by Curtis Lanclos
Ever since I was a wee lad, I have been a sci-fi nerd. I’ve always been fascinated by film making and special effects. In the ’80s I purchased many issues of the now defunct Starlog Magazine to find out about more about the largely unsung heroes behind the camera. These were the people who produced the stunning images which made the actors onscreen more believable in their sci-fi roles. One of these behind-the-scenes gurus was special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull, who passed away yesterday (February 7, 2022) at the age of 79.
Trumbull apparently got it honest, as his father Donald Trumbull was a bit of a pioneer in visual effects himself; he created the famous images in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. From the time he was a child, little Doug was a huge fan of movies about alien invasion like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Saucer Men. He would later produce short films for NASA, using the skills he developed in art and illustration. One of these films, To The Moon and Beyond was shown at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and it caught the attention of director Stanley Kubrick.
This would be the jumping point for Trumbull’s career, as Kubrick recruited him to produce data display screen animations for his new film, 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the production progressed, Trumbull’s responsibilities and talents grew; he ultimately became one of four special effects supervisors on the film.
2001 is one of my favorite sci-fi films of all time, but I would see two later films on which Trumbull worked before watching 2001 on television in the early 1980s…
- 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (aka CE3K)
- 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Both of these films along with 2001: A Space Odyssey constitute the trio of movies with Trumbull’s wizardry therein which deal with his childhood fascination of alien invasion. Given that, it’s no surprise these three pictures are the favorites of mine of all the ones to which Trumbull contributed.
Trumbull would also produce effects for 1971’s The Andromeda Strain, 1972’s Silent Running (which he also directed) and 1982’s Blade Runner, to name just a few. He is the recipient of an Academy Award in the area of Scientific and Technical Achievement, as well as the International Monitor Award and American Society of Cinematographers’ Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions in the field of filmmaking.
As technology progressed through his career, cinematic innovation was constantly Trumbull’s order of the day. In fact, just prior to his passing, Trumbull was involved in the evolution of visual effects using virtual digital sets and electronic cinematography. Thus, he NEVER relinquished the title of “pioneer.”
RIP Douglas Trumbull. Thank you for your contribution to the sci-fi images of my childhood and beyond.