Notice anything different about MGM’s iconic Leo the Lion? George Loucas ’04 hopes not.
Tasked with rebranding the MGM mascot, Loucas’ Baked Studios convinced MGM executives to use a CG lion, and not a live one as they had initially desired.
“We sort of realized very quickly internally that the material we had to work with was going to pretty much limit us on what we could do,” said Loucas. “They didn’t have original negatives from when they filmed the most recent incarnation of Leo the Lion.”
If you’re looking to impress your friends with cool trivia, for the record, eight different lions have been MGM’s mascot. MGM has called all of the lions Leo, but only the last lion, who was in use since 1957, was actually named Leo, according to Wikipedia.
Loucas’ team tried to use provided standard definition film scans and explored artificial intelligence technology to try to use the most recent lion, but they weren’t getting anywhere. Little by little, Baked Studios got MGM to warm up to the idea of a full CG mascot.
“Everything we did was done pixel on pixel on top of the original to preserve everything about it, the way it moved, and even specific highlights in the eyeball of the lion is intact and preserved. It was just basically taking what was underneath and pumping more detail into it,” said Loucas.
Like the MGM rebranding project, Loucas said about 95 percent of the projects the boutique studio works on are referral based. But they still need to earn the project with pitches, and for Leo there were rounds and rounds of revisions.
Loucas said his Emerson experience helped light his way into the special effects and animation industry. He founded Baked Studios only one year after graduating.
“The [Emerson] student body to this day are some of the most motivated and driven people I know. I think … getting an education with these people, graduating with these people, and moving out to LA with many of those people — I think that work ethic, that motivation for what we do – it’s just contagious,” said Loucas.
“All my Emerson alums they all just got to work. And I think the student body, is where you would attribute that motivation. There’s a camaraderie. There’s also a healthy competition. Emerson either attracts or breeds doers,” Loucas said.
While at Emerson, Loucas said when he wasn’t in class, he was working on productions. Every day of the week, he and his compadres used the equipment they had, borrowed and rented more, and did what needed to be done.
“Everything was in the service of filmmaking,” said Loucas.
He said that current students interested in breaking into the industry need to learn the tools of the craft, build a portfolio, and be proactively persistent.
“I would say it’s generic advice, like so many things, what you put in is what you get out,” said Loucas. “It’s a growing industry and every studio is developing mainstream content and streaming content. There’s never been a bigger demand from the industry.”
That ethos of persistence has led Baked Studios to work on many projects, including commercials for cars, Legos, Deadpool pitched products, movies and television, such as Jumanji and Tough As Nails, and more.
“My preference as a [special] effects person has always been to work on projects where the work is completely invisible,” said Loucas. “My dream project would be something large-scale, technologically innovative, and [when you] would watch it you’d never know what the work is.”
George Loucas and George Lucas
Yes, he does have the same name as George Lucas of Star Wars fame.
“Daily there is some acknowledgement or joke made. It always comes up pretty much every day of my life in some way,” said Loucas. “The best for me is when it really throws people off. I’ll be waiting at an airport gate and they’ll call my name because there’s a seat assignment. And they page George Loucas to the front and everyone’s head clocks around at the same time and [they] start looking for him and there is an inevitable disappointment when I walk up. I’ve accepted it, but I’ve enjoyed having a famous name.”
The two homophonic special effects gurus have yet to meet.
“I’ve been to Skywalker Ranch a few times. He was there a couple of times, but our paths never crossed,” said Loucas. “But I spoke to his secretary. I’m more excited to meet him than he is to meet me. I hope to get that introduction.”
Dark Side of the Moon Still Works
Also, Loucas said that the rebranding of Leo does not affect the urban legend of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album synching with The Wizard of Oz. The two are synchronized if you start playing the album on the MGM’s lion’s roar, and then mute the movie.
“I have done that many times. It’s funny – some of my friends who I [watched it with] asked me the same question. I can assure you that we have not altered any of the timing because we matched the lion’s roar frame by frame,” said Loucas. “[You can still do it] if you believe that it was intentional or a happy accident.”