Memory Alpha
Memory Alpha
Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

Visual effects (VFX) pioneer Douglas "Doug" Huntley Trumbull (8 April 19428 February 2022; age 79) from Los Angeles, California, was the director of Special Photographic Effects (as VFX were still called at the time) and an acting second-unit director on Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

It was initially Trumbull's company, Future General Corporation (FGC), that was offered the job of providing the VFX for Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1978, but was turned down by Trumbull as he and his company were then deeply committed to the production of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Incidentally, the pre-production on this feature had Trumbull also turn down George Lucas' overtures in 1975 to have him work on the original Star Wars movie, though he directed Lucas to his former apprentice John Dykstra, thereby catapulting him into fame.

Yet, one year later in March 1979, FGC was again approached to do the effects, as the production ran into troubles after Robert Abel & Associates (RA&A) were pulled from the project. By that time relations between Trumbull and the Paramount Pictures management had deteriorated considerably due to the fact that, "Paramount had no vision at all and going through a big management change. The guy that I did the deal with was ousted, and Michael Eisner and Barry Diller came in and they couldn't see what I was trying to do and wanted to get rid of it. I don't know, there's just a whole train of disillusionment that accompanies my history in movies." [1](X) Trumbull used the problems the studio were in as leverage to secure a proviso that he would be released from his contractual obligations if he accepted, as well as the permission to establish a subsidiary studio model shop, the Entertainment Effects Group (EEG). [2] Actually, Trumbull had already been brought in earlier from Christmas 1978 onward, as an unpaid consultant, when conflicts between the studio and RA&A were beginning to spiral out of control. Trumbull only agreed to do so as a courtesy to his old friend Robert Wise, the director of the feature, with whom he had worked on The Andromeda Strain (The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, pp. 202-205) The troublesome and stressful production of The Motion Picture strained Trumbull to precarious exhaustion, and he was hospitalized for ten days upon completion of the project, diagnosed with ulcers and a hiatal hernia. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition (DVD); audio commentary; [3]) He acted upon his proviso, and immediately left FCG, though maintaining ownership of EEG.

Incidentally, while working on The Motion Picture, Trumbull's father, Don Trumbull (who was a VFX specialist in his own right with two Academy Awards to boot), also worked on the movie as mechanical designer at Apogee, Inc., the company of former protégé Dykstra, Trumbull had to bring in to help out with the VFX production in order to meet the 6 December deadline.

His strained working relationship with the studio notwithstanding, Trumbull's VFX work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, did win him a Saturn Award, as well as an Academy Award nomination. Years later, in 2001, this was augmented with a Video Premiere Award nomination on the occasion of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition) DVD release for which he was one of the co-providers of the audio commentary. Trumbull's cooperation to the DVD audio commentary track notwithstanding, belied the fact that he rarely mentioned The Motion Picture in interviews upon its completion (the 1980 one given to Cinefex magazine, the only in-depth one, known to date), preferring to focus on his other work instead and only commenting as briefly as possible on the movie when he is specifically asked to do so.

Career outside Star Trek

Douglas Trumbull had served in the same capacity for the science fiction films Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1979, starring Teri Garr and together with father Don) and Blade Runner (1982, starring Joanna Cassidy), each of them considered signature classics of the genre. He shared Academy Award nominations with the rest of his VFX team for all three films. In 2012 he received the Gordon E. Sawyer Award at the 84th Annual Academy Awards for his contribution in film making.

He first served as a visual effects director on the 1968 science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, starring Gary Lockwood, and which started his long association with colleague and friend Richard Yuricich, who would continue to contribute to most of Trumbull's projects) after having worked for NASA. In 1971, Trumbull directed the film Silent Running (for which he brought back his father into the motion picture industry [4]) which built upon a number of special effects techniques developed for 2001. It was on this feature that Trumbull hired a young John Dykstra for his very first professional VFX job. One of the techniques was slit-scan photography, which he himself would later try in vain to apply for the "going-to-warp" sequence of the refit-USS Enterprise in The Motion Picture. His technique was later successfully used by John Knoll for a likewise conceived sequence of the USS Enterprise-D in TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint". [5] Silent Running, though a critical success, was not a success at the box office ostensibly due to poor advertising. The plot line reflected the emerging ecology movement of the early 1970s, and is today regarded as a science fiction classic. The same year he provided the VFX for science fiction movie The Andromeda Strain, where he met and befriended its director, Robert Wise. Following Silent Running, he was a developing partner in the Canadian science fiction series The Starlost devised by writer Harlan Ellison, but eventually bowed out before the project went into production. In the mid 1970s he also served as a VFX supervisor for The Towering Inferno (1974, with a cast that included Gregory Sierra, Elizabeth Rogers, Paul Comi, George D. Wallace, and John Crawford).

Trumbull's preferred method of working was not as an employee but as a (semi-)independent contractor, and to this end he founded over the span of his career no less than eight companies. [6] One of these was FGC, he founded in 1975 with Yuricich, with full funding by Paramount Pictures, which, in the process, became sole shareholder. Purpose of the company was further development and exploitation of filming techniques Trumbull had invented by that time, most notably Showscan, an early high-definition filming technique. To this end Trumbull had in effect amicably parted ways with Paramount's first VFX company, Magicam, he had co-founded the year previously. (Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, p. 355) As such the new company was set up as a research/VFX house. When Trumbull left FGC upon completion of The Motion Picture, he maintained ownership of of "Showscan".

Incidentally, Trumbull had a knack of spotting, and surrounding himself with, yet unproven talents – of whom Dykstra had been the most prominent one – , and which, aside from his own FGC/EEG staff, also included novice Art Director John Vallone, whom Trumbull handpicked to serve as the last art director on The Motion Picture in March 1979. (Return to Tomorrow - The Filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, p. 346)

In 1993, he won a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his concept of the first modern 65mm camera developed in 25 years, the CP-65 Showcase Camera System. He shared the award with three engineers. Trumbull's motion picture technical achievements did not g unnoticed amongst his peers, as it netted him a further slew of, mostly individual, awards; a Special Achievement Award (1983 for Blade Runner, London Critics Circle Film Awards), an individual President's Award (1996, American Society of Cinematographers), an individual Time-Machine Honorary Award (1997, Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival), an individual Technical Achievement Award (2009, Society of Camera Operators), an individual Georges Méliès Award (2012, Visual Effects Society) an individual Vision Award (2013, Locarno International Film Festival) as well as the honorary individual Academy Award, the 2012 Gordon E. Sawyer Award.

He also produced and directed a few films, most notably the 1983 science fiction thriller Brainstorm, starring Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actress Louise Fletcher, the aforementioned Silent Running, as well as a few episodes of the television series The Starlost (1973). Brainstorm was his last major movie project, and Trumbull afterwards, until 1996, directed or produced predominantly shorts, Luxor Live, the last recorded one. In 2011, he shortly returned to the motion picture industry as a VFX consultant for Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.

Brainstorm proved to be yet another of Trumbull's "train of disillusionment that accompanies my history in movies", when that movie's principal cast member, Natalie Wood, drowned in an accident. Mired down in insurance claims, law suits and other unpleasantries, it turned out to be for Trumbull the straw that broke the camel's back, "That was a terrible time, really awful. The studio used that as an excuse to try not to complete the film and claim on the insurance. My frustration at that time was unbelievable and that’s why I left Hollywood altogether. It was the worst professional experience I had and ever hope to have. It was completely reprehensible from the studio’s standpoint to take that position, because they clearly had no interest in finishing the film and had no interest in finding out that Natalie Woods’ role was complete and that I had no problem editing the film without requiring any further footage, they simply didn’t want to know that. It seemed they had already decided not to complete the film. The studio was just about bankrupt, they may not have had enough money to keep the studio operating and desperately wanted this insurance claim. I was the only person standing between their $15 million and getting the movie made, which was an extremely uncomfortable position to be in, working at a studio that hates my guts and getting it distributed by a studio that hates my guts. It was really horrible. I’m glad I got the movie finished; otherwise it would have been a worst tragedy with it languishing in a vault somewhere." [7](X)

Though Trumbull withdrew entirely from feature film production proper for the time being, he remained active in the fringe activities of the industry, most notably for the so-called theme park immersive "rides", which were making a rapid entry in the studio's theme parks at the time, and which incidentally, gave a new lease of life to Trumbull's "Show-Scan" technique, that, while not adopted by the studios for theatrical features, was singularly well suited for such attractions. A very notable one that Trumbull worked upon, was the "Back to the Future: The Ride" for Steven Spielberg and Universal Studios Theme Parks. For this ride, he and his "Show-Scan" were prominently featured in the 1994 Season 1, "Ride Films: Riding the Movies", episode 6 of the documentary series, Movie Magic.

While Trumbull's body of work was relatively small, it was of significant importance, as it redefined the way science fiction in particular is depicted visually on screen, with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner elevated to cult status.

Trumbull lent his talents to "The Overview Institute", an non-profit organization, founded in 2008 and made up of real world space specialists like astronauts, scientists and authors, dedicated to "research and educate both the space community and the general public on the nature and psycho/social impact of directly experiencing space". [8] As senior consultant he was a member of "The Overview Effect" team, the part of the organization responsible for visualizing the work of the institute by producing documentaries and the like. In the team he was joined by former Star Trek alumni Dan Curry and John Eaves. [9]

Trumbull passed away on 8 February 2022 at the age of 79 after a two year battle with cancer, a brain tumor, and a stroke. [10] [11]

Star Trek awards

Trumbull received the following award and nominations in the various Special/Visual Effects categories:

Trumbull received the following Academy Award nomination in the category Best Effects, Visual Effects

Trumbull received the following Saturn Award in the category Best Special Effects

  • 1980 for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, shared with John Dykstra, and Richard Yuricich

Trumbull received the following DVD Exclusive Award (at the time called Video Premiere Award) nomination in the category Best Audio Commentary

Star Trek interview

  • "Into the V'ger Maw with Douglas Trumbull", Don Shay, Cinefex, issue 1, March 1980, pp. 4-33

Further Reading

External links