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Trumbull, Douglas

Entry updated 14 February 2022. Tagged: Film, People.

(1942-2022) American cinematic special effects expert and film director. Originally he trained as an architect but while still at college switched his interest to graphic arts. After working with advertising agencies as a technical illustrator, he was hired by Graphic Films, a Hollywood company, to work on animated promotional films for NASA and the USAF. One of these films, the Cinerama Space Documentary To the Moon and Beyond (1964), was seen by Stanley Kubrick at the New York World's Fair in 1964. Kubrick remembered this work when he was preparing 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and hired Trumbull as one of four special-effects supervisors. Trumbull worked for three years on 2001 and was mainly responsible for the spectacular light show towards the end of the film; this utilized the "slit-scan effect", a technique developed by him.

Other films which Trumbull worked on as an effects man were Candy (1968) and The Andromeda Strain (1971). He then directed Silent Running (1972), based on his own original idea and produced on a small budget of $1,000,000. Though intermittently spectacular it was not a great success and led to a period of difficulty for Trumbull in setting up his own sf projects. He was an executive producer of the ill-fated Television series The Starlost (1973). After turning down an offer to handle special effects for Star Wars (1977), he supervised the highly praised effects in Steven Spielberg's sf epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). His research and special effects company Future General Corporation initially refused to handle the effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), but stepped in late in the day when the contracted effects house Robert Abel and Associates had failed to produce any usable footage. Trumbull next directed but did not complete the special effects for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), moving on to direct his own less than successful sf film Brainstorm (1983). After this, Trumbull withdrew from the rat-race of Hollywood cinema, working instead on new technologies for film, trade exhibitions and theme-park rides. He made a late return to effects work for the experimental non-genre The Tree of Life (2011), written and directed by Terrence Malick; and again for The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (2018), written and directed by Robert D Krzykowski with Trumbull also being an executive producer.

Of the above-cited films with effects by Trumbull, 2001, Star Wars and Blade Runner all won the Hugo award for best dramatic presentation. Though perhaps not widely recognized by the general public, and generally regarded (not without dissenting voices) as having been superseded by CGI effects, Trumbull's imaginative innovations in special effects for sf Cinema were an important creative influence on the development of a genre which at that time badly needed to grow in visual and technical sophistication along the paths that he outlined.

Trumbull was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010 and received the Georges Méliès Award from the Visual Effects Society in 2012. [DRL/JB/PN]

Douglas Huntley Trumbull

born Los Angeles, California: 8 April 1942

died Albany, New York: 7 February 2022


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