(Source: marinij.com) In the nearly four years since George Lucas took his filmmaking colossus to the Presidio in San Francisco, the model makers and special-effects gurus who stayed behind as Kerner Group haven’t exactly wallowed in his wake.

In that time, the San Rafael company, which was spun off from Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic in a 2006 management-led buyout, has churned out effects work for some of the biggest blockbusters on the planet, including franchises like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Transformers,” “Harry Potter,” “Indiana Jones,” “Terminator”- even the recent mega-hit “Avatar.”

But while the work has been steady, the road map for success in the moviemaking business has shifted, and Kerner had some lean, bumpy years in navigating those changes. With a new owner, new management and a clearer business model, Kerner now hopes to foster a renaissance of filmmaking in Marin County through a number of ventures, including making its own movies here.

“We have some of the best storytellers in the world on this property,” said 39-year-old Eric Edmeades, an entrepreneur who acquired a controlling interest in Kerner last August and now serves as its chief executive. “They’re great at making a story come true, but when they lost George, they lost their main storyteller. My responsibility is to go out and find them the right stories to tell. And they tell them better than anybody. All we have to do is to get them the properties and the funds, and we’ll bring more top film production
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to Marin.”

Edmeades said that while Kerner has had a number of business divisions since its inception, it will tackle each with a bit more clarity and focus, including a variety of types of film production, special effects for both movies and nonentertainment uses, and sales and leases of its own 3-D cameras, equipment and software. As a disciple of Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, whose conglomerate includes more than 400 companies under its umbrella, Edmeades said he intends to let Kerner Studios Model supervisor Mark Walas works on repairing surface irregularities on a miniature model for an upcoming movie at one of the studio s buildings in San Rafael. (Special to the IJ/Douglas Zimmerman) the various Kerner businesses have the freedom to succeed without allowing one’s struggles to negatively affect the others.

Edmeades, who moved to Novato last year from the Turks and Caicos islands, connected with Kerner through a friend and was immediately enticed.

“This place is home to some of the most creative minds you’ll ever have the privilege of meeting,” he said. “And it turned out that they had some management issues and some money issues. If you get a company run by creative types, it doesn’t always get run as a business. So there were some areas where I could help.”

Modelmaking and special effects, which was one of the founding hallmarks of ILM, remains the core of Kerner’s business and its primary revenue generator. Eric Edmeades acquired a controlling interest in Kerner Group last August and is now its CEO. That division, called Kerner Optical, is currently working on two major motion pictures, both of which involve constructing large models of helicopters or planes and then “blowing them up,” according to project supervisor Mark Walas of Novato.

But perhaps the best recent example of that division’s prowess is one of the few things they haven’t blown up. On display at the new Walt Disney Family Museum is a 169-square-foot model of Disneyland. The model is a replica of Disneyland “as Walt Disney would have imagined it, everything he dreamed of,” according to museum spokeswoman Marsha Robertson. As a result, the model features all of the elements of Disneyland over the years, not from one period of time, and even includes some of Disney’s ideas, like Space Mountain, that didn’t come to fruition until after he died in 1966.

The museum was so impressed by the model, and the painstaking, nine-month process that Walas and co-supervisor Carol Bauman led their team through, that it has decided to create a standalone exhibit about the making of the model that will open in January 2012.

“There are just so many parallels between the building of the model and the building of the park itself,” Robertson said.

The model is laden with hidden nuances, from the slight changes in scale to accentuate certain features to ant-sized versions of Walt Disney himself, walking out of the Sleeping Beauty castle and riding in an Autopia car. The walls of the tiny rooms of the Haunted Mansion are covered in cat wallpaper, and there is a flickering light in an apartment above Main Street.

The biggest challenge, Bauman said, was to make sure that Disneyland looked good from above, since museum-goers first see it on a descending circular ramp above it.

“If you look at an aerial photograph of Disneyland on Google Earth, it is atrocious looking, with big warehouses with HVAC systems and cordoned-off areas with Dumpsters that people never see from the ground,” she said. “We were trying to make the Disneyland of our memories, to keep that fantasy.”

The work of Walas and Bauman’s modelmaking team has changed in significant ways, largely spurred by the development of computer-generated imagery and digital effects. But because it is still expensive to recreate things like explosions and elements like wind and water digitally, Kerner Optical’s focus has shifted from the creature-creation of the “Star Wars” years to making models that will eventually explode or get blown up.

Because blockbuster film work is seasonal, the Disneyland model is exactly the kind of work Kerner seeks. The company’s head count hovers at around 65 during low periods but spikes much higher in the midst of blockbuster film work. Edmeades said the goal is to bring in work that avoids those dips.

The division has been working on making medical dummies for a private contractor that sells them to the U.S. military. The dummies are realistic, animatronic human bodies that bleed and have removable organs for trauma training.

While Edmeades said he saw plenty at Kerner that interested him, it was its expertise in 3-D technology, specifically the making of 3-D cameras, camera rigs and software that was the biggest lure. Its vaunted reputation dates back to Lucas’ days of developing his own cameras specifically for difficult shots in the “Star Wars” films. Kerner plans to compete with established 3-D technology companies like Pace and 3ality to both sell and lease its equipment.

The company has a joint venture to create 3-D commercials, and has linked with Emily Carr University in Vancouver, Canada, to create a stereoscopics lab there in an effort to prod young filmmakers using Kerner’s technology.

The immense success of “Avatar” changed the game and film financier’s interest in 3-D, Edmeades said.

“The market shifted, there’s no question about it,” he said. “James Cameron is a brilliant guy and he’s a pacesetter. Immediately we started getting calls from people about 3-D. Nobody’s expecting to make the next ‘Avatar,’ but what it’s showing is 3-D has a home in the minds of the consumer now.”

But while the effects have shifted and 3-D technology has become a major focal point, the biggest shift at Kerner comes from Edmeades’ intention to get into film production. He said there are three models Kerner is interested in: distribution deals for completed films, joint ventures with filmmakers in need of Kerner’s space, equipment and expertise, and its own films.

The first category is represented by “May I Be Frank?” – a documentary by two employees of Cafe Gratitude in San Francisco and Ryland Engelhart, the son of the raw food chain’s founders and the current manager of the San Rafael location. The film charts the course of Frank Ferrante, who agrees to eat raw food for 42 days in an effort to fight his obesity and a number of other health problems. The movie screened at Kerner’s George Lucas Theatre in December, and the company is now working to get it distributed.

Kerner’s first joint venture is for “Golden,” a 3-D psychological thriller from director Dean Yurke, a former ILM digital artist. The film is a takeoff on the traditional teen horror film, and Edmeades said the company intends to shoot it in Marin this year.

Edmeades said the economic and governmental environments in Marin need to improve if he is to realize his vision, particularly given the enticing tax credits available for films in places like Vancouver and Puerto Rico.

“I would like to be involved in creating the right situations to encourage independent film production in an environment that can compete with some of the other places where people are currently shooting,” he said. “This place should have been the other Hollywood, not Vancouver. This is where so much great work has already been done and where so much great talent exists.”

Source with pics: marinij.com



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