Disney Buys Lucasfilm

Well that’s a shocker:

Today ILM for the first time in its history was sold, as part of a deal by Disney to buy LucasFilm. fxguide spoke directly to ILM today who commented only that “for ILM and Skywalker Sound it’s business as usual.”

Meanwhile Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger commented on an investor call regarding ILM that, “our current thinking is that we will let it remain as is – they do great work – they work for multiple studios.”

Anybody’s guess as to what’s next however it’s pretty clear this purchase was for the Star Wars franchise:

Our valuation focused almost entirely on the Star Wars franchise

So what does this mean for ILM? If Variety’s David Cohen is correct it could be good news:

However the real assurance of the future of ILM probably lies in the news that there will be new “Star Wars” movies on a regular schedule. ILM was born out of production on the original “Star Wars” pics and George Lucas built it up so it would be able to pioneer digital production on the prequel trilogy. Keeping vfx spending in-house kept costs down and made it possible for the Star Wars pics to have more vfx than any other pics of the time.

However, on a potentially sobering front I echo the concerns by cartoon brew. Remember LucasFilm and Pixar were both caught by the Feds in regards to collusion. Now they’re both owned by Disney. The potentially good news is that Disney does have subsidiaries that have signed with The Animation Guild. Of course I’m under no impression that ILM or Pixar will go union anytime soon but it’s much more possible than when they were standing on their own.

I’m reminded of a post I wrote 2 years ago which was mostly a thought experiment: Why don’t VFX facilities work directly for the production studios? Two years later, you have almost all the big VFX Californian facilities owned by production studios. Many others are being gobbled up by Deluxe and Technicolor. Who’s next?

Soldier On.

34 Responses to Disney Buys Lucasfilm

  1. Speculatin says:

    You have to wonder about studio consolidation in the larger organisation. Disney now has 4 CG studios:

    1. Walt Disney Feature Animation
    2. Pixar
    3. ILM
    4. Disney Toons

    They all have slightly different niches – but as the people from Orlando, ImageMovers, and Circle 7 will tell you – such things can happen. With Bob Iger retiring in a few years – where will the axe drop next?

    • woreMouseEars says:

      If I was working at Lucasfilm Animation I’d be very worried about the future.

      • nervousAtTheRanch says:

        We are. Despite all the positive vibes that the management is trying to put in the air we all anticipate the worst early next year after the sale is finalized. It looks like we are employed at least through the holiday season so for now just sit tight and enjoy the free, and paid, time off around Christmas and save what we can over the next few months. Nobody expects to be there by next summer.

    • Ymir says:

      Don’t forget the Paris animation division, Secret Lab, and Ciniderbiter.

  2. Realdeal says:

    The odd one out is ILM in that list is ILM – the rest create their own IP. Best guess is that they’ll sell ILM off and make them bid the lowest price on work like everyone else has to.

    • Tom Atkin says:

      Don’t think ILM is the odd one out. With the new Star Wars films which will generate a huge amount of visual effects work for years to come on top of all the regular ILM projects…why sell?

      And, even Disney would be crazy to sell ILM and farm out the Star Wars visual effects work to other facilities. No one will do Star Wars better than ILM.

      • cf says:

        It’s very likely that ILM would get the bulk of VFX work from any new Star Wars movies. What I’d like to know is, where will the majority of those VFX jobs be? Will they be in San Francisco? LA? Vancouver? Singapore? Elsewhere?

      • Scott Ross says:

        thou shalt not believe thine own hype…. really? ILM is AWESOME, but there are 5 other companies that would do StarWars right as well….

      • Vfxartist says:

        Yes, disney us crazy.

        And anyone can make star wars films. Framestore, Weta, etc.

        George is cashing in his chips.

      • A says:

        “No one will do Star Wars better than ILM.”

        That would have been true 20+ years ago but it’s not today. That’s due to outsourcing. The old ILM consisted of artists all working under one roof, feeding off each other’s creativity and innovating. That innovation is responsible for the breakthrough moments in VFX (Star Wars, Jurassic Park).

        The new VFX business model is to have a small collection of staff who include R&D and supervisors, who run the show via video conferencing to worker ants in subsidized or cheaper regions. Even the worker ants are just nomadic artists who join to pump out some shots and then are sent on their way to find another job after they’re finished.

        With this top down-approach, with hardly any face-to-face interaction, there’s no comraderie, no new ideas being shared. The artists aren’t thinking about how they can improve the company, they’re thinking about getting the next job and how they’re going to beat out their co-workers for that job.

        The artists are what makes a place unique, and the uniqueness is the selling point of the facility. Once every single VFX house started operating on this new model, they all became exactly the same. There really is nothing that differentiates ILM from Framestore, Weta, MPC, etc. Hardly any of the artists who worked on Star Wars are still there. They didn’t even have a chance to teach the next generation their craft, because everybody is scattered all around the globe looking for jobs every 6 months. The result: Anybody can do Star Wars now.

        Contrast that with Pixar. Even though they have a facility in Vancouver, the majority of their artists are under one roof in California. Most have stayed there for years, all working together under a stable roof and doing it “the Pixar way”. They get better at their craft, and retain what made them unique.

  3. Dave Rand says:

    A media giant with a success story that’s based on creating and owning content may not be inclined to share it’s new toy. They may say they will, but like children, sometime companies say the darnedest things.

  4. Scott Ross says:

    so much to say…. so little time….

    • Tom Atkin says:

      Hey Scott,

      Maybe if your website spent less time on rock and roll anecdotes…you would have more time for your trade organization dialogue.

      And, Scott, here’s a wild guess…DD is one of your “five shops” who can do Star Wars. Wouldn’t you think ILM’s history: its talented experienced supervisors like John Knoll ; its talented artists across the board; its proprietary software, its creativity and George’s devotion to Star Wars storytelling in the digital age through visual effects give ILM a MAJOR head start?

      “Thou shalt not believe thine own hype”…really.

      • Scott Ross says:

        Tom…. thanks for reading my blog… you and so many others seem to enjoy it. I enjoy writing it as well… Also, it’s refreshing to see you back.

        And yes, ILM of course has a major headstart on SW as they have been doing an incredible job on that franchise for 6 films and over 36 years! That being said, the other major VFX houses would do a stellar job as well… and as we all know…. with Studios controlling the process, it’s not just about quality… it’s also about PRICE.

        I wonder what Disney would do if ILM’s bid was $50MM for VFX but someone like Framestore ( with support from UK subsidies) could, after rebates, have a $35MM bid? All I’m saying is that w GWL no longer being in charge, and the decisions being made not by creatives but by studio execs of a major public entity…. quoting one of my favorite rock n roll poets, ” money doesn’t talk…. IT SCREAMS”.

        And again, thanks for the read.

  5. edwardh says:

    Interesting. I’ve heard quite a lot about this today already (obviously) and I find it really odd that there was not one person (well… aside from me) to whom it seemed awfully inappropriate for Disney to do another Star Wars movie. I guess as long as we get work out of it, people are happy when their employers have them work on mindless, franchise-milking nonsense?
    Yes, I may jump the gun here but had George Lucas wanted to do more sequels, he probably would’ve announced/done them already. And of course the announcement immediately after the takeover… the whole thing just reeks in my opinion.

    Oh and of course not to mention the much more important fact that the formation/strengthening of oligopolies is rarely a good thing. Not for employees or consumers or really all citizens who may have to support those behemoths.

  6. wendy says:

    When I was working for Lucasarts back in the 90’s we were also given “stock” in the company. Around 2001 George Lucus’s lawyers sent everyone with company shares a letter saying that George would not be honoring the stock, and the stock would be worthless in a short period of time. However he was willing to “buy” me out for $500. If I failed to agree to the $500 I would recieve nothing as the stock would expire. Nice guy old George. He paid us next to nothing with the idea that the stock would be worth something and then he took it all away.

    • Scott Ross says:

      oh Wendy, there’s so much more behind the scenes stuff on those LucasArts stock options…maybe one day, I can blog about that too!

      • Tom Atkin says:

        Hey Scott,

        Unless I am misreading your blogs, it would appear to the ‘untrained eye’ that I am in a small minority…or, perhaps, most of your many readers do not care to make comments as indicated by the relatively small number of responses.

        So, it is always a pleasure to draw attention to your work. Perhaps, even more folks will read it as it focuses on issues like that mentioned by Wendy.

        Hopefully, your busy schedule will provide some of the precious time needed for you to blog about Wendy’s stock story which you indicate you have more light to shine upon the topic.

        We all know what Scott Ross is about, so additional detailed enlightenment can only serve to enhance your most dedicated and interesting views on the state of visual effects and what to do about it.

        Thanks for all of your efforts.

  7. Scott Ross says:

    Tom…. you’re welcome. I look forward to your continued support.

    • Tom Atkin says:


      Last comment.

      I appreciate your efforts (as mentioned) or anyone else’s efforts to shed light on the visual effects industry with the hope of making the life of the business and artist better.

      This does not mean I always agree with what is being said, and the motivations behind these statements are often not quite clear in many cases.

      With this in mind, I want to make the obvious quite clear…you DO NOT have my support…and, you know it.

      Moving on…

  8. Scott Ross says:

    Tom… you just broke my heart… 😦

  9. VFXguerrila says:

    Odd timing No? With elections and hurricanes and all the other chaos amidst this space egg. It goes right past most people and maybe thats a good thing.
    Oh and dot forget this was a long time in the making. Star Wars and Disney have had a long relationship. The Star Wars ride was one of Disney’s biggest draws for years. The way I always saw it was that Disney dropped the ball on Computer Graphics and ILM went on to carry that torch up until the point Pixar was created.
    Edison would be proud…A genius with patent laws behind him will prosper in this wonderful country but one with ideas…Meh, screw him.

  10. Ymir says:

    If he sold after the new year, he would run the risk of paying higher capital gains taxes. Odd, since that’s the candidate he backs.

  11. A says:

    If Disney wanted to be in the VFX business, they would have produced Tron and John Carter internally, rather than farm the work out to DD and Dneg. The last business the Disney execs (who have to answer to shareholders) want to be in is the VFX business. It’s simply not profitable enough.

    They purchased Lucas for one reason: The Star Wars IP. ILM and all the other Lucas companies are entities they had to buy in bulk to get that IP.

    I love ILM’s work and I want them to be around forever, but I can’t see Disney rationalizing the expense of ILM. Like another commenter said, I think they’ll sell ILM and just make them bid rock bottom prices to produce Star Wars, competing with subsidized regions like the UK, Vancouver, or NZ. Disney execs see VFX as a commodity like eggs and milk. They don’t care who produces, nor do they think ILM is the only place that can do Star Wars.

    If you analyze Bob Iger’s comments regarding ILM, he refers to them as a “decent” business. Those execs only care about one kind of business, “great” business. I think they’re lukewarm about owning a VFX shop, at best.

  12. Scott Ross says:

    “A”…. well said.

    Additionally, Disney CEO Iger said “Our CURRENT thinking is that we would let it remain as is. They do great work. They do work for multiple studios. It’s been a DECENT business for Lucasfilm and one we have every INTENTION of staying in.”

    Also, the NY Times added that Iger wants to “reap the value” it can from ILM.

    Personally ….. I hope I’m reading this incorrectly as I love ILM and the incredible work they’ve done for close to 40 years, but, after all….

  13. VFXguerrila says:

    No, your reading as well as anyone Scott. The fact is Im pretty sure even ILM was in many ways seen as an evil giant in regards to what it had done with the the last few installments of the Star Wars franchise. I watched George Lucas pound Indiana Jones in the ass…Whose to say he didnt also do that to Yoda behind closed doors? So what Mickey will get to slide his fingers up that? Is it a real surprise? If so…I have news for you-International Media Conglomerates are not going to make anyone but those interested in money happy…These dream factories that we grew up are where GM and Kodak are…Antiquated and failing…Ready to topple as their roots cannot sustain the weight of their canopy once the rains come again.

  14. […] VFX Soldier – Disney Buys Lucasfilm […]

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