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Tom Kobayashi, Skywalker Sound / ISDN Pioneer, Dead at 91

Tom Kobayashi built and ran George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound before pioneering the use of ISDN and fiber optic networks for audio work.

Tom Kobayashi
Tom Kobayashi

Bakersfield, CA (March 11, 2020) — Tom Kobayashi, who held major management positions at Glen Glenn Sound and Skywalker Sound and was cofounder of EDnet, died on March 3 at the age of 91.

Kobayashi had been working for over 20 years at Hollywood’s Glen Glenn Sound, where he was vice president, president and COO, when George Lucas approached him in 1985 and asked him to head Lucasfilm’s then-new Skywalker Sound division. His first job was to oversee the construction of the Technical Building, a 153,000-sq.-ft. complex housing scoring and dub stages, sound design and edit suites and other audio post production facilities at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, about 40 minutes north of San Francisco.

The initial intention was for Skywalker Studios to be for the sole use of Lucas and his friends and colleagues, but Kobayashi was soon tasked with bringing in outside projects. To that end he also set up Skywalker Sound South, an audio post facility in Santa Monica, CA. The credit lists of films finished at both locations is prodigious, including numerous episodes in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises.

To connect the north and south facilities, Kobayashi and his engineering team leveraged digital telecommunications technology and new Dolby audio compression equipment that enabled work completed at one location to be played back at the other for review. Kobayashi had the idea to sell the system to other studios, but Lucas passed on the idea. Instead, he backed Kobayashi and his partners, Skywalker Sound chief engineer Tom Scott and executive David Gustafson, in setting up a new company, EDnet (Entertainment Digital Network), in 1992.

EDnet initially allowed high-quality audio to be sent long distances over ISDN lines. Over the years it evolved to also include video and to utilize fiber optic networks. Now part of Onstream Media, the San Francisco-based company is still in operation.

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After retiring, Kobayashi joined the board of directors of Azusa Pacific University, where he helped develop a film program. He joined Penteo, which developed 5.1 upmixing technology, as its first CFO in 2009.

Kobayashi’s parents were Japanese immigrants and he was interned during World War II before serving in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1951. He graduated from USC’s Marshall Business School in 1953. His first Hollywood job was as an accounting clerk at a film lab.