3. The original ‘Star Wars’ CGI effects were made in Chicago.
The first “Star Wars” film, 1977’s “Episode IV: A New Hope,” was filled with groundbreaking special effects that would later spawn companies like Industrial Light & Magic and Pixar Animation Studios. But director George Lucas turned to a Chicago institution for one particular scene: a military briefing of an attack on the Death Star, which required a 3-D rendering of the spaceship and the trench through which X-Wing fighters would travel to ultimately exploit its weakness. Lucas asked Larry Cuba, a then 27-year-old research associate at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to kickstart the animation.
Cuba was known for his work with cutting-edge computer animations at the Circle Graphics Habitat, now known as the Electronic Visualization Laboratory, or EVI. He and his team used programming languages developed by fellow computer scientist Thomas DeFanti as a basis for producing the 3-D computer graphics for “Star Wars,” and former students like Steve Heminover designed the laser graphics special effects. More than 25 years later, the actual Vector General computer that was used to produce the Death Star animation remains in Chicago, housed in Heminover’s South Side workshop as a piece of true cinematic history.