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VFX Legend Douglas Trumbull Dies at 79; Worked on Several Sci-Fi Classics

February 8, 2022 01:08 | By

Douglas Trumbull

Visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull, whose film credits include sci-fi classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner, died on Monday as a result of complications from mesothelioma. He was 79.

Trumbull earned Oscar nominations for his VFX work on Close Encounters and Blade Runner, as well as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1993 for conceiving the CP-65 Showscan Camera System for 65mm motion-picture photography, which was the first modern 65mm camera developed in 25 years at that point. He also received the Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award for his technical contributions to the industry. Elsewhere, Trumbull won the President’s Award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 1996 and the Georges Méliès Award from the Visual Effects Society in 2012 — two years before he was named a VES Fellow.

Additionally, Trumbull oversaw the visual effects for The Andromeda Strain and Silent Running, the latter of which he directed. He also created the Back to the Future: The Ride simulator for Universal Studios, and helped usher the rise of IMAX, serving as its vice chairman for three years.

With dozens of patents related to film tools and technology, including everything from motion-control photography to miniature compositing. Trumbull was one of Hollywood’s true innovators, which is why top directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott wanted to work with him.

Douglas Trumbull

Image via Turner Classic Movies

Trumbull ultimately quit the movie business following the making of 1981’s Brainstorm, which proved to be Natalie Wood‘s final film, as the actress died under suspicious circumstances during its production. Trumbull dedicated the film to her memory and never directed again, though he did work on the visual effects for Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life.

In recent years, Trumbull was developing a documentary about 2001: A Space Odyssey with Mike Medavoy, as well as developing a sci-fi script titled Moons Over Enigma with John Sayles. He also had a lab in Massachusetts where he continued to create and innovate, following in the footsteps of his father, Don Trumbull, a VFX wiz and mechanical engineer who worked on The Wizard of Oz and the original Star Wars.

The younger Trumbull broke into the business after cold-calling Stanley Kubrick and asking to work on 2001. Though he began creating the animated displays seen on the computer screens in the film, his responsibilities grew as production continued, and he wrapped the film as one of four of its VFX supervisors. Ironically, he ended his career advocating against the theatrical experience, as he cared so much about a film’s presentation and had grown tired of theaters owners dimming projectors and providing inferior sound to home entertainment systems.

Trumbull’s daughter, Amy, wrote on Facebook that he had cancer and she was grateful she got a chance to say goodbye.

“My sister Andromeda and I got to see him on Saturday and tell him that we love him and we got to tell him to enjoy and embrace his journey into the Great Beyond,” she wrote.

Trumbull was one of cinema’s true revolutionaries, and his memory will live on in the incredible and indelible work that he left behind.