DROIDS FOR SALE Star Wars' George Lucas is pushing new technology.
By - Eleanor Johnson Tracy

(FORTUNE Magazine) – FAMOUS for spacey androids like Artoo Detoo and See Threepio, Star Wars creator George Lucas has come up with a couple of friendly new machines to help earthlings. They are EditDroid and SoundDroid, programmed to come to the aid of Hollywood craftsmen. Lucas has spun off their production to Droid Works, a new joint venture of his privately held Lucasfilm Ltd. of San Rafael, California, and Convergence Corp. of Irvine, a small manufacturer of video- editing equipment that helped perfect the EditDroid. He also plans to spin off a second company later this year. It will be called Pixar, after the Pixar image computer, the new graphics machine it will produce. The first product out of the Lucasfilm lab to go commercial, EditDroid automates the craft of film editing. Film is first converted to videotape, then to laser disk. Each disk stores the equivalent of 30 minutes of film. An editor cuts, splices, and manipulates the frames electronically on one of several screens in front of him. The technological advance lies in the software, which makes the editing console as simple to use as the traditional flatbed editing table. It's also a lot faster. Had the new machine been available when Lucas and his editors were compressing 90 hours of Return of the Jedi footage into a two-hour feature, it would have cut editing time by at least a third. Says Andy Zall, vice president of Complete Post Inc., a Hollywood editing studio that bought the first commercial model, ''EditDroid is a brick-wall breaker that will revolutionize the industry.'' DROID WORKS' Chief Executive Robert Doris describes SoundDroid as ''a sound studio in a box.'' It allows a sound editor to edit the original sound track while adding new audio material, such as a musical score. Using a computer, SoundDroid records, stores, edits, mixes, and processes a myriad of different sounds -- Return of the Jedi had some 130 separate sound tracks. The secret lies in a patented high-speed audio-signal processor that stores the sound on large magnetic disks and retrieves them when called for. Doris estimates that 800 companies are potential customers for the $175,000 SoundDroid, which will go on sale late this year, and 300 for the $93,000 EditDroid. The appeal of the third new product, Pixar, might reach well beyond Hollywood. Pixar software can be manipulated to produce high-resolution, three-dimensional color pictures of just about anything the imagination can conjure, from trees and mountains to alien creatures. Pixar can also manipulate images from a nuclear magnetic resonance machine to help a doctor diagnose a disease, or from hundreds of seismic soundings to guide a prospector drilling for oil. It does the job 200 times faster than the advanced minicomputers now used for such tasks. The first commercial Pixar will be ready in September and will sell for $105,000. Both Droid Works and Pixar plan public offerings, if Lucas's Midas touch with movies extends to technology. Lucasfilm intends to keep an equity interest in both. The parent, which already uses the Pixar, also plans to buy plenty of Droids. The new companies' executives plan to maintain their headquarters within a 20-minute drive of Skywalker Ranch, the $30-million-plus film complex Lucas is building on 2,500 acres north of San Francisco. Call it insurance that the force of George Lucas's imagination will be with them.