Terrence Malick has been designing and working on the film with large-format cameras for over 30 years.
The film was originally intended as a conceptual piece entitled "Q", and began production in 1979 before Terrence Malick abandoned the project. It was conceived as a multi-character love story set in the Middle East during the First World War which begins with a prologue set in prehistoric times. Eventually, Malick removed the WWI narrative and the prehistoric prologue became the whole film, with the narrative becoming more metaphorical and involving a prehistoric Minotaur or a "sleeping god" resting in the depths of the water while dreaming about the origins and formation of the universe.
The film actually started shooting in 2003 when renowned nature cinematographer Paul Atkins (who also happened to be the director of photography of the film) alerted the filmmakers that volcanoes were erupting in Hawaii. So, they sent him off to capture some of the most extraordinary shots in the film, as molten lava bursts up under the ocean. One cameraman took the IMAX camera so close to exploding magma that his boots melted.
In order to overcome the visual challenges of the process, Terrence Malick and Dan Glass, visual effects supervisor for the film, created what they called "Skunkworks" for photographic experimentation. According to Glass, these were literally chemical experiments conducted to see how various liquids, dyes, gasses and fluids might behave while being filmed at high-speed. Malick and Glass used everything from gels and glass, to smoke machines and fluid tanks, to create a whole range of effects. One of their main inspirations was the rich work of 19th-century painter Albert Bierstadt, to the extent that Malick referred to their work as "Bierstadting".
According to Dan Glass, visual effects supervisor for the film, Terrence Malick was saying that he wanted the feeling that every shot in the film was drawn by a different artist's hand.
According to producer Sarah Green, "Terry has been working on this idea - and, in fact, on shots for this movie - since he began making films in the '70s. There's actually footage in this film from the '70s that he's carefully kept. It's been a passion of his for his whole filmmaking career to make a film that really examines our relationship to nature, and our place with nature, as humans." Malick shot footage for the film whenever opportunities presented themselves over the years, with the producing team coming on board 12 years ago. The process came into focus over the last year, with the film solidifying and gelling into two different versions - the documentary and the IMAX experience. 
The visual effects team of the film were presented with four main visual challenges: (1) creating the astrophysical imagery before the solar system we know existed, and then conceiving and visualizing the futurescape of our universe, referencing the latest theories about our cosmic destiny; (2) representing the protoplanetary disk that formed and condensed to become our solar system and the planets it contains; (3) imaging the first unicellular forms of life in all their majesty and motion, which would learn to replicate and form increasingly complex organisms; and (4) re-conceiving animals that no longer roam the earth, convincingly blending them with analog equivalents where they exist today.
According to producers Nicholas Gonda and Sarah Green, the section of the film in which Australian aborigines hunting in the desert was filmed by Terrence Malick in the '70s.
Terrence Malick read and researched and interviewed top scientists for over 40 years.
In producing and finding imagery for the film, Malick found great resources within the scientific community. "There's many different astrophysical shots, as you'll see, many of which are created from original high-res imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope," said producer Nicolas Gonda, "In addition to that, and through the guidance of our Visual Effects Supervisor, Dan Glass, we also created live, analogue re-creations of events telescopes wouldn't be able to see." 
Terrence Malick's lead scientific adviser for the film was Dr. Andrew Knoll, the Fisher Professor of Natural History at Harvard University, a NASA consultant, and author.
Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett - the film's narrators - previously starred alongside each other in Babel (2006) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).
The film had a very unusual initial release in France : It was screened only once, at the same time (Thursday May 4th 2017 at 8pm), in more than one hundred of theaters across the country. After that, the film was not seen before another grouped screenings that occurred on Thursday June 29th 2017 at 8pm.