Sarah Barrick is a Production Manager at ILMxLAB. She answered a few questions about her work on Star Wars projects via email for this interview.
What is your first memory of Star Wars?
Growing up we had copies of the Original Trilogy on VHS, so my first introduction to Star Wars was watching those tapes with my family on the weekends.
Who are some of your favorite Star Wars characters and why are they your favorites?
I’m a huge fan of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, and Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities is one of my favorite shops to visit. I’m especially partial to the creatures and aliens of Star Wars, and Ithorians are such an interesting, mysterious species – they deserve more love!
I believe you are currently Production Manager at ILMxLAB. For people unfamiliar, can you tell us a bit about what ILMxLAB does?
ILMxLAB is Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment studio, focused on a new era of interactive storytelling through virtual and mixed reality experiences. Working with acclaimed creators and designers, we create living worlds with an emphasis on becoming the hero of your own personal adventure.
What was your journey getting to your current position and can you explain what a typical day might look like for you?
I first experienced VR in 2015 thanks to TIME Magazine and Google Cardboard. I went to school for animation and I’m passionate about storytelling so I was excited about the possibilities of the medium. From there I did some research and discovered a program called Oculus LaunchPad that gave me some hands-on VR development experience, which ultimately prepared me for an opportunity at ILMxLAB.
There’s never really a “typical” day for us in Production – throughout the day we’re usually leading meetings, obtaining status updates from the various disciplines and, most importantly, responding to the needs of the team throughout the day (unblocking tasks, obtaining buy-in, updating schedules/priorities) so we have to be ready to sort of go with the flow of the day. The role of the Production Manager is, at its core, to work closely with the Producer and other project leadership to build and maintain our development schedule and overall structure of the project throughout the development cycle.
What are some of the Star Wars titles you have worked on over the years and what have been some of the challenges?
I’ve been extremely fortunate to work on a variety of projects at ILMxLAB, most notably bringing Star Wars to virtual reality, mixed reality and location-based experiences for the first time in the franchise. Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was my first full Star Wars project, followed by Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series and, most recently, Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Part I. All of our projects have their own requirements, but a common challenge (and opportunity!) for us is making sure that we are telling the right story for the medium – early on in a project we’re always asking the questions “Why VR? Why do we need to tell this particular story with this specific medium?”
Is there a project (Star Wars or otherwise) that has been your favorite to work on at your time at ILMxLAB? Which one is your favorite to play?
Oh man, that’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child! We’re all about “finding the fun” on our projects so each experience has its highlights for me, but my favorite project to work on (AND play!) was Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. As a location-based virtual reality experience, the use of a physical stage gave us the opportunity to include some more tangible elements that really enhanced guest immersion, like the use of heat, fans, and even scents (did you know that the surface of Mustafar smells like toasted marshmallows??) Secrets was also the first multiplayer location-based VR experience released AND the first-time guests had the opportunity to see Darth Vader in VR in all of his intimidating glory. Although it’s not available these days, it was a novel experience when it debuted that showed what VR is capable of as an entertainment medium.
For people new to VR what would you recommend for their first ILMxLAB experience?
I highly recommend Trials on Tatooine – A Star Wars VR Experiment for first-time VR users. It has all of your favorite classic Star Wars elements while still offering players a chance to pause and really take in the world – plus, it’s free as our first ever VR experiment. Players will hear and interact with some beloved characters and even engage in a heated skirmish with some Stormtroopers. Did I also mention that you get to wield a lightsaber?!
For people who are interested in pursuing a career in VR and virtual experiences – do you have any career advice?
Play as much as you can on as many platforms as you can get access to. Form an opinion about what you think makes “good” VR and where the industry has room to improve. Also, work on something, even if you aren’t a traditional developer – start a personal project, join a VR game jam, find a cohort! Be familiar with what’s out there and connect with other developers or subject matter experts in the industry. Social media is the new trades so take advantage of all of the information that’s available online.
What Star Wars projects are you looking forward to the most in the upcoming years?
We’re hard at work on Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Part II, which is coming out later this year. Keep an eye on our blog at ilmxlab.com or follow @ILMxLAB on social media so you don’t miss out on updates!
Can you share any projects you (or ILMxLAB) have coming up?
Nothing to share at the moment, but I’d love to take this opportunity to share the work of a non-profit that is providing a very important perspective in the accessible gaming space called DAGERSystem Twitter: @DAGERSYSTEM. Josh Straub and his team believe the goal of educating consumers regarding the accessibility of video games and work toward a future where everyone, regardless of ability, can play and enjoy games.