May 12, 2005

Tech Firms Owe Debt to ‘Star Wars’ Creator

Source: Yahoo News
Written By Greg Sandoval
AP Technology Writer

SAN FRANCISCO – After filming the first “Star Wars” movie with special effects far from special, George Lucas spent millions to develop a complete digital editing system to populate his sequels with armies of X-wing fighters and Gungan warriors. Then, he virtually gave it away. “We were 10 years ahead of the commercial reality,” said Bob Doris, co-general manager of Lucas’ computer division during the mid-1980s. “He inspired some very worthwhile ventures … but the innovations weren’t close to paying for themselves.”

So Lucas sold many of his technologies for cheap — technologies that would later appear in home stereos, cell phones, medical imaging devices and virtually every Hollywood studio, driving billion-dollar companies and employing thousands of people.

Apple Computer Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs paid $10 million for the team that became Pixar Inc., and the movie company went on to make $3 billion at the box office.

And so it goes with Lucas, who was famous for saying “I’m not a venture capitalist.”

Lucas recognized the absurdity of his situation as he made the first “Star Wars” movie. There he was trying to tell a futuristic story about intergalactic revolution, space travel and androids, and Hollywood was stuck using 50-year-old film-making techniques.

To create space ships or alien creatures, his artists built small models and hoped for audiences with vivid imaginations. The first “Death Star” was made out of plastic.

Lucas aspired for something much more grand, and after the first movie was released in 1977, he gathered a small group of computer artists and told them to spare no expense in creating a system that would include software capable of rendering images in three dimensions.

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Editor’s Note: John Knoll, Thomas’ brother was working for Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) in Marin County, California at the time that they developed the original Photoshop. (see the Thomas and John Knoll PSN feature story). John originally wanted Thomas to help him create a file format utility to move proprietary computer image files from one system to another system at ILM.

Obviously, adding tone and color correction capabilities help make the files look better since each system had their own file characteristics. But according to Scott Ross founder of Digital Domain and former ILM’er, John Knoll had to get George Lucas to sign off on the deal with Adobe. Because of John’s contract, Lucas had first rights to anything John developed.

According to Ross, Lucas told John to go ahead with the deal figuring that John and Thomas’ little program wouldn’t amount to much.

That “little program” was called Photoshop.

So, this yet another example of some the technology that George Lucas and ILM get away.

John Knoll still works at ILM where he is the Visual Effects Supervisor for the upcoming “Star Wars” finale “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith



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