Visual Effects Legend Douglas Trumbull Dies, Aged 79

Douglas Trumbull

by James White |
Updated on

Douglas Trumbull, a true pioneer in the field of visual effects has died. He was 79.

Trumbull was born in Los Angeles in 1942, and followed in his father's footsteps – Don Trumbull was himself a visual effects expert, contributing to movies including The Wizard Of Oz and the first Star Wars. The younger Trumbull got his start as an illustrator and artist at Graphic Films, which produced a film for the 1964 New York World's Fair called To The Moon And Beyond, which caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick, who hired Graphic Films director Con Pederson. A canny Trumbull got the director's number and wrangled his own job on 2001. Making his way up the ranks as the film's production continued, Trumbull ended up one of the visual effects supervisors and created the process behind the movie's iconic Star Gate sequence.

Amongst the classics Trumbull worked on besides that Kubrick release? Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Blade Runner, whilst he also directed Silent Running and Brainstorm. Problems convincing the studio to release the latter using a new sound system he'd created and Natalie Wood's suspicious death during the making of the movie convinced him to leave the business. He returned for Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life in 2011.

Yet Trumbull's legacy expands far beyond his work on those classics. He invented and patented many film tools and techniques, including in the field of motion control and miniature compositing. And he created the Back To The Future ride simulator that was at the Universal Studios theme parks, while also helping to bring IMAX to a wide audience.

In 1993, he shared an Academy Scientific and Engineering Award for his work on the CP-65 Showscan Camera System for 65mm motion picture photography, the first modern 65mm camera developed in 25 years. In 2012 he won the Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award, which is a special Oscar presented to “an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.”

Trumbull had been dealing with cancer, a brain tumour and the aftermath of a stroke before his death and his daughter Amy wrote about seeing him before his death. "My sister Andromed 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."

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