Stu Maschwitz From living his dream to forging his own path

Former ILM hand sets out as partner in growing San Francisco visual studio

When Stu Maschwitz was a child, he saw the 1977 movie “Star Wars.” He knew immediately that the iconic flick was going to be his career, somehow.

Today, the partner in San Francisco entertainment firm The Orphanage is living in the aftermath of his dream.

Maschwitz worked for George Lucas’ visual effects firm, Industrial Light & Magic, from 1994 to 1999, earning credits as a computer-effects and digital artist for the special-edition releases of “Star Wars” Episodes IV through VI.

What happens after a goal is realized? In Maschwitz’s case, entrepreneurship. He joined fellow ILM veterans Jon Rothbart and Scott Stewart as an Orphanage founder, partly on the strength of his Magic Bullet filmmaking software, which he sold to the fledgling firm for $1. The popular program mirrors The Orphanage’s other successes, including its name-making digital visual effects work on the film “Sin City.”

Magic Bullet may have been his ticket on the train, but it’s not what makes Maschwitz’s whistle blow. Trained from a young age in video by an unusual program at the public St. Paul Central High School, and then at CalArts School of Animation, he loves to make movies.

In addition to acting as senior visual effects supervisor for Sin City (his “favorite project of all time”) and other films, he has also directed commercials, the company’s short 2000 demo film “The Last Birthday Card” and the video for the Cher single “Song for the Lonely.” He hopes to direct feature films.

While Maschwitz is wearing several hats, The Orphanage is undergoing changes. The firm this week opened a 20-person office in Vancouver, in part because the Canadian government reimburses movie industry firms 40 percent of its citizens’ salaries, Maschwitz said.

Its most recent project involves visual effects for “Mimzy,” a movie shot near Vancouver and based on the 1943 Henry Kuttner story “Mimsy were the Borogoves.”

The Orphanage is also trying to launch its own feature CGI animation titles, a crowded and difficult field despite the star power animator Genndy Tartakovsky brought when he was hired in 2005. Tartakovsky is workingon three movies and pitching them to producers.

“I think a little bit of a challenge lies ahead,” Maschwitz said.

Stu Maschwitz


New project: Mimzy

Last project: A commercial for the Navy SEALs called “Footprints.”

Number of e-mails a day: 300-plus

Number of voice mails a day: “I don’t know. I save them all up until the end of the month, hoping that they improve with age like a fine wine.”

Essential Web site: IMDB Pro.

Best perk: “As a director, I get to location-scout amazing places that I’d otherwise never get to visit, like a power station in Long Beach or rooftops around Times Square.”

Gadgets: Treo 650, which I hate with a passion, and a video iPod that never leaves my side.

Education: Somehow neglected to get a degree after four years at CalArts.

Last conference: SIGGRAPH in Boston

First job: Computer animation for a St. Paul municipal cable station.

Career objective: Transition from commercial director to feature films.


Details: “I’m 33 years old and 6-foot-6. I’m clinging desperately to my ability to annoy people with how young I am. My natural tendency is to work a 26-hour day and sleep for 10 hours, which means that if I’m left to my own devices I get out of phase with reality. Which suits me just fine.”

Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.

Sports/hobbies: “My dog, aSiberian Husky/German Shepherd mix, pulls me on my skateboard around the industrial areas of Emeryville. Photography is my tool for keeping my visual juices flowing in a way that’s only distantly related to work.”

Favorite restaurant: Country Station Sushi

Computer: MacBook Pro running both Windows and Mac OS X.

Vacation spot: I am unfamiliar with the concept, much to my wife’s chagrin.

Role model: Robert Rodriguez

Motivation: My problem is too much motivation. I could use a little less.

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