10 Cool Facts About Douglas Trumbull, Special Effects Legend

Douglas Trumbull is a giant in the field of motion pictures special effects. His groundbreaking work on seminal films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters with the Third Kind, Blade Runner His achievements earned him a place in the pantheon as one of the most respected visual effects artists. Trumbull, who was 79 years old, died in February 2022.

While fans everywhere mourn the loss, it’s a good time to look back on the fascinating life of this unique visual artist. Here are 10 interesting facts about Douglas Trumbull, the filmmaker and special effects artist extraordinaire.

10 It Runs in Family

Douglas Trumbull was a Los Angeles native, born April 8, 1942. Growing up near Hollywood surely gave him a leg up for eventually breaking into the industry—as did a family connection. Douglas’s father, Don Trumbull, an aerospace engineer, also happened to be involved in special effects. Star Wars (1977) and one of Hollywood’s earliest hits known for its visual effects: The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Although the senior Trumbull didn’t have another film credit until after Douglas became successful in the industry, he did later work with his son on films like Close Encounters with the Third Kind Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s clear that the talents that make one a great visual artist run in the Trumbull family. [1]

9 Building and Electronics for Children

Trumbull was fascinated by electronic and mechanical devices growing up in California. He even built his own. crystal set radios. A crystal set radio, a small device that can both pick up radio signals and also generate power from them, is called a crystal radio.

He was naturally gifted in electricity and mechanics, which led him to pursue a career of architecture. His talents would take him in a direction that would allow his other interests of science fiction and outer space to be incorporated.[2]

8 Films for NASA & the Air Force

Before he could pursue architecture, Trumbull’s illustrations of planets and spaceships caught the attention of Graphic Films, a small animation and graphic arts studio. Graphic Films was an American contractor, specifically NASA and U.S. Air Force.

Trumbull worked on documentaries and concept films while he was there. Some films were even shot in CineramaThis was a very widescreen process, which required three separate projectors to display back on a curved, wraparound screen. A precursor to today’s IMAX, Cinerama proved to be an exceptionally good fit for the needs of Graphic Films and NASA in explaining the agency’s future plans for space travel.[3]

7 Ticket to the 1964 World’s Fair

One of the Cinerama productions Trumbull worked on for Graphic Films ended up playing at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. To the Moon and BeyondAt the fair, the Transportation and Travel Pavilion featured the film. The immersive Cinerama presentation promised a realistic vision of space travel five years before NASA sent astronauts to the moon.

The film’s poster told audiences to be prepared to “be propelled on the most fantastic, incredible voyage through billions of miles of space…from its utmost outer reaches…back to the Earth itself, and into the center of the minutest atom. All through the magic of Cinerama!”[4]

6 A Call to Kubrick

Two important visitors to the 1964 World’s Fair had a keen interest in To the Moon and Beyond. Pre-production work began on the 1968 landmark film. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction author, were involved in it. 2001: A Space Odyssey. The realism and authenticity of To the Moon and Beyond, Kubrick hired Graphic Filmsas storyboard artists and advisors for his new film project.

Trumbull decided to take a leap of faith after Kubrick ended their relationship with Graphic Films. He cold-called Kubrick and shared his ideas on how Kubrick could achieve his vision. This phone call proved to be the pivotal moment in Trumbull’s career, as Kubrick then contacted Trumbull’s boss at Graphic Films and arranged for Trumbull to come to England to work on the film.[5]

5 A Stargate Is Born

While you are working on 2001The film’s special effects would become legendary because the production team was able to translate the script into elaborate special effects. The famous “Stargate” sequence, when astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) first makes contact with alien life, was not terribly well defined when it came time to shoot it.

Trumbull recalled that the team had a vague idea about one of Jupiter’s moons that had a tunnel through which another part of the universe could be seen. There was no clear plan to bring the idea to life. He noted, “It wasn’t my job to create a solution, but I was watching what others were doing, and you could see it just wasn’t working.” After finding inspiration from some “avant-garde animation films he had seen,” Trumbull developed a machine he called a “slit-scan.” The machine “moved colorful artwork behind slits while the camera moved away from the slit.” This is the scene that we see in the film today. Kubrick decided the effects worked the film and told Trumbull to “keep shooting, keep shooting.”[6]

4 The Birth of Familiar Droids

Trumbull derived his success from 2001He was offered more Hollywood special effects jobs, and then, just a few decades later, the chance to direct his own movie. Silent Running. The story is about Bruce Dern, a futuristic botanist who is tasked with keeping animals and plants alive until the Earth can be inhabited again. Trumbull designed some small robots that help him accomplish this feat. Viewers who have viewed the video Silent RunningOnly after you have seen Star Wars can’t help but notice that the robots in Silent Running wouldn’t feel out of place as droids in the Star Wars universe.

Norman Reynolds, the first art director Star Wars film from 1977, acknowledges this by saying, “I remember watching Silent Running for the robots.” Some of the similarities between the Silent RunningSome of the notable features of robots and Droids include retractable arms and the ability interact with computers. The most striking similarity between the films is the use of whistles and beeps to communicate with each other by the robots.[7]

3 Direction of the Shots

We’ve already talked about how we came up with the idea of how to shoot the video. 2001He shot much of the Stargate sequence himself, at Kubrick’s request. Trumbull’s experience and his ability to become a director led to other directors hiring him to film his special effects sequences.

Some of his most notable work was in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. According to the Hollywood Reporter, director Robert Wise had Trumbull shoot the docking sequence aboard the Enterprise and Spock’s spacewalk. It’s probably no coincidence that these are two of the most highly regarded scenes in this Star Trek classic.[8]

2 A Universal Back to the Future

Universal Studios wanted to create a Back to the FutureThey contracted with Berkshire Ridefilm to provide the ride. This is one of the many companies Trumbull started, named after the Berkshire hills region of Massachusetts where Trumbull grew up. Given his experience and credentials with To the Moon, Beyond and the sense that there is movement in the area, Trumbull’s credentials and experience are impressive. 2001He was the perfect candidate for Universal to bring the Stargate sequence to fruition. He directed the 4-minute film that’s a part of the ride.

Trumbull approached the job with his trademark zeal, inventiveness, and you can watch him on YouTube explaining how he conveyed the message. sense of motionThat is what makes the short film so enjoyable.[9]

1 Saving the Planet

The Deepwater Horizon oil oil spillage, also known as BP oil spillage, began within days of the April 20, 2010, explosion and sinking of Deepwater Horizon’s oil rig in Gulf of Mexico. An estimated 3.19 million barrels oil had leaked into Gulf waters by the time the leak was under control.

Trumbull, ever the inventor, took to social media to present a solution idea that garnered a lot attention as a common-sense method to clean up the Gulf waters. You can still see his pitch and concept on YouTube. Although Trumbull and BP did not reach out to Trumbull, it is possible to see if his ideas were incorporated into cleanup efforts.[10]

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