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Letterman Digital Arts Center Unveiled in San Francisco

The Letterman Digital Arts Center (LDAC), the new home of Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic and LucasArts, located in the beautiful 23-acre campus in San Franciscos Presidio, had its grand opening on June 25.

This facility is a way of marking [the reality of the Bay Area as the only digital community in the world], Lucas said in the dining commons overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts and the Trans America tower. It is a monument to forward-thinking and creative [people in San Francisco]In terms of digital technology, we have changed the face of entertainment. This is the start of a very prosperous century or more

The LDAC seamlessly integrates the vfx and gaming technologies along with Lucas Licensing and Lucas Online in the same complex for the first time in the companys 30-year history. However, the filmmaker will continue to operate out of his Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, home to Skywalker Sound, post-production, the small CG animation unit and a research library. Lucas has been trying to consolidate his company for 15 years, and several years ago was awarded the opportunity of building in the historic Presidio, the former army base at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. All the divisions will be relocated there by the end of September.

The Presidio Trust selected the 23-acre site of the vacated Letterman Army Medical Center to be redeveloped and leased, including the creation of a new public garden. Lucasfilm Ltd. won the design competition in 1997, and must achieve economic self-sufficiency by 2013. Lucas intends to bring 1,200 to 2,500 jobs to San Francisco.

The LDAC houses a virtual studio in which graphic artists, game developers and movie directors can collaborate on vfx and digital creations in realtime. The computer network is more powerful and condensed and attached to the Ranch, Lucas added. Artists can work simultaneously on one shot

The LDAC includes four buildings (one of which will be leased to other digital companies) with 865,000 square feet of office space, along with 17 acres of public park space designed by renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.

Incorporating the same palette of red brick, white stucco and terra cotta roofs seen throughout the Presidio, the design of the LDAC blends in harmoniously with its neighboring buildings. Its pretty, Lucas stressed. Im of the John Muir School

The A building, home to ILM and LucasArts, contains a bust in the foyer of stop motion pioneer Wills OBrien (KING KONG). All three Lucas buildings are additionally adorned with international movie posters from the filmmakers personal collection, including THE BLOB, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, TOUCH OF EVIL, OLIVER TWIST, THE SEARCHERS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and SPEEDWAY.

The LDAC is home to the largest computer network in the entertainment industry, encouraging interactive collaboration on the creation of synthetic scenes and characters. Taking advantage of a new computing infrastructure, there is a massive data center housing a render farm, file servers and storage systems, allowing computers to work 24/7.

Senior visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren has stated that this will help free artists and bring back a human face to vfx.

The campus includes:

* A data network with more than 300 10-gigabyte ports and 1,500 1-gigabyte ports.* Fiber-optics cable pulled to every artist desktop, enabling Lucasfilm to deliver high-res images to each digital artist.* 600 miles of cable throughout the four buildings on the campus.* Raised floors throughout the buildings, opening the layout of the studio and enabling the workspace to be reconfigured with each new project.* Data storage (at opening) of more than 100 terabytes.* A 13,500-square-foot data center housing a render farm, file servers and storage systems, including more than 3,000 AMD processors and proprietary render-management tools, allowing desktop workstations to be added to the render farm pool after hours, expanding the processing capability to more than 5,000 processors.

Industrial Light & Magic ( is a Lucasfilm Ltd. company, serving the digital needs of the entertainment industry for visual effects. ILM has been awarded 14 Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and received 17 Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards. Lucasfilm Ltd. is one of the world's leading film and entertainment companies. Founded by George Lucas in 1971, it is a privately held, fully integrated entertainment company.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.