Did the Oakland Cranes give birth to the AT-AT Walker?
You have probably heard the ongoing urban legend that George Lucas got his idea for the Star Wars AT-AT Walkers from the Port of Oakland shipping container cranes while flying into Oakland International Airport. Can it be confirmed? Who knows the truth. I think it’s highly possible because he does live here in the North Bay at Skywalker Ranch in Marin, CA.
However, George Lucas himself says he did not get his creative idea from the cranes located at the Port. Is this true? Would he give the shipping container cranes credit for his Walkers? Or would he say it is obviously a unique idea created purely by his own imagination? Some even say he actually got the idea from garbage trucks and they do look more like massive garbage trucks.
Oakland is now home to 22 of these Super Post-Panamax container cranes. These behemoths are some of the biggest in the world. So huge in fact that when they shipped them from China they only had 9 feet of clearance from the top of the cranes and the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
Each huge structure stands 253 feet tall which is about a 25 story building. The boom when fully extended is 210 feet and can span across a 24 container wide ship. The huge cranes are able to lift a massive 145,000 lbs each and can unload about 35 shipping containers per hour.
But that all comes at a price. Each crane is an estimated $5.5 million dollars. After transporting them from China to Oakland, they come out to an estimated $7 million dollars each.
This is all in time for the Port of Oakland’s Maritime expansion project which dredged the shipping canal to -50 feet to cater to Post-Panamax cargo ships of the maritime industry.
MSC Fabiloa – Largest Container Ship to ever port in North America
The expansions and Port of Oakland upgrades have paid off. On March 21st 2012, the MSC Fabiola Ultra-Large Class Container Ship docked at the Port of Oakland. The MSC Fabiola is the largest container ship to ever dock in North America. The container ship can hold up to 6,000(average-sized) containers and is nearly a quarter-mile long at 12,00 feet. The ship is 55 stories long and can travel up to 25 knots.
Good thing our modernized shipping cranes and port can handle the load of this Ultra-Large Class Container Ship. This is a new class of container ships which are said to have increased fuel economy for large Pacific shipping routes. Out of the world’s current 5,000 container ships, the MCS Fabiola is 1 of only 71 in this Ultra-Large Class.
After the Port of Oakland, the MSC Fabiola will set sail for China and the voyage should take about 18 days. This class ship usually stays in the Asia Europe trade routes and this is the first time one has made it to the US.
The Port of Oakland is the 5th largest port in the Nation as far as shipping container tonnage movement. The Port of Oakland moves 99% of Northern California’s shipping industry goods through it. We handle a lot of business here in West Oakland in and out. The Port also includes the Oakland International Airport.
Oakland still has to get rid of its old low profile smaller cranes to make room for the new massive cranes. So they are recycling them. Putting them on a barge and shipping them to the Port of Boston. Pretty funny considering the huge baseball rivalry between the Oakland A’s and the Boston Red Sox.
Shipping routes below.
Ship Time Lapse.
Based on that animation, you probably can’t even begin to wonder what it might seem like crossing a great ocean full of ships passing in the night.
Well, you’re in luck because here is an amazing 30-day time-lapse of a cargo shipping mobbing around the world.
Lucas has you on a technicality. Both the 70mm and 35mm versions of Star Wars used what before that was a new Dolby technology. As a result, in order to present either version of Star Wars, which would go to become the top grossing movie of all time faster than any previous film to achieve that landmark, a theater was obliged to be outfitted with Dolby equipment.
Star Wars creating a major push for Dolby systems and equipment, a tight partnership developed between Dolby Laboratories and Lucasfilm.
Having worked at Dolby Laboratories in 1981, myself. (a humble clerk) I interacted with people who also interacted with Lucasfilm staff. [One of my supervisors transferred from Dolby to Lucasfilm to head up the then new THX division, for instance.)
Like many employees of Dolby [San Francisco]/Lucasfilm’s “Industrial Light and Magic” [at that time camouflaged in an industrial park San Rafael – the Ranch was under construction], that supervisor lived in Pleasanton and rode to Dolby in San Francisco on a motorcycle. Not only did a number of Dolby employees live in the east bay (I DID!) , but so did a number of Lucasfilm employees.
This meant that on the way to work they would have to pass the Oakland Container Port on either The Nimitz Freeway (now I880 – yes, the same section that collapsed in 1989!) or BART.
I am sorry, however, that I cannot offer you “the smoking gun on this.” But it was common knowledge at The Labs that it was one or more special effects model makers that originally nominated the idea of The Walkers, based on the shape of the container port cranes.
I can remember that at the time many people had elevated Lucas to superhuman status, as if he made the initial trilogy all by himself. Indeed, speaking philosophically, it is difficult to attribute such creative ideas to any one person or sometimes to even identify the origin of the idea in any group effort. Simply because the final creative “buck” stopped on Lucas’ desk does not mean that he was the original of the idea.
So technically speaking, no, George Lucas doesn’t and didn’t create absolutely EVERY idea for each of his films. Was it a now never to be known individual or individuals passing the container port? Was it an inside joke that the REVERSE was true?
That The Walkers, [necessary to execute a new, innovative special effect of its day, of the flying craft appearing to be spinning cables around The Walkers’ legs, requiring that they be added in not only in front of The Walkers’ legs, but behind them] ] may have looked like the container port cranes? Was the buzz of people at Dolby who interacted professionally with Lucasfilm staff promoting a joke?
I can’t say. But I can support this theory by simply saying that as far back back in 1981, only one year after “The Empire Strikes Back” was released, when Industrial Light and Magic was temporarily in San Rafael, and when anyone commuting there from the south east bay would have to pass by The Port of Oakland, I was surrounded by people interacting with Lucasfilm technical staff with whom it was “common knowledge” that The Walkers WERE inspired by one or more people passing the cranes at the container port on the way to work and nominating the idea to Lucasfilm.
So why would Lucas deny it? Who knows. Perhaps he was taking a wry stab at an oversimplified question by giving it an equally oversimplified, if not misleading, answer.
Decisions like that evolve, sometimes by consensus, with no note of the origin of the idea. and there is an enormous amount of “inside humor” in the film industry. Did I simply misread it?
Ricardo Marin says
Star Wars geeks with hairy palms.
I’m convinced it is an urban legend – one that I’m just as guilty of propagating before I knew better and I still wear the T-shirt proudly. However since Lucas himself has denied it – there is little point in pretending. It is not like he gains anything by denying it. I admit it is more than possible that there is a subliminal influence involved, designers are notorious for being susceptible to stuff they see around them, whether they realize or not. We do know that he spent a considerably amount of time in the area while filming parts of his first movie THX 1138 in the Webster Tube.