Lucasfilm Animation Launched

Star Wars creator George Lucas has cut the ribbon on Lucasfilm Animation, a new division of his empire that will focus on the creation of computer animated feature films. The development is reportedly the result of Lucas’ frustration over major studio collaborations that have fallen through over the past six years.

While Lucas, a leading innovator and proponent of digital cinema, incorporates more and more computer animation into each installment in the blockbuster Star Wars franchise, an entirely animated theatrical film will be a first for the visionary director, producer and entrepreneur.

Lucas and animation house Nelvana tackled animation on the small screen with the Star Wars spinoff series Ewoks (1985-1987) and Droids (1985), which aired on ABC. Both projects were met with mediocre success that failed to justify the high cost of production. Recently, Cartoon Network partnered with Lucasfilm Ltd. to create Star Wars: Clone Wars, an interstitial series of 20 animated shorts that will begin airing this fall and continue into 2004. The series is being produced at Cartoon Network Studios by a team led by Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory.

While the upstart doesn’t have a first project in the pipeline yet, it is actively seeking directors. And though The Los Angeles Times reported that it is staffing up from the ranks at visual effects division ILM, Lucas’ spokesperson Lyn Hale told Animation Magazine Online that the detail was misunderstood, saying “Lucasfilm Animation will be a separate company and will hire its own talent. ILM has enough work on its plate.”

As it enters the lucrative animated feature arena, Point Richmond, Calif.-based Lucasfilm Animation will be going up against Disney/Pixar, DreamWorks, 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios and fellow newcomer Sony Pictures Animation. The growing competition is a direct result of phenomenal success of CG family fare such as Toy Story, Shrek and Monsters, Inc.

Diseny/Pixar’s upcoming Finding Nemo should prove to be a big fish in a little pond when it opens on May 30. But as the food chain expands, the big question will be whether or not there is enough room at the box office for the slate of animated projects in the works.