Legendary special effects artist Douglas Trumbull dies

It is hard not to think, in evoking Douglas Trumbull, of an artist who thought of his medium as well as his subject. The one that always had one foot in the future by taking care of some of the greatest science fiction films of the last century has revolutionized the way of approaching materials and specific techniques.

From 2001 a space odyssey (1968) in Bounty hunter (1982), Trumbull secretly reigned over the seventh art, leaving an indelible mark despite the many obstacles that the majors faced in the face of his innovations. He, who was 79 years old when he left us on February 7 due to a brain tumor, was certainly adored by all fans of the genre, but too little known by other moviegoers. However, he deserves far more worldwide recognition for the immense impact of his work on the film industry.

An engineer too ahead of his time

Son of Donald Trumbull, to whom we owe, among other things, the visual effects of the cult film The Wizard of Oz (1939), young Douglas is discovered by Kubrick with the film To the moon and beyond broadcast in a dome on Cinerama 360. He worked on the latter for the 1964 New York International’s Fair, and also did animations for NASA, just that.

Stanley Kubrick, accompanied by the writer Arthur C. Clark, decides to contact Douglas Trumbull to work in particular on the hallucinatory scenes at the end of 2001 a space odyssey experimenting and testing new methods of capturing light.

He managed to convince Universal to finance his first feature film, while working on The Andromeda Mystery (1971) by Robert Wise. On paper, Silent operation It has it all: Trumbull behind the camera, a post-apocalyptic script co-signed by a certain Michael Cimino, and Bruce Dern in the cast. Unfortunately, the studio doesn’t believe in the film, dedicates a ridiculous budget to it and releases it quietly, to no avail despite rave reviews.

Trumbull tries to launch other projects, but they all fail and he is forced to return to special effects. However, he transforms this obligation into strength, since he will see it, the one whose father was an engineer at first, a real playground.

After an unaccredited passage over the blue backgrounds of The Hell Tower (1974), refuses to work on Star Wars be in Spielberg’s movie, Third Kind Dating (1977). Although he prefers to work on a new technology -Showscan, which captures 60 images per second- that he finances thanks to Paramount, as well as on a new production, he refuses to participate in star trek, which falls during the post-production of Spielberg.

Paramount, visibly upset by Trumbull’s decision, cut Showscan’s funding and hired someone else: the studio of Robert Abel & Associates. The man, left behind, will take the reins of the project a few months after the RA&A is finally dropped. He has little time, a heavy workload as he has to review all the space footage for the film and works with the team tirelessly. He will even get an ulcer from lack of sleep and too much stress.

After this traumatic experience, he no longer wants to work. Until a certain Ridley Scott approached him to Bounty hunter. He agrees and explains that at least it’s not a space movie anymore. From sets to flying cars, he designed everything with Richard Yuricich, before he had to leave the ship. It’s hard to blame him: he’s finally been offered the opportunity to finance his second feature film.

Great idea it is an opportunity for him to exploit the Showscan, since it will be a science fiction movie in which scientists have created a technology that allows you to see and feel the emotions of other people. To illustrate the sequences where one person sees the life of another, Douglas Trumbull wanted to use precisely these sequences shot on 70mm at 60 frames per second.

Unfortunately, MGM is backing down and the movie will air as normal. In question: the drowning of lead actress Natalie Wood while the film is not finished, and the fact that theaters do not want to change the material of diffusion. After a long battle, the film was released in theaters in 1983, again rejected by the public despite very good reviews. This will be Trumbull’s last film.

He was a true pioneer whose talent was wasted throughout his career. In addition to having innovated in the Showcan, had tried, with the same foundation financed by Paramount, to develop LaserDisc technology – which more or less allows the design of a video game – which failed because Paramount rejected the prototype. The idea is picked up by Cinematronics for the game. dragon’s lair ten years later.

Similarly, after the failure of Great idea, Douglas Trumbull and his team designed the first motion picture platform that can physically move based on the image. The project will be rejected, before being used years later for attractions, Return to the future at Universal Studios and star tour at Disneyland.

This misunderstood genius, who worked to make the picture more immersive and the theatrical experience more impactful, is slowly falling off the radar. We will see him briefly in the direction of IMAX Corporation in 1994. It is Terrence Malick who will give him the last letters of nobility about him. A great admirer of Trumbull, he asked him to be a consultant on the special effects of The Tree of Life, Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2011. For his part, he has been working on a myriad of projects, from a 120 frames per second film to a photorealistic miniature film project.

He will die before he can get behind the camera for the last time, leaving behind a monstrous and frustrating legacy, that of a revolutionary artist who has been restricted in his advances and his ideas. The least we could do now would be to respect his immense talent, as generations of filmmakers have been able to do in recent years.

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