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Star Wars creator in Asian entry

Los Angeles, Aug. 3: Lucasfilm Ltd, the privately held entertainment company founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas, said yesterday that it had opened a digital animation studio in Singapore to produce movies, television shows and video games.

Lucasfilm, based in Marin County, California, founded its animation division in 2003 but the unit has yet to produce a feature-length theatrical movie. Micheline Chau, president and chief operating officer of Lucasfilm, said in a call from Singapore that the company hoped to make games and movies that blend traditional Western animation with Japanese anime.

Animation is a hot genre in Hollywood these days. Some of the biggest movies in recent years, Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo among them, have been computer-generated animated films. Those movies, though, have had distinctly American sensibilities.

Anime, by contrast, remains distinctly Asian and is popular among teenagers, particularly boys who play Japanese-made video games and girls who like to read tales of angst and love popular in Japanese comic books.

Still, it has mainstream appeal. In Kill Bill Vol. 1, director Quentin Tarantino used anime to depict the brutally violent murder of a girl’s parents. It not only reflected the overall Asian theme of the movie but helped Kill Bill Vol. 1 get an R rating.

The coming animated Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie, released by Warner Brothers Pictures, is the story of a boy named Yugi captivated by Duel Monsters, a card game. Yu-Gi-Oh! is popular in Japan, having spawned its own card trading business, video game and TV series.

And at the recent Comic-Con convention in San Diego, scores of conventioneers could be seen carrying red-and-white shopping bags filled with books and other merchandise from Tokyopop, a leading provider of Japanese-style comic books in the US.

Lucasfilm is only one of the many Hollywood studios exploiting moviegoers’ interest in animation. Dreamworks SKG, whose animation team created the Shrek movies, announced recently that it would spin off its animation unit in a stock offering to the public. It plans to release another film, Shark Tale, this winter.

And Pixar Animation Studios, which has been a consistent maker of hits since the mid 1990s, including its Toy Story movies and Finding Nemo, plans to fully finance its own movies after its 50-50 joint venture with the Walt Disney Co. ends next year.

Chau said Lucasfilm has already begun experimenting with the genre with its three-to-five-minute Clone Wars cartoons, which are being shown on the Cartoon Network

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