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Douglas Trumbull

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Visual effects (VFX) pioneer Douglas "Doug" Huntley Trumbull (born 8 April 1942; age 74) from Los Angeles, California, was the director of Special Photographic Effects on the 1979 film 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, a year later, FGC was again approached to do the effects, as the production ran into troubles after Robert Abel & Associates 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] 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). 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. [2] He acted upon his proviso, and immediately left FCG, though maintaining ownership of EEG.

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.

Career outside Star Trek

Douglas Trumbull had served in the same capacity for the science fiction films Close Encounters of the Third Kind (starring Teri Garr) and Blade Runner (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 (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 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". [3] 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. 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 has founded over the span of his career no less than eight companies. [4] 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. As such the 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".

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 has not gone unnoticed amongst his peers, as it has 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 has 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.

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

More recently, Trumbull has 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". [5] As senior consultant he is 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 has been joined by former Star Trek alumni Dan Curry and John Eaves. [6]

Star Trek awards

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

Academy Awards

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

Saturn Awards

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

DVD Exclusive Award

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

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