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Sci-Fi Star Wars Prequels Entertainment

1977 Star Wars Computer Graphics 271

Noryungi writes "The interestingly named 'Topless Robot' has a real trip down memory lane: how the computer graphics of the original Star Wars movie were made. The article points to this YouTube video of a short documentary made by Larry Cuba, the original artist, that explains how he did it. In 1977."


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1977 Star Wars Computer Graphics

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @01:48PM (#30146138)

    Don't believe these lies.

    The wireframe of the death star did not shoot first in the original.

    • Lucasfilm VAX (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) * <bruce@perens.com> on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @08:33PM (#30151256) Homepage Journal
      I have the console from the Lucasfilm VAX 780. Just the top part with a few switches and lights, and a key lock, on display on the wall in my office. I removed it before Pixar (which had spun off from Lucasfilm) threw the VAX away. Apparently this is the machine used for the Genesis Effect (Star Trek) and perhaps some later Star Wars effects shot using the Evans and Sutherland Picture System 2 or 3. It would have been purchased in 1981 or later.
  • by harmonise ( 1484057 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @01:53PM (#30146216)

    Wow, that's nice to have the dials to manipulate 3D objects. Is there anything like that which someone can buy today?

      • "Get 50% fewer mouse clicks and 20% greater productivity using a 3Dconnexion navigation device."

        Only 20% increased productivity ?

        Why not say 50% or 100%...


        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by kaizokuace ( 1082079 )
          I use a SpaceNavigator for 3d modeling and animation and I can't go back to not having it. Having a tactile device to control views speeds up everything so much and is just natural to use vs keyboard shortcuts and keyboard mouseclick combos.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      You could buy a vintage Battlezone, the first FPS, designed in 1979 by Ed Rotberg for Atari. It's an elegant design. No dials, but the control schema of the sticks are beautiful to behold. Most of the XY technology used in those early Atari vector machines are nearly identical to the tech described in this video. The math required for real time manipulation of XY displays is far simpler than what Jim Blinn was doing around the same time. He was a wizard for sure.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Suicyco ( 88284 )

      Those were common in early cadd systems, they didn't have a mouse. They used digitizing tables and 3d inputs like you see in the video.

      I would have liked to know more about the technology, not just how he did it with "a computer". What cadd package was it? What hardware?

      Most likely something from Unigraphics or Intergraph, as those were big 3d modeling packages of the era.

      Nowadays 3d inputs are easier with spaceballs and a simple mouse, or a 3d mouse.

    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:36PM (#30146838) Homepage

      Wow, that's nice to have the dials to manipulate 3D objects. Is there anything like that which someone can buy today?

      Until about 2002 or so (about when SGI tanked), most of the high-end 3D systems supported MIDI devices as controllers. You could plug in a MIDI knob or slider box and connect it up to the joints of your character. For some reason, few people do that any more. Support for that never really caught on when 3D moved to the PC, even though MIDI devices were cheap.

      The Jurassic Park guys had a small dinosaur skeleton model with sensors at the joints wired up to a MIDI interface, so they could pose the thing and the animation would follow. That sort of thing was popular around 1995-2000 because it required little retraining for stop-motion animators.

      • by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @03:00PM (#30147142)

        I just imagine manipulating 3d graphics with a casio pg-380 midi guitar.

      • Perhaps improved IK algorithms and motion capture have proven even more helpful than MIDI-connected dumb models.

        I suspect, if you want to bring the models back, that you are going to need feedback: stepping through frames and having the "physical model" update its joint positions would make it a lot easier to avoid accidentally jerky inputs. As to whether this would be a significant enough improvement over skeletal models with elaborate constraints, I dunno.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by CityZen ( 464761 )

      You can get a bunch of these: http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/powermate/ [griffintechnology.com]

      These used to be common, long ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dial_box [wikipedia.org]

      The "3Dmouse" mentioned above is not a dial. It is a puck that's spring-loaded to stay centered.
      You cannot rotate it freely, so it is a relative control and not an absolute control.

    • Wow, that's nice to have the dials to manipulate 3D objects. Is there anything like that which someone can buy today?

      Yeah, here [amazon.com].

    • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )

      Griffin Technology's PowerMate USB Multimedia Controller [griffintechnology.com].

  • yeah (Score:5, Funny)

    by MagicM ( 85041 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:00PM (#30146326)

    The interestingly named "Topless Robot"


  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:08PM (#30146456)
    The space-ship consoles show CAD-drawings the ship aligning with landing pads. Also the astronauts debugging the supposedly broker communication module used graphics. Only these was faked with drafted animation cells because computer graphics wasnt advanced enough in the 1960s to this. There were only osilliscope vector graphics then. But Kubrick and advisers like Minsky were anticipating better graphics in the future.
    • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:20PM (#30146592) Homepage

      That's right, kids: no computers were used in the making of "2001". Pretty remarkable.

      It's ironic: in "2001" (the movie) Kubrick had to use analog methods to simulate digital technology. But by 2001 (the year), filmmakers were using digital technology to simulate analog objects. [imdb.com]

      • The last SF movie claiming to be made with totally analog eFX was Bladerunner [cinefex.com]. Now *that* was film making.

      • Analog Computers (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ei4anb ( 625481 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @03:29PM (#30147482)
        John Whitney did use computers for the into-the-monolith scene, one of the first computer graphics scenes in movies. However he used analog computers and he has been credited with being the person who introduced computer effects into the film industry. Daisy was sung by a digital computer.

        The first digital computer I programmed was an IBM 1800 built in 1966 (and was donated to our university in 1975 where I got my hands on it) so I well know the level of computer power available when 2001 ASO was filmed. Back then analog computers were more suitable than digital computers for many real world tasks. Anyone studying computer science then was expected to be able to build an analog circuit to solve differential equations for example, that way was faster than the digital methods at the time. It would have taken quite a while to render a movie scene with the 4K that was left of the 1800's RAM after the compiler/runtime was loaded.

        Now, where was I? Oh yes, Get off my lawn!

      • by Anonymous Struct ( 660658 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @04:39PM (#30148286)

        Are you sure? I was so certain that the last part of that movie was directed by a random number generator.

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @03:30PM (#30147492)
      My personal favorite substitute for expensive early computer graphics was in Escape from New York [wikipedia.org]. To do the sequence where Snake is gliding into New York and looking at a computer generated wireframe of the city; James Cameron simply cut out a bunch of boxes, painted the lines on them with phosphorescent paint, and shot it in the dark.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tetsujin ( 103070 )

        My personal favorite substitute for expensive early computer graphics was in Escape from New York [wikipedia.org]. To do the sequence where Snake is gliding into New York and looking at a computer generated wireframe of the city; James Cameron simply cut out a bunch of boxes, painted the lines on them with phosphorescent paint, and shot it in the dark.

        Yeah, I do tend to wonder why they did that sequence in Star Wars with computers when they could have used the models they were already building and faked a "computer display look" via photographic processes... Among other things I guess this would have meant delaying the briefing scene until they were done with all the Death Star trench parts (since the parts would need to be re-painted in order to do the phosphorescent lines trick) - and it would be a different effect, like wireframe with hidden surface

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rirugrat ( 255768 )
        John Carpenter, not James Cameron.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by steveha ( 103154 )

        To do the sequence where Snake is gliding into New York and looking at a computer generated wireframe of the city; James Cameron simply cut out a bunch of boxes, painted the lines on them with phosphorescent paint, and shot it in the dark.

        It wasn't phosphorescent paint and they didn't shoot it in the dark. They painted the boxes black, and used reflective tape to make the grid lines; then they lit the model brightly and panned the camera through it. With black background and super-bright glowing white lin

  • Better Then CGI (Score:4, Insightful)

    by doroshjt ( 1044472 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:11PM (#30146496)
    CGI has ruined movies, they are so in your face that you can't enjoy the movie. What made the original star wars great was the animitronics for all the characters instead of jar jar binks super imposed cartoon characters.
    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Jar Jar Binks is indeed more fitting for a Benny Hill [youtube.com] bit.

    • Re:Better Then CGI (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:26PM (#30146684)

      Agreed. Look at the Hitchhiker's Guide movie. The scenes where the Vogons are done with puppetry are amazing, the scenes where they're CGI are 'meh'. Same goes for the original Alien vs the A v P movies, as soon as I see CGI (especially for characters/animals) the emotion center of my brain says 'nope' and shuts down.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I don't understand the anti-CGI attitude, and I'm in the older age group that is supposed to. I see a guy in a rubber suit/mask and I *my* brain says nope and starts to laugh. They're *both* fake. Who cares, really, about the tool used to realize the fakeness? Yeah, there's some poorly integrated CGI out there, but there's also CGI most people don't even notice because it's so slickly done and depicts everyday objects.

        You don't have the same reaction if the whole film is CGI, do you?

      • by Tynin ( 634655 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @04:44PM (#30148338)
        You didn't cry during Wall-E? I mean, didn't either, it was just I hadn't dusted the room in a while and it was irritating my eyes.
      • by BlackSnake112 ( 912158 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @04:57PM (#30148536)

        *** someone what of a spoiler alert ***

        If you ever watched the making of one of the Aliens movies you found out the slime from he aliens mouths is corn syrup. All that sweet smelling stuff free flowing over everything. After I found that out the aliens lost a lot of their scariness. I seen the slime drooling out of one of those alien's mouths and my brain goes "ooo candy".

      • as soon as I see CGI (especially for characters/animals) the emotion center of my brain says 'nope' and shuts down.

        I have the same experience, but it's probably just a cognitive bias. It doesn't seem to affect young children without preconceived expectations. Anecdotally, my kids prefer CGI over puppetry because the latter isn't "cool" enough.

        At any rate, the common Hollywood explanation/excuse seems to be that it's not the quality of CGI that makes it preferred, but the cost and flexibility. Once you bu

      • Re:Better Then CGI (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tetsujin ( 103070 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @05:20PM (#30148838) Homepage Journal

        Agreed. Look at the Hitchhiker's Guide movie.

        Do I have to?

        People got so hung up on the "Ford isn't supposed to be black" thing that they seem to have forgotten about the "Ford is supposed to be funny" thing...

    • Without CGI the tv show Babylon 5 could have never been made (too many war scenes) for the cheap cost that WB could afford (half Star Trek's budget).

      Other shows that likely wouldn't exist in the format we got are the New Battlestar Galactica and Stargate SG1, SGA, SGU with their numerous space battle. Instead we'd have something like Buck Rogers or Space 1999 that barely have any space scenes at all, due to the cost of models being too high. i.e. Claustrophobic.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Funny about Space 1999. the scariest thing I ever saw on TV as a kid was the monster in Dragon's Den. I used to have nightmares. Seeing it years later, it was just a flashlight and foam rubber.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )

        Without CGI the tv show Babylon 5 could have never been made (too many war scenes) for the cheap cost that WB could afford (half Star Trek's budget).

        There's a big difference between using CGI for exterior shots (cheaper than models and looks fine; models and CGI both look better if you spend more time on them, but CGI looks better for the same investment) and using CGI for interior shots. Babylon 5 used it for backdrops on a few shots, but most of the sets were full of props. The newer Star Wars films had almost nothing except green boxes in the sets and added everything else later. In Babylon 5, all of the aliens used props. If they couldn't make r

        • Re:Better Then CGI (Score:4, Interesting)

          by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:37PM (#30149818)

          I think most of the problem with CGI is that filmmakers trust it too much.

          Take the Burly Brawl scene in The Matrix: Reloaded. Amazing CGI work for most of the fight. Then they go to slow motion and you can see every mistake in plain view.

          If you did most CGI effects the same way they generally do them with models (bad lighting, odd angles, quick cuts) you'd never know it was CGI.

          Oddly enough, it's often the camera-work that gives it away. Some films are finally going away from this, but there's still a very stereotypical CGI camera movement that just doesn't feel natural.

          Well, that and the constant presence of over-animated impossible robotics. Old robots felt so much more realistic when they actually had to be driven by something to work instead of having random pieces pop out everywhere with no support structure.

    • Re:Better Then CGI (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:30PM (#30146746)

      What made the original star wars great was the animitronics for all the characters instead of jar jar binks super imposed cartoon characters.

      What made JarJar obnoxious was not how his image was created for the film. That's like blaming YouTube for the abundance of noisy idiots on-line.

    • Re:Better Then CGI (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:39PM (#30146872)

      >CGI has ruined movies

      Are you kidding? Yoda looks like a rag doll in the originals. The cantina puppets are pretty bad and Jabba's palace is a B-quality muppet showcase. If anything, CGI is producing a seamlessness that is impossible with the old techniques.

      If you cannot suspend your disbelief then thats your problem, not anyone else's.

      >jar jar binks super imposed cartoon characters.

      Thats an implementation issue, not a technological one. There's tons of CGI in those movies that looks amazing. In fact, I suspect its so good you dont even know its CGI. Blame Lucas and his people for skimping out when it came to their ridiculous Jamaican amphibian. If anything, it was probably a design decision to make JarJar look more cartoony and less realistic than the other CGI.

      • The point isn't that you are trying for the most photorealistic aliens ever. The point is, Yoda is a space alien who is also a Buddhist master who is also a muppet! (The muppets used to be quite popular, despite looking like rag dolls, they had their own TV show with its own little culture, and at the time it was quite witty and groundbreaking to have a muppet playing a straight role in an otherwise conventional fantasy movie.) I don't remember anyone complaining about the cantina aliens because, let's f
      • Blame Lucas and his people for skimping out when it came to their ridiculous Jamaican amphibian. If anything, it was probably a design decision to make JarJar look more cartoony and less realistic than the other CGI.

        I'd go along with that... these are the same people who decided that the definitive battle of the 3rd movie should take place on Endor rather than Kashyyk as originally planned.... Oh, and while we're at it, let's cut the Wookiee in half. I mean, seriously... taking out an AT-ST by throwing rock

      • I am pretty sure Jar Jar would have sucked even more as a muppet.

      • Can we all agree never to mention JarJar again.

    • Re:Better Then CGI (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:47PM (#30147000) Homepage Journal

      CGI has ruined movies, they are so in your face that you can't enjoy the movie

      It's not just the graphics, it's the film-making.

      Did you notice on this one how the initial shots of the Death Star graphics are a wide shot showing all the pilots slouching around listening to the briefing? That was the point, not the graphics.

      Today they would have framed that shot tight on the graphics with the speaker on one side. But by not focusing on the graphics they're more powerful - in this universe, it's just commonplace, nothing that needs highlighting (until the detail is small enough that the audience wouldn't be able to follow, so they zoom in then). To somebody watching in 1977 the effect is heightened.

      The point here is the briefing and the reactions of those assembled to highlight just how ridiculous and impossible (without an assist from the "more powerful than you can possibly imagine" Ben Kenobi) the task is. But they're going to try anyway because humans fight to be free.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Gollum was pretty good, IMO.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zoney_ie ( 740061 )

        I would argue that it and other elements of LOTR that used CGI were of the calibre that they were because they relied on *real* stuff (in the case of Gollum, an actual actor having his actions/features captured, not just dialogue). So many wonderful settings, although augmented and given backdrops or details filled in by CGI, were actually created as sets and props. Even the obvious CGI looks better due to relying on real stuff (e.g. replicating orc hordes based on a sizable enough mini-horde of people dres

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by davidbrit2 ( 775091 )
      How on earth is this modded Troll? I personally agree with the sentiment. Physical effects and good old fashioned compositing almost always create a more compelling, stylized look. The ingenuity and reality involved in creating such effects is far more impressive, if you ask me. Hell, Ghostbusters is 25 years old, and I still think the special effects are phenomenal.
    • Naah. What made EpIV stand out was that the characters were animated by actors and technicians rather than by puppetteers.

      In the later films, "Original Yoda" looked and sounded too much like Fozzie Bear, and moved just like a like a muppet.
      "Fozzie Bear am I, muppet am I being". Pah.

      Had the exaggerrated theatricality that some puppeteers get off on, which was fine on The Muppet Show and Sesame Street, but on a "realistic" film just amounts to really hammy acting. You know the thing, where every action is l

    • Re:Better Then CGI (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @04:09PM (#30147962)

      1920's Sound has Ruined movies, they are so in your face you can't enjoy the movie.
      1940's Color has Ruined Movies, they are so in you face you can't enjoy the movie.
      1960's Elaborate Costumes have Ruined moves....
      1980's Animtronics ...
      2000 CGI...

      It is just a new toy that its use hasn't been fully realized yet. And excuse to hate something new. They made bad movies in the past and they will do so in the future. It is not CGI but bad use of it. Jar-Jar was a stupid character who wasn't needed especially as they kept the droids. Having him as not a CGI character wouldn't make him any better.

      • Indeed each of this new technology did it share of ruining.

        It's not that these technologies are inherently bad. It was just the "latest toy around" and lots of directors felt compelled to over-abuse it and put it everywhere even where it definitely shouldn't be used. Directors started considering as a magic trick that will inherently make a film better as soon as it is used.

        It happened with every single stuff you mention.
        It happened in other media too - any one remember how "let's all go full 3D" completely

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      bull shit.

      It's called 'poor movie making'. CGI didn't ruin anything. CGI has been used in a lot of good movies as well as high grossing movie.

      The only problem with Jar-Jar is that he fell into the uncanny valley; which made people feel odd and therefor they don't like it. Also, the character was stupid as a rock. To my that was the ubforgivable sin of Jar-Jar. Almsot everything he did could be chalked up to being alien.

  • Looker came out in 1980, and that featured some cool wireframe models of humans. IIRC it also had textures. Not sure if it was entirely CGI, but it looked wonderful nonetheless.

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Looker was also way ahead of its time in foreseeing a future where it was possible to have all-digital productions where the actors were just CGI'ed in. Now we're seeing the unfortunate results with dead celebs trying to sell me vacuum cleaners (Fred Astaire, I'm looking at you bud).
  • I had a job around 1990 using a digitizing pad. I used one of those four button mice that had the wire ring around cross-hairs that I would put over the point I wanted to capture. Very cool to see something like that again. Ah, the memories.

    • I'm very envious. Ten years after this guy's work I spent some time writing a (lesser) version of the trench graphics sequence in Turbo Pascal. I derived all the coordinates from sketches on graph paper. :)

      OK, so that was about the extent of my budget too.

    • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )

      Bleah! I was a cart-tech and dig-tech for about 6 years. If I never sit at a digitizing table or look at a Nat'l Wetlands Survey map again, that's fine by me!

  • Ah yes... (Score:5, Funny)

    by mr_josh ( 1001605 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @02:46PM (#30146980)
    ... I remember DirectX 7 quite well.
  • by AlejoHausner ( 1047558 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @03:13PM (#30147302) Homepage

    The reason Larry Cuba could do real-time rendering in 1976 was that he was using a vector graphics display (http://www.cca.org/vector/). In a vector display, there are no pixels. There is no video RAM. Instead, there is a list of (x y) pairs (a list of positions on the screen, each with an off/on flag). The controller simply loops through the list over and over: the (x y) are fed to digital-to-analog converters, which drive the left/right and up/down deflectors for the CRT's electron beam. The on/off flags turn the beam on and off. In other words, it's just a big oscilloscope, with the signal replaced by a list of numbers. The longer the list, the more time it takes to traverse it and draw it, the lower the refresh rate, and the greater the flicker.

    If you stick to black and white, you don't need a CRT mask to separately illuminate the red, green and blue phosphor dots. Without this mask, you can get some very sharp images.

    If Cuba were using pixels instead, he would have needed megabytes to hold an image. I doubt anyone could afford a megabyte. Moreover, I doubt that in 1976 the electronics was fast enough to even read an image's bytes and turn it into a CRT signal. And that's just displaying the image on the screen. To create the image in the first place, he would have needed, for each line segment, to fill in all the pixels from endpoint to endpoint. There's no way he could have filled that many pixels in real time. But with a vector display, filling is done by the movement of the electron beam, and costs you zero computation.


    • In other words, it's just a big oscilloscope, with the signal replaced by a list of numbers. The longer the list, the more time it takes to traverse it and draw it, the lower the refresh rate, and the greater the flicker.

      Since you obviously know a lot more about this than I, I'm curious: I had a graphics workstation from the early 1980's, and the monitor had a panel that was filled with tiny adjustment knobs, that allowed me to adjust the x/y for individual sections of the screen so straight lines were actually straight. Your comment about 'the longer the list' makes me wonder if that monitor had 9 different electron guns rather than just one, since it was (for the times) a huge screen and the obvious way to deal with the

      • by iroll ( 717924 )

        This is speculation, but I have a feeling that what you're talking about was a clever way to help create a "flat" screen.

        If you have a single CRT and you want the beam to be focused on every part of your screen, you have to project onto a section of a sphere--which is why a CRT TV screen has a "bulge" to it.

        If you project onto a flat surface, and have the beam focal point at the distance to the center of the screen, then it'll be out of focus as you move away from the middle (since the depth from the gun is

    • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )

      I wrote a vector line drawing app on my Ti 99/4A back in '83. You'd enter a double column of x,y coordinates (start and stop point of line) and it'd then draw it to screen. I did that all in basic when I was 15. Never did get around to figuring out how to view the layout from different angles.

  • by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn@@@wumpus-cave...net> on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @03:15PM (#30147332)

    From the article:

    And it reminds me of something -- when the Star Wars special editions were about to come out in '97, I was certain that Lucas was going to redo those computer effects, like from the Rebel briefing and on the Millennium Falcon's display during the TIE Fighter dogfight. Dead certain, because if anything dated the Star Wars movies (besides Hamill's hair) it was the computer effects.

    Quite true. In fact, the original model effects of the whole battle still look pretty good, but other parts of the movie are quite dated, and not all of them were changed in the new versions. Another example is Yoda's death scene, where the muppet disappears and sheet slowly falls into the unoccupied space. It's an obvious piece of stop motion animation, and I'm surprised Lucas didn't redo it in CGI in some of the newer remakes of Star Wars (the ones where Han shoots at the same time). He already had a Yoda computer model by then from the prequels, which is half the work done right there.

  • Great video, but I find it hard to believe that Star Wars/computer nerds are just now discovering this. I saw it a year and a half ago--the YouTube upload date is two years ago (November 20, 2007).
  • by RedMage ( 136286 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @03:54PM (#30147784) Homepage

    Larry said he wrote the software to do the combining of the primitives for the trench, but what was the hardware? I've used E&S consoles similar to those, but those were VAX driven, which wasn't an option in 1976. The terminal looked similar to a VT05, but that was just an impression while watching.

    • by Mr. Protocol ( 73424 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @06:22PM (#30149594)

      The machine was a PDP-11. It was a PDP-11/45 running a one-of-a-kind graphics OS, called GRASS, the Graphics Symbiosis System written by Tom DeFanti, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (then the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle). Tom's appointment then was to the Chemistry Dept.; the GRASS system was used primarily for molecular modeling. It drove an Evans & Sutherland Picture System, a giant $100,000 vector graphics engine worth five times what the PDP-11 was worth.

      Larry's work pushed the system to its limits. His work was done at night, on the QT, with Tom's permission. This was done by giving Larry his own disk pack with a copy of the system on it. Larry's use of the system worked around all sorts of bugs in that relatively early version of GRASS. The film was made by pointing a (film) camera at the E&S screen, and running a macro which would render a frame, click the camera, render a frame, click the camera... While the PDP-11 system could in fact render the Death Star trench in real time, by the time you included all the little bits and frobs, the E&S took long enough to draw it that the display flickered. Hence the need to do frame-by-frame. Also, there was no frame-sync hardware in the system; the camera and display were connected only by the solenoid that tripped the camera shutter.

      I played with that disk pack a year or two after the fact and it was a hoot to fly around the Death Star by hand. GRASS pioneered the interactive control of complex graphics, so all the position (and other) variables could trivially be tied to dials, etc. I was discouraged by one thing: the final version of the run had apparently been deleted from the disk. The only version I could find had the big "dish" directly on the equator of the Death Star, not at 45 degrees north latitude as in the film.

      Years after that, I happened to talk to Larry Cuba by phone about something else, and asked him about that. He said the version I saw WAS the final version. Years after that, when I went to my "farewell to Star Wars viewing of Star Wars", I saw he was right. The plans shown to the rebels show the dish on the equator. Obviously the plans were fake. Those rebels were all dead men.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Taken from Motionographer [motionographer.com]

    Greetings all.

    I have a few comments about this post:

    The Video:

    This “making of” video was originally produced for my personal presentations as I was often asked to explain the process (back in the 70s and 80s when it was still obscure). Lucasfilm was vigilant in protecting its copyrighted material but OK’d this video at the time, since i had no intention of distributing it. (although copies apparently escaped) I wonder what they would say, now that the EVL in Chicago has resurrected it (after 30 years!) and posted it on YouTube.

    The YouTube link to “Calculated Movements”:

    It should be noted that this video is an *excerpt* from the film, posted by the EVL.I also posted my ‘official’ excerpt here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wH0MXZ-T4Js [youtube.com]

    Some day soon, all of my films will be available on DVD. They should be projected large, if possible as scale is important when you’re dealing with visual perception.

    Those who are interested, should watch my site for news, or sign my guestbook and I’ll notify you when it’s released.
    http://www.well.com/~cuba/ [well.com]

    Thanks for the attention.


    Larry Cuba

  • This reminds me of this application I had on my old 4Mhz PCjr that did nothing but draw a 3d wireframe of a cowboy hat. It took a good 30 minutes to draw that thing. I recall us running it on some faster machine some time later and it drew the thing in seconds. On one of my machines now I could have a far more complex hat, with textures, lighting and more and not only would it render the thing pretty much immediately, but it could move around at a nice framerate too.

    Regarding effects in movies, I agree with

  • It's just too bad that they couldn't clean up all the slugs and garbage mattes [cinenet.net] in all the reissues since.

  • Buck Rogers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by McGregorMortis ( 536146 ) on Wednesday November 18, 2009 @04:46PM (#30148380)

    I remember seeing, hearing or reading something, a long time ago, from one of the effects guys on the Buck Rogers TV series (the Gil Gerrard one.) He was describing an effect in which they needed a 3-D wireframe model of a spaceship rotating on a computer monitor (much like you see here.)

    He said that he spent a fair bit of time trying to program a computer to do it, but couldn't get it to work (not really a math or computer guy at all). In the end, he fell back on what he knew best: mechanical effects. He whipped up a wireframe model using actual wire, painted it day-glo orange, mounted it on a gimbal, and stuck the whole thing inside a hollowed-out computer monitor with the insides painted black.

    Sometimes the old ways are the best ways...

"Ninety percent of baseball is half mental." -- Yogi Berra