Ever wonder why in Star Wars, when R2D2 plugs into the Rebel’s Yavin computer, the Death Star plans show the weapon’s deflector dish slap bang in the middle of the equatorial trench? Well, wonder no more! (This piece contains a minor spoiler for Rogue one.)
It’s basically because of this matte painting:
Larry Cuba was assigned the task of animating a 40 second computer simulation of a pilot’s POV shot travelling down the trench to the exhaust port, then following a torpedo down to the reactor – the superweapon’s infamous flaw (now revealed as a deliberate weakness by Galen Erso in Rogue One). The animation was supposed to match the effects for the final assault in the film. Unfortunately for Larry, they hadn’t been completed, So Larry worked off a photograph of the above Matte as a guide, and six photographs of the very basic in construction trench model .
Larry Cuba was then a 27 year old pioneer in computer animator and graduate of the California Institute of the Arts. His main task was the infamous simulation above (he also did Death Star screen graphics). “George [Lucas] knew enough about computer animation to specify the kind of things he wanted,” Cuba recalled. “He wanted the computer to look like it was really drawing the graphics.”
He also had his schedule cut drastically short, as filming of General Dodonna briefing the pilots using the animation was due to take place May 6 1976 – he initially was given from March until June 1. Working around the clock, he began to believe the effect wouldn’t be ready in time and Lucas would have to go with rear projection on to the briefing screen. Filming was shuffled so that the scene would be shot on the very last day the unit had to work on the sound stage containing the rebel base. But still the computer animation wasn’t behaving. Larry decided to take a nap in his workspace, and turned off the air conditioning. When he awoke, he checked the program one more time, and it ran smoothly. it seemed the circuits were overly sensitive to the air conditioning cooling effect.
You can read more about his work here and view the animation process with his narration here:
For Rogue One, director Gareth Edwards pleasingly retained the “mistake” in the Death Star plans. At the Star Wars Archeology panel at Celebration Europe, story originator and ILM chief John Knoll, joked that the Death Star animation plans should have been used as the teaser trailer, overlaid with Christopher Nolan’s Inception “Mind Heist” music. Some enterprising soul has done just that, and here it is: