Director and visual effects (VFX) pioneer Douglas Trumball has died of natural causes, February 7, 2022, at the age of 79 in Albany, New York, USA.
His daughter Amy made an announcement of his death of Facebook.
“My dad, Doug Trumbull died last night after a major two year battle with cancer, a brain tumor and a stroke. He was an absolute genius and a wizard and his contributions to the film and special effects industry will live on for decades and beyond. He created the special visual effects for 2001 A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, Star Trek and The Tree of Life. He directed Silent Running and Brainstorm. My sister Andromeda and I got to see him on Saturday and tell him that he love him and we got to tell him to enjoy and embrace his journey into the Great Beyond.
I love you Daddy, I sure will miss you!
— Amy Trumbull
Every film Trumbull worked on introduced new visual effects techniques that wowed audiences and forever extended the capabilities of every filmmaker that came after, by increasing the palette of what was possible.
Douglas Trumball was a director, a producer, and a special effects artist. He directed and produced the cult classic Silent Running (1972) starring Bruce Dern, as well as creating the visual effects for it. He also directed Brainstorm (1983), and was producer of Harlan Ellison’s TV show Starlost.
Trumbull was the man who designed and executued the special effects for Andromeda Strain (1971), and the Oscar-nominated Tree of Life (2011) . The 1981 film Bladerunner owed its groundbreaking effects to Douglas Trumbull’s design and guiding hand, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture bore his mark as well.
One of Trumbuill’s major contributions to the world of visual effects was the development of of the slit-scan photographic process. It was this new process, in conjunction with motion controlled cameras, that made it possible to produce images of the Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey that were in focus front to back, as though the objects were giant and distant, not a 55 feeot long studio model mere feet away from the camera.
Trumbull received the President’s Award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 1996. He also was nominated visual effects Oscar nominations his work on Close Encounters (1977), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). He inspired as many young special effects artists and would-be SPFX experts as the late, great, Ray Harryhausen.
Douglas Trumbull was born April 8, 1942, in Los Angeles, CA. He is survived by two daughters, Amy and Andromeda, and his widow Julia.
We offer our condolences to his family. For his fans, we ask what memories of Douglas Trumbull you have that you might like to share? What were your favorite if his movies? Share with us in the comments section below.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.
I still remember going with a friend to see a proof-of-concept reel for Trumbull’s new high-speed-high-quality filming process–shown at, of all places, a Chuck-E-Cheese restaurant–and was amazed at the realism, like the person on screen was actually in the room with you! But the theaters balked at the cost of needed projection equipment, thereby driving him into the entertainment venues and creating the first Back to the Future ride.
I remember hearing about Douglas Trumbull giving a tour for the studio execs and switched on all the lights on the V’Ger shooting model. In those days if you wanted tiny bright points of light, you used fiber optics and tungsten halogen behind them to light them up. These got very hot, and if you left the lights on too long you ran the risk of melting everything down, so the protocol on the shooting model was no more than about two hours at a time. People got yelled at for leaving the lights on all the time.
Trumbull walked the visitors through the stage, and left the shooting lights on. And they stayed on, over night. This required that about five linear miles of optical fiber be redone, taking the better part of two weeks. Trumbull himself was, reportedly, quite embarrassed over that one.
Though not one of my favorites today, I was blown away and impressed with Star Trek: The Motion Picture when it premiered. The effects were beyond anything out at the time. Blade Runner was another one in this category for me – not my favorite, but I recognized that both these films pushed the boundaries of the quality of films in their time and for the future. For that, I have boundless respect for his work in the field. My heart and prayers go out to his family for their loss.
There are a film or two that I’m not all that enthused about–except for his work.
I do have what I think is a slight correction, though. This is in regard to the slit-scan photographic process aka slit-scan photography. While I have no personal knowledge of this process other than using a computerized version of it, according to the linked article, “John Whitney developed it for the opening credits of the Hitchcock film *Vertigo*. After he sent some test sequences on film to Stanley Kubrick, the technique was adapted by Douglas Trumbull for *2001: A Space Odyssey* in 1968 for the “star gate” sequence which required a custom-built machine.”