time in the spring and have been here full time since August. Im living here now to get the studio up and running and our staff trained and working and ready for the TV show.
BR: And then?
CK: We shall see. Its a tremendous opportunity. Thats why Im here.
Barbara Robertson is an award-winning journalist who has covered visual effects and computer animation for 15 years. She also co-founded the dog photography website dogpixandflix.com. Her most recent travel essay appears in the new Travelers Tales anthology The Thong Also Rises.