(SINGAPORE) The Force will grow stronger here next year when Lucasfilm Singapore starts putting up an eight-floor building at Fusionopolis that it will move into in 2012.
The facility's 22,500 sq m of floor area will give Lucasfilm Singapore room to expand while providing the team here with state-of-the-art equipment, according to Micheline Chau, president and chief operating officer of US-headquartered Lucasfilm Ltd.
'We're outgrowing our current facility, which is a good thing,' Ms Chau said last Thursday, referring to Lucasfilm Singapore's present premises at Changi Business Park. 'We're growing in the US but a big part of our growth is here in Singapore,' she said. 'We realised we had to either rent another place or build our own. If we're going to invest money in state-of-the-art infrastructure, we might as well own it.'
Lucasfilm Singapore celebrates its fifth year in Singapore this year, but each of its three divisions - Industrial Light & Magic, LucasArts and Lucasfilm Animation - were started at different times. Lucasfilm Animation itself is divided into feature animation and TV animation, with the former only starting operations last year.
International projects like The Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series, the Iron Man 2 movie and games such as Monkey Island 2 for iPad were handled by the team here.
Ms Chau declined to disclose how much the new facility will cost but said the cutting edge facilities will be planned three to five years into the future. The 38,000 sq m building will include a data centre, a 100-seat theatre, retail shopping on the first floor and two underground levels for parking and services in addition to the eight above-ground levels.
'We don't know how big we're going to grow so we always build facilities that are too big for us,' said Ms Chau. 'In the US, we always fill it, and that's what we hope will happen here, but initially we're going to have to bring tenants in while reserving the right to grow as we need to. That gives us flexibility.'
Lucasfilm is undeterred by the higher labour and property costs here than in neighbouring countries because one of the keys to talent attraction and retention is providing staff an environment in which they want to work and live, Ms Chau said.
'The things that were advantages for Singapore when we first started here are still advantages today,' she said. 'What you want is a place that has good intellectual property protection, great infrastructure and - in Lucasfilm's case - is English-speaking.'
The living environment for staff also has to be attractive for them to want to stay with the company, especially in the case of talent that moves to Singapore to work at Lucasfilm.
'We're in the talent business, and Singapore is a safe and great place to live,' said Ms Chau. 'This won't be a low-cost facility, but it's the right place.'
Roughly half of Lucasfilm Singapore's 400-plus staff are Singaporeans, which Ms Chau says is a much higher proportion than the company expected when it first set up shop here and the local talent pool was smaller.
Lucasfilm Singapore's local talent base was partly built up through extensive in-house training and collaboration with the Economic Development Board to help local schools improve the way they taught animation.
Another avenue was its Homeward Bound programme, which encouraged experienced Singaporean animators working overseas to return here.
In return for its efforts, Ms Chau said Lucasfilm gained employees who were happy to have a reason to return to Singapore and therefore more likely to stay with the company, in contrast to expatriates for whom relocation can be an imposition.
The other half of the company's workforce is cosmopolitan and spans 32 nationalities across its studios, where the average employee age is 28.