Studio formerly owned and led by George Lucas faces lease expiration

The Bay Area could lose one of the birthplaces of modern filmmaking: A movie studio that very few people even know exists.

The small-scale studio in San Rafael has turned out movies that many know by heart.

The unassuming buildings in a light industrial area of San Rafael have been an Oscar mill going on for almost half a century.

The 32TEN Studios began under the ownership and leadership of George Lucas in 1978, then called Industrial Light and Magic.

"Its importance cannot be overstated," said Sean House, a longtime associate of Lucas and 32TEN employee.

House said Lucas divested from the studio in 2005, but with the support of many Lucas projects, it has been operating here for 45 years – churning out some of the world's most beloved and successful movies from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Forrest Gump, Harry Potter, Ghost Busters, Transformers, Terminators and many others.

A couple of weeks ago, House's landlord sent a shocking message as he was trying to get a new lease.


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"'We've progressed far enough along in the analysis that we're going to re-purpose the buildings. Thank you for your support over the years. Good luck'…so, we have until Oct. 31," House said.

Innovation is found all over the studio. It's the actual birthplace of the THX theater sound system, and many of the initial uses of digital computers started there.

"The first digital characters, the first digital sequences on film, the birth of modern video effects happened here and continues to happen here," House said.

Yet, it also remains one of the premier movie model-making shops anywhere. In a movie things are seemingly life-size or larger, while in reality those images are highly detailed models blended with digital effects to create movie and video magic known worldwide.

What the studio needs now, more than magic, is a miracle to survive.