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Douglas Trumbull, visual effects supervisor and director, dies at 79: NPR


Douglas Trumbull in a publicity portrait from the film Dating of the Third Kind.

Archive by Michael Ochs/Getty Images


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Archive by Michael Ochs/Getty Images

Douglas Trumbull, visual effects supervisor and director, dies at 79: NPR

Douglas Trumbull in a publicity portrait from the film Dating of the Third Kind.

Archive by Michael Ochs/Getty Images

Douglas Trumbull, the pioneering pre-digital effects wizard who brought the impossible landscapes of 2001, A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Star Trek: The Movie died at age 79.

Those choppy clouds before the spacecraft arrived in Close Encounters? It was white paint injected into a mixture of fresh and salt water. The light show that catapulted audiences into hyperspace in 2001? It was illuminated art shot through a slit in a rotating piece of sheet metal.

In the days before digital effects, these scenes had to be created physically, and Doug Trumbull was the kid who figured out how. First hired in his twenties to fill space odysseyHollywood’s computer screens with images (before most people had ever seen a computer screen), his inventive use of split-scan shots in the finale made him the go-to guy in Hollywood. ‘Hollywood for sci-fi imagery. George Lucas came to call, but Trumbull had to turn down the original star wars because he was too busy with effects to Close Encounters. At that time, he had also made Quiet operationin which Bruce Dern and the robots Huey, Dewey, and Louie tend to what remains of Earth’s vegetation in geodesic domes in space.

Observers are surprised that Quiet operation costs a tenth of the budget of 2001. Trumbull saved later Star Trek: The Moviewhen the film’s supposedly state-of-the-art graphics imaging system couldn’t produce even a few seconds of usable footage.

Tired of imagining spacecraft against starry backdrops, Trumbull took blade runneris the polluted, dystopian city of Los Angeles and made it look a lot like an oil refinery. He also spent years trying to convince Hollywood to adopt a hyper-real 70mm process he invented that would run at about three times the speed of normal film. His 1992 virtual reality film genius idea was meant to be a showcase for innovation, but theater owners were reluctant to pay for the equipment.

Trying to persuade Hollywood to take risks exhausted Trumbull and he mostly retired from acting. He emerged occasionally to work on an immersive theme park ride or do effects for Terence Malik’s big bang segment. The tree of life. Trumbull was always happy to amaze audiences accustomed to digital effects with his hands-on magic.

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