30-some years ago, when men were men and Darth Vader wasn’t some emo nancy-boy, we didn’t have CGI: We had dials, pushbuttons, monochromatic screens and, thankfully, someone with the good sense to record this video of the creation of the Death Star computer graphics used in Star Wars.
You kids these days, with your Pixar and your clickity-clicking mice and your computer-generated everything. You don’t appreciate how it used to be in the good old days, when cutting-edge special effects required nothing less than hundreds of man-hours of painstaking work for just a few moments of screen time. Remember the briefing scene in Star Wars, when the pilots were told about the attack on the Death Star? That computerized animation of the trench run didn’t just magically appear out of nowhere, you know.
“I could’ve done that on my VIC-20,” you might be thinking. Oh yeah? So tell me this, smart guy: What if your VIC-20 hadn’t been invented yet? Then you’d have to do what animator Larry Cuba did: Digitize each component by hand based on drawings and photographs, then assemble them into a series of still shots that would eventually be photographed and strung together, one frame at a time, into a single, animated sequence.
It sounds simple enough, but technology back then wasn’t quite what it is today. How much time Cuba sunk into the creation of this scene isn’t revealed but based on this video of his work, it was clearly a very time-intensive job. His computer interface, made up largely of pushbuttons and dials straight out of a 60s sci-fi flick, certainly didn’t help to streamline the process.
But the end result was pure magic: For breathless kids watching Star Wars on the big screen in the 70s, there was no doubt whatsoever that those Death Star plans were absolutely worth every single life it cost to get them into the hands of the Alliance. Those, my friends, were the days.