“The first step is for people in leadership to say this is not acceptable,” said Lynwen Brennan, the general manager of Lucasfilm, and the president and general manager of Industrial Light & Magic. (While Industrial Light & Magic was started to generate special effects for “Star Wars,” the visual effects studio is now the largest in the motion picture industry, working not only with Lucasfilm but also with studios across the globe.)
Ms. Brennan is on a self-described “crusade” to remedy the entrenched gender inequality of her industry. To accomplish this she and her team have carefully assessed how promotions are handled, asking why male candidates may be advanced over their female colleagues. To address what she called “false assumptions” that hinder female employees — for instance managers might believe motherhood makes a candidate less able to handle increased responsibility — the studio offers on-site child care and schedule flexibility.
Additionally, Ms. Brennan is concerned about the pipeline of women entering the visual effects field. The industry relies heavily on computer science graduates, yet fewer women are majoring in the subject. According to data collected by the National Science Foundation, 18 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women in 2014, down from a peak of 37 percent in 1984. To broaden its reach, Industrial Light & Magic is hiring employees from a variety of different backgrounds, while eliminating experience and education requirements for entry-level positions.
Paige Warner has benefited from Ms. Brennan’s crusade. As a member of the visual effects team, she has been an integral part of developing the studio’s facial capture development software, which allowed “Rogue One” to digitally resurrect cast members, notably Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, and to bring back a youthful Carrie Fisher.
Ms. Warner “absolutely deserves recognition as a driving force,” Ms. Brennan said. “Paige has been so passionate about facial capture.”
While the technology had been used before, its ability to accurately reproduce motion had been limited and faces posed a particular challenge because, as Ms. Warner explained, “everyone is an expert. We all look at faces all day long.”
And yet, Ms. Warner said, when Carrie Fisher first saw her image in “Rogue One,” she believed it was archival footage. “It was the biggest compliment I could receive,” she said. Ms. Warner will receive another compliment this month when she accepts a technical achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
There is little doubt that facial capture technology played an instrumental role in “Rogue One,” tying the story together, and creating a link with “A New Hope” in ways that would have been implausible previously. Executives credit the diversity of their team with the success of their visual effects. “You need a lot of voices,” said Jessica Teach, executive-in-charge at the studio’s headquarters in San Francisco, as she described the technical advances made by Kaori Ogino, a creature supervisor on her team. “It’s not that a man couldn’t have done it,” she explained, “It’s just that Kaori did it first.”
Ms. Warner said her experience at the studio has been “extremely positive.” She feels well supported by colleagues, particularly during a challenging period in her life six years ago when she transitioned to the female gender. “My inbox filled up,” she said, noting that even Lynwen Brennan, the president of the company, wrote her an encouraging message.
As supportive as the studio is of its female staff, there has been outside criticism. “Star Wars” has never had a female director, and this year, at the Academy Awards, where “Rogue One” is up for sound mixing and visual effects Oscars, the faces of the franchise will be mostly male. All six of the nominees are men. In fact, in the 89-year history of the Academy Awards, only three women have ever been nominated for an Oscar in visual effects.
This is a statistic that Ms. Brennan hopes to change. She sees her work as a continuation of George Lucas’s legacy. The high proportion of female executives at Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic can be partly attributed to Mr. Lucas, who sold the company to Disney in 2012 but advanced the careers of the women now running it. In Ms. Brennan’s nearly 30 years at the studio, all four of her supervisors have been women. The most recent is Kathleen Kennedy, the prolific Hollywood producer whom Mr. Lucas handpicked to succeed him as president of Lucasfilm.
Ms. Kennedy said there was no excuse for the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry. “There is no doubt that the visual effects community and film industry as a whole need to be more inclusive and equitable,” she acknowledged, adding later, “We are determined to strive every day to build a much more diverse and inclusive company. We will be better for it and the industry will be stronger because of it.” Ms. Kennedy may help fulfill this vision if she hires a woman to direct a future “Star Wars” film. “It is going to happen,” she said at a women’s summit in 2015, “I have no doubt.”
Ms. Kennedy’s words are reminiscent of those of the powerful hero of “Rogue One,” Jyn Erso. “We have hope,” she says, her eyes pleading as she addresses the assembly of rebel troops. “Rebellions are built on hope.”
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