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Employee Spotlight: Shahana Alam

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Go Behind-the-Scenes with the Lucasfilm Digital Assets Team

Digital Asset Administrator Shahana Alam has been with Lucasfilm over 10 years. She blends her passion for Star Wars with a skill at database management to fulfill an essential yet unsung role behind-the-scenes of our animated series.

Can you tell us about your day-to-day responsibilities?

My day involves managing our image database for Lucasfilm Animation. I pull frames from our animated series, and I help spearhead the creation of special poses, or key art, that are used by the Franchise team. That involves pulling a lot of reference images for our overseas studios, and consulting with our Animation artists here in San Francisco, such as Animation Supervisor Keith Kellogg and Lighting Director Joel Aron. They know the personalities of the characters and can ensure that everything looks the way it should! I’m the one who kicks everything off.

How has your role evolved since you first started here?

I started in the spring of 2008 as an Image Archives Coordinator. I managed our prior image database system, which was created internally. Star Wars: The Clone Wars was just starting as an animated series at the time, so I became the person handling the assets for that production. We’d organize the final animation frames and ensure they were properly distributed to people around the company. Ten-plus years later, I am still handling Animation assets but am now heavily involved in selecting frames and creating poses. When I started we had just one animated series at Lucasfilm, and now there are several!

What was your background before coming to Lucasfilm?

I actually studied music as an undergraduate at Mills College. I was a pianist! I still play, but by the time I graduated I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career. I finally ended up working at a non-profit as a registration manager. I realized that I was good at organization. I still like to learn the inner workings of a database and figure out how to make it serve the needs of the users.

I eventually ended up going into a library science graduate program at the University of Michigan. At that school I did a project where I digitized political posters and built a database for them. I realized that I wanted to work with images, as opposed to documents or other materials. A job with a travel company brought me here to San Francisco, just right across the street from Lucasfilm headquarters!

How would you describe your Star Wars fandom when you started?

I was definitely a fan, and actually wrote part of my cover letter in Yoda-speak!

Did you ever imagine you could apply your library science skills at a film company?

It was the craft of database work that always interested me, rather than a particular subject. I thought I might work at a library or with a special collection somewhere. I never thought of the film industry. Photographs and film are widely being digitized to preserve them and now most photos and animation content is born digital. Databases are being utilized to manage the volume. There are still issues to solve today as far as how we access and preserve assets.  This role just fell in my lap, and I feel really lucky.

What do you remember about your first day here?

Up until that point I had always worked for non-profits and small companies. Coming here was a little overwhelming and really exciting! There are a lot of people who work here and do so many different things. I’ve had to adjust to the fact that we’re a global company with employees all over the world. And I’ve made such great friends among my colleagues.

What felt different about the company compared to other places?

Lucasfilm just attracts a certain kind of person. I don’t know how to describe it but there’s a kind of enthusiasm that people have. We love Star Wars and we’re all working towards the same goal: to protect our brand and to enjoy it. It’s really the people that have kept me here for so many years!

Can you describe more about your process of selecting still frames from an animated series?

I start reviewing an episode when it’s at what is called the “full-color” stage. The animation is done and textures and lighting have been added but it’s not quite final. We usually pick anywhere between 70 or 100 frames from each episode. I’ve learned to anticipate the needs of our different teams across the company, such as marketing or the online team, and try to make selections to serve their needs.

For a show like Star Wars Resistance, I can just pull the frame directly because the animation is in a 2D style. But with something like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which has a 3D style, we encounter motion blur at the frame-by-frame level. So we have to work around that sometimes.

A lesser-known fact is that you actually have a character from Star Wars: The Clone Wars named after you! Can you share that story?

That was pretty crazy! It was back in my first or second year working here. Leland Chee, our Keeper of the Holocron, was tasked with naming background characters. They had a Weequay bounty hunter who was part of Cad Bane’s gang, and Leland decided to name him “Shahan Alama.” He wears this cool red beret. They even did a LEGO minigifure! It was very flattering.

You’ve been involved in a number of different series and projects. Has there been a personal favorite?

I loved Star Wars Rebels. As we spent so many years working on it, I got emotionally involved in the story, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting! The end of the series especially was such an impactful experience. I was going through it all frame by frame, and I appreciated how beautiful the show looked. It’s sometimes hard to slim it down to just a selection of stills!

It’s so fun when I meet kids and they find out that I work on our animated series. I have the best conversations with them. They light up and ask all sorts of questions about the shows, because they know them so well! 

Do you have a favorite Rebels character?

It’s hard to pick one, the whole ensemble of Ezra, Kanan, Hera, Sabine and Zeb worked so well. And the voice actors completed the emotional depth that really drew me in to the series. I loved how Sabine’s character developed throughout the series. She always held her own, and Hera did the same. Women in Star Wars are always written in a strong way, and I really appreciate that. Even when I’m choosing frames of female characters, I try to select ones where they’re speaking because it’s important to show that they have something to say.

What kind of advice would you provide to those comping up in your field?

It helps to be good at multi-tasking, detail-oriented and clued in to what is happening around you. Opportunities can open up just from saying hello to someone or asking a question about how something works.

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