Star Wars studio goes from apprentice to master in Singapore

As an 11-year-old boy, Steven Ong dreamt of being a fighter pilot in the Singapore Air Force and emulating the heroic exploits of Tom Cruise's character in the 1986 action flick "Top Gun."

Twenty-four years on, the bald, bespectacled Singaporean still isn't quite Pete "Maverick" Mitchell but he does soar imaginary skies with Robert Downey Jr. as the star dispatches super villains as the Marvel superhero Iron Man.

As lead digital artist of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) Singapore - part of "Star Wars" movie legend George Lucas' empire - Ong is responsible for inserting special effects into clients' movies like "Iron Man 2".

"This sequence, we actually did quite a lot of the shots," Ong proudly told AFP at his studio, gesturing to a battle scene featuring the hero and his sidekick War Machine fending off enemy droids.

Ong, who studied computer graphics at a Singapore polytechnic, had to move to the United States when he started his career 10 years ago because the special-effects work he craved was not being done by any company at home.

Today, Singapore serves as a production centre for multi million-dollar Hollywood franchises, next-generation video games and animated television series thanks to Lucas, the man behind "Star Wars" and other blockbusters.

Lucasfilm set up a facility in Singapore in 2005 with a staff of almost 40 to produce content for the animated TV series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars".

But like a Jedi warrior, it has grown from apprentice to master in its own right, doing work for non-Lucas productions on top of house titles.

The only Lucasfilm entity outside the US, it now boasts 430 employees, two-thirds of them from Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries, and will move from rented premises to a high-tech building of its own by 2012.

"The initial intention was to develop here only animation, that's why the studio was originally named Lucasfilm Animation Singapore," said general manager Xavier Nicolas.

"But as we went along, things went pretty well and we decided also to start activities around visual effects to support ILM and later even games, so we opened additional production divisions here."

Staff work for four entities: special effects division ILM Singapore, video games developer Lucasarts Singapore, and individual sections for feature films and television animation under Lucasfilm Animation Singapore.

They are currently housed in a studio near Changi Airport which is chock-full of Star Wars memorabilia, including life-size figures of Anakin Skywalker and Yoda at its entrance.

The studio announced last month it will be breaking ground on an eight-storey purpose-built facility occupying 38,000 square metres (409,000 square feet) next year.

The building will house a data centre, a 100-seat theatre and retail outlets, all testaments to Lucasfilm Singapore's success, Nicolas said.

The studio is also looking to hire more than 100 additional employees next year as part of its expansion plans.

Josh Robinson, lead asset artist for the Clone Wars animated series, said the multi-disciplinary nature of its Singapore-based artists, animators and engineers proved to be an advantage over the more specialised talents of US-based teams.

"Here we're able to have a team of artists that do all texturing, all modelling, and all blend shapes for all characters," he said.

Lucas himself is so confident in the Singapore team that he is planning to produce his next feature film entirely in the studio.

Details are top-secret except for the fact that it will be a totally new property instead of being another "Star Wars" derivative.

"What we're trying to do doesn't look like everything that has been done before," general manager Nicolas said.

Aside from Lucas' personal project, the firm is also working with "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski on "Rango", a fully-animated film about a chameleon forced to live his dreams of being a swashbuckling hero in a bandit-infested cowboy town.

The film will be released in 2011, with "Pirates" lead Johnny Depp voicing the main character.

Ong, the Singaporean digital artist, said he was currently working on "Pirates 4" after wrapping up work on "Rango", while his colleagues were busy with the third installment of the "Transformers" franchise.

Both films are also due for worldwide release next year.

Ong has no regrets about missing out on a fighter career because of his imperfect eyesight.

"I might not even get to blow things up being a pilot," Ong said. "But I get to with my job now!"

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on