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Oscar Tour NoCal: Lucas' Big Rock Ranch

As we made our way from PDI/DreamWorks up to George Lucas' Big Rock Ranch, we took a short pause to take in the spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

On a bluff overlooking San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

By Lauren Brown

On our way up PDI/DreamWorks to George Lucas’ Big Rock Ranch we stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was another beautiful day in the Bay Area and we walked around a bit to stretch our legs. We were able to get some great photos overlooking the bay and the bridge. It was Marc Betrand and Patrick Doyon’s first time crossing this iconic American landmark. Bonnie Thompson said that she had been on it before, but it was quite a long time ago. Marc Bertrand said that he thought the bridge was very impressive and enjoyed the time we spent there.

We got back on the freeway and in a short time we hit Lucas Valley road. The winding road led us through the beautiful forest that surrounds Big Rock Ranch. As we drove, Ron Diamond told a story about a previous visit to the ranch when was driving a large van of 14 people in the pouring rain and he had to slow the van down to five mph just to see ahead of him. Today, the weather was perfect and I am surely glad that there were no clouds in the sky. It must have been pretty intense driving a large van on such a small road in bad weather conditions.

Patrick Doyon suns himself on the deck at Big Rock Ranch.

When we arrived at the ranch, we were an hour early and were able to get some coffee and relax on the patio. The sun was just setting on the lake and it was beautiful outside. Patrick Doyon sat sunning himself in a chair. When asked about his impressions he replied, “I could definitely get used to this place.”

The filmmakers really enjoyed the facilities at Big Rock. They were impressed by the film poster memorabilia, the quiet hallways and the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright-style building that houses Lucas Film and a non-profit organization, the George Lucas Education Foundation (GLEF).

Marc, Bonnie and Patrick on the deck at Big Rock Ranch.

Entering one of the main buildings at Red Rock Ranch.

The Jedi Master himself.

The theatre at the ranch was gorgeous.  We were only able to screen three films, Wild Life, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and Dimanche/Sunday, because we had a short amount of time we could use the theatre. It was still a wonderful turnout and we fielded a lot of questions at the end.

Doug Nichols, an Lucas Animation artist, asked William Joyce how he felt about himself,  taking into account all the things he has done and then creating a film like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. William responded by saying that throughout his career path, from books, to television, to being able to work in an animation studio and then starting Moonbot, he has always been making up stories. He laughed and said, “I don’t know how I feel; I just make up stories.”

The Canadian producers were asked, “How does NFB work?” Marc Bertrand started by saying that he thinks it works because it is a publicly funded, and is almost seventy-five years old.  They create animated and documentary films. It is place where you are able to use different tools and where the artist is the focus.  They are able to ask an artist, ‘Wow do we make your film?’ Bonnie Thompson added that the headquarters of NFB are in Montreal, but there are producers working with animators across the country. Wild Life, for instance, was based in Calgary at a home studio, Bonnie was in Edmonton, the second producer was in Montreal and they ended up doing the post-production in Montreal. It’s a unique way to do things and definitely seems seems to be working. With these two latest films, the NFB received its seventy-second and seventy-third nominations.

More of the grounds at Big Rock Ranch.

Leaving Big Rock Ranch, a group of us went to dinner at Pizzeria Picco. The restaurant is located in Larkspur, about a fifteen minute drive south of the ranch. It has two sides - one has a more intimate atmosphere and the other is a casual pizzeria. They are both well known for their delicious food. The food service was exceptional and they were very accommodating of our large party.

We ordered delicious pizza and sat in their outdoor patio under heat lamps, because it was pretty cold. My favorite pizza was the surly with hog island clams and no soppressata. It was so good I ate the whole thing by myself. It was light, but filling, and the crust was chewy and really, really good. Marc Bertrand enjoyed his capricciosa pizza, minus the ham, that looked very delicious.  Bonnie Thompson shared her cannondale with Patrick Doyon. The cannondale was packed with house made sausage, roasted peppers and onions. They said it was very good also and I will take their word for it. The food was amazing, and we had a great time enjoying each other’s company, talking animation, film and food.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.