Blueprints for 'Star Wars' Death Star were created at UIC

Article from 2017 looking at the PDP-11/45 originally used to create the Death Star Trench Run simulation in Star Wars from 1977.

The article mainly talks about the people and the computer graphics department at the University of Illinois at Chicago who created the simulation. The embedded video in the article shows the computer itself running portions of the original simulation.

Several years ago, before DeFanti left EVL in 2004 to join the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, he gifted the computer to Steve Heminover, a former student. Heminover — who started Aura Technologies, an electrical design firm that provides lighting effects for Major League Baseball, the United Center and the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas — explained: “I could not let UIC throw these things away. They’re pieces of history, the computers that led eventually to Pixar and the digital effects we see all the time now. These, in a big way, are where it all started.”


That article is geo-blocked for me, but here’s something upstream:

Edit: and here’s a short news item video:

Edit: here’s an earlier video from Larry Cuba at EVL, a bit longer:

Try this link via the Wayback Machine [ ]. There’s an embedded video in the article, but I’m not sure if it will play.

Thanks! The video doesn’t play but the article’s interesting.

There’s a page here which covers GRASS, the software used:

and a picture of the Vector General graphics terminal:

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BTW, I find it amusing that the laboratory was named “Electronic Visualization Laboratory” or EVL. I wonder if they knew it was a play on the word, “evil”. :slight_smile:

I remember an article in Starlog Magazine from '77 or '78 where they went into great detail about this process. If I look hard I probably still have the issue in my cellar or something.

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Highly relevant - a talk by Steve Heminover at VCFMW (2019) about GRASS and the Vector General and working on the Death Star plans:

From the description:

In 1974, Steve Heminover became a part of the Circle Graphics Habitat at UIC, an early pioneer of computer graphics modeling and animation. One of the most famous outputs of this group was the use of the Vector General Graphics Display to display the 3-D wireframe animation for Star Wars, featuring Larry Cuba’s groundbreaking work. In this talk, Steve goes over that history, how he obtained the original Vector General Graphics Display used for Star Wars, how the restoration process progressed, and the final result: Viewing the Death Star on the very screen it was filmed from.

Edit: there’s a short news segment referenced in the talk, and I think it’s this one (“the star wars connection”) Edit edit: this video is already linked earlier - oops - but there’s something of a transcript here as well.

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