Making of the Computer Graphics for Star Wars (Episode IV)

(1977) The computer graphics for the first Star Wars film was created by Larry Cuba in the 1970s at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) (at the time known as the Circle Graphics Habitat) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. For more information on the lab, visit our website — and Larry Cuba at

Here’s a ten-minute documentary of the making of the one piece of actual computer graphics in the original Star Wars film—the briefing-room video showing the Death Star attack plan.

As the documentary lays out, pioneering computer artist Larry Cuba created the footage using a photo of a matte painting of the Death Star as reference, along with photos of the modular pieces used to line the Death Star’s trench in close-up. His equipment was a minicomputer attached to a vector-graphics system. A vector-graphics system allowed the “host” computer to draw lines (and only lines) on a monochrome display. Those systems are extinct now, as far as I know.

A commenter on the YouTube page for the documentary claimed to have worked with Cuba on the footage and said that the minicomputer (a PDP 11/45) had just 16K of RAM. That figure is actually pretty plausible based on the way minis were typically equipped at the time.

The pains that Cuba took on the project are amazing. It’s a tribute to his work that when George Lucas redid much of the special effects in the original trilogy with the latest ILM wizardry, he left the briefing-room footage as is.

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