This week, I visited Skywalker Ranch as part of the press day for LucasFilm’s new animated feature film Strange Magic. We screened the film, interviewed talent (including George Lucas!), and took an exclusive private walking tour of the grounds. Continue reading to learn more about our Skywalker Ranch tour and see some exclusive images from the campus.
Skywalker Ranch Tour
George Lucas wanted a place to create films that wasn’t in LA. He didn’t want to create in a manufactured setting but wanted a place that was still inspirational to artists. He used money he earned making the first Star Wars film to buy Skywalker Ranch so he could do just that. Skywalker Ranch is the pastoral home of LucasFilm’s celebrated audio and postproduction facility Skywalker Sound and the iconic Main House.
Skywalker Ranch is located 40 minutes north of San Francisco in Marin County, California. As you make your way up the winding, rolling hills of Marin County, you can easily see why the property is relaxing and inspirational.
The Main House
The first building that was constructed on the ranch was the Main House. Started in 1978 and completed around 1980, the Main House is where George’s office is, as well as the Research Library. This 50,000-square-foot house is designed to look like a cattle rancher’s 1869 Victorian home.
This Main House is where the magic is made. Very few people get to walk through the Main House. No amount of money can buy you a tour, so the fact that we were able to get a guided tour was incredible in and of itself.
There was a mill on the property when George first bought it, and there is a lot of intricate woodwork throughout the house that was built on-site. The beautiful red and yellow sconces were designed by George and built on-site, as well.
The Main House is where George edited the Star Wars films, his private libraries are here, and this is the heart of the campus. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside of the Main House, but it was magnificent. The house is a Victorian-themed building completed around 1980. George has a collection of Norman Rockwell paintings, books, and art from around the world.
When you walk in, to the right, there are two display cabinets that display artifacts that are important to George. Some were gifts, some art artifacts from his movies. Indiana Jones’ hat and whip, the Chalice, and skull are featured in one. There are original AT-AT (which is only about 18” tall) and X-wing models that were used in the first Star Wars production, as well as Mark Hammill’s Hero Lightsaber from the third Star Wars movie (which also went to space on a NASA mission in the 80s). Headdresses from Willow are splayed on another cabinet. High-end replicas of some of the other lightsabers are on display, as well.
What do you give George Lucas? Someone gave him Rudolph Valentino’s whip, someone else Keystone Cops badges. He also has Charlie Chaplin’s hat and cane.
The main house is about inspiration. There’s a living room area where employees can come to relax and be inspired. All of the items in that room are George’s. The room hasn’t been designed to look a certain way by an interior decorator, he designed it. Anything on the shelves (books, art) is there because George put it there. His items are there to inspire and help foster creativity.
The media room was filled with videos and LPs, including an Empire Strikes Back Soundtrack and a sealed Return of the Jedi Soundtrack—and maybe an Air Supply LP in there, too. George loves all kinds of music. Many of George’s interviews are done in the media room.
The library is the pièce de résistance. Studios used to keep a library of reference materials for film research. Eventually, most studios got rid of those libraries (no one wanted to be in the library business), so George bought materials from other studios and decided to house them in the Main House. So he has researchers that do research for his films, but they also can do research for all sorts of other filmmakers.
The library is also a resource for employees to come, pull a book off the shelf, sit down, and free their minds to think about costume design and other aspects of filmmaking. The round stained glass ceiling is breathtaking. Stained glass windows (made on-site) surround the walls allowing light and sunshine to radiate around the warm, dark maple-colored wood finishing. A spiral staircase (which was also milled on-site and corkscrewed in through the window) leads to the second-story balcony. The library is complete with a librarian and card catalog.
We got to see the limited edition Star Wars: Frames books box set for the first 6 movies in its custom collectors box with a cast iron Yoda decoration. George picked his favorite frames from the movies and compiled them in this special edition boxed set.
There are several small buildings/houses for studio work where filmmakers can come and have everything they need to work on their post-production.
There are three restaurants on the ranch where employees can eat. There’s also an organic garden on campus that the restaurants use to source their vegetables and herbs. There is a full-chef staff at each location. Often they host a BBQ for employees, as well.
Each year Mindy, the chef for the Main House, makes elaborate gingerbread houses at the holidays, such as the model of the Main House that she did this year. The private dining room looks just like a (large) dining room in anyone’s house—it’s designed to be comfortable and informal.
George’s boardroom is complete with a conference table, fireplace, several Norman Rockwell pieces, and an original Tiffany’s chandelier to inspire while making important decisions. This is THE board room where the big decisions are made.
The editorial suite is in the lower level of the Main House and upstairs houses the Secret Art Department (obviously we didn’t get to see this room) where secret projects were being worked on as we toured the house during our Skywalker Ranch Tour. We weren't able to see the editorial suite, but it’s where George worked on the Star Wars movies.
George Lucas wanted Skywalker Sound to look like a winery, and it does. Nestled among grapevines and the rolling hills, the 153,000-square-foot technical building Skywalker Sound deceptively houses a state-of-the-art sound and visual effects studio complete with 6 mix studios, a 300-seat screening room, and a world-class scoring stage capable of recording a 130-piece orchestra, and ADR and Foley stages.
Skywalker Sound, which was relocated to Skywalker Ranch in 1987, also features 10 sound design/editing suites featuring digital video projection and 5.1 monitoring. There are also 34 digital sound editing rooms available (each can be configured for sound editing or picture editing).
Located within Skywalker Sound is George Lucas’s personal 300-seat screening theatre. Named Stag Theatre Screening Room, the screening room is modeled after George’s favorite theatre in Modesto. This THX theatre was designed with help from Thomas Dolby and it’s a ground-up sound experience. The subs are built into the floor, and the speakers in the walls are recessed.
This is where we screened Strange Magic right along with George Lucas, Director Gary Rydstrom, and Elijah Kelley, and then completed our interviews and watched Elijah perform. I’ve literally watched a movie with George Lucas in his personal theatre—the best theatre in the world for sound.
Just walking around the inside of the facility you see walls adorned with original movie posters that span decades and continents. Occasionally you’ll see an artifact, too, such as Tik-Tok from the movie Return to Oz.
Video Panorama – Skywalker Ranch Tour
Fun Facts about Skywalker Ranch
- We weren’t able to tour it, but the property also has an archive that houses all of the props and costumes from movies. The original Death Star model is housed there, as well as wardrobes full of Jedi robes and Storm Trooper outfits.
- The Skywalker Ranch Campus is over 4,000 acres, but there are only buildings on about 15 of those acres.
- The vineyards at Skywalker Ranch feature grapes that are grown and harvested there and then made into wine at Francis Ford Coppola under the Skywalker Ranch label (Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Rose, and Viandante del Cielo Pinot Noir).
- Lucas Valley Road was the name of the road before George Lucas bought Skywalker Ranch.
- Lake Ewok is a man-made lake stocked with fish. Visitors and employees can fish there.
- The sign on the Skywalker Sound entrance gate is is “Skywalker” in Italian (“Viadante del cielo”). The translation is “walking on the sky.”
- There’s a full-time fire department on the grounds.
- The estate includes a beautiful fitness center, with racquetball courts and swimming pool, a gift shop “General Store,” and a barn that houses “live” gifts that George has received (horses, etc.)
- Most of the parking is underground.
- Located at the entrance, Skywalker Inn is barely noticeable all covered with trees. The Inn features 32 themed apartments. Each apartment is themed after someone George was inspired by. There’s one called the Akira Kurosawa apartment that’s decorated in Japanese antiques. There’s another called the John For apartment that’s features a worn and leather rock fireplace. Talent and filmmakers will come and work and stay at the Inn. Sometimes talent will bring their families since it’s a nice, secure place to stay.
Skywalker Ranch Slideshow
STRANGE MAGIC, a new animated film from Lucasfilm Ltd., will be released by Touchstone Pictures on January 23, 2015!
Strange Magic Trailer
Disclaimer: I was selected to attend an all-expense-paid trip to the San Francisco area courtesy of Disney to experience these incredible events, along with a group of 24 other bloggers. All opinions, excitement, and smiles are my own.
STRANGE MAGIC is a madcap fairy tale musical inspired by “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Popular songs from the past six decades help tell the tale of a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their hilarious misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion. Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and Industrial Light & Magic, which created the CGI animation for 2011’s Academy Award®-winning film “Rango,” bring to life the fanciful forest turned upside down with world-class animation and visual effects.