THE gleaming Sandcrawler building in One North is a symbol of an achievement which seemed "vaguely foolhardy" 10 years ago, Star Wars creator and Lucasfilm founder George Lucas said on Thursday at the opening of the firm's new regional headquarters.
Recalling the great scepticism he met when he first thought of expanding out of the United States into Asia, he said: "Everybody thought I was a little crazy to try to do that." The worry was that the quality of work produced overseas would not match up to what was being done in the California headquarters.
But the Sandcrawler - named after the towering transport structures in the Star Wars universe - "is a symbol of the people of Singapore and computer animation combining with Lucasfilm to create something that is world quality", he said. "I'm very proud of what we've accomplished. We couldn't have found a better partner anywhere in the world."
Singapore had encouraged Lucasfilm in starting up its industry here, providing training and attracting talent from all over the world, he said. On top of that, Singapore "is a wonderful place to be".
Along the way, the Singapore arm managed to win over some of the toughest critics in the digital industry. Mr Lucas said he started out by "begging, pleading, bludgeoning" Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the visual effects division of Lucasfilm, to give some work to Singapore. ILM - "one of the strictest professors in the college of visual effects" - later pronounced the work done here as equal to what was done in California.
"That's more important than the Academy Awards, as far as I'm concerned," said Mr Lucas. Lucasfilm Singapore then went into animation, producing Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series and working on a big part of Rango, the Academy Award winner for best animated feature in 2012.
After he sold his company to Walt Disney in 2012, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy again had to convince Pixar head John Lasseter of the quality of work in Singapore. Animation giant Pixar is also owned by Disney. Mr Lucas said Mr Lasseter was persuaded that the quality was equal, if not superior, to the US.
He noted the significance that ILM and Pixar, "two guardians of quality in this industry", have given their stamp of approval to the Singapore operations.
The Sandcrawler, which features a 100-seat theatre and state-of-the-art production capabilities, is a further milestone showing that Lucasfilm Singapore is here to stay, said Mr Lucas. Some 130 of the over 360 employees are Singaporean and upcoming projects include a new animated feature, Transformers 4 and biblical epic Noah.
"We're not running or spacing," said Mr Lucas.