The pioneering visual effects artist Douglas Trumbull, best known for his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, has died at the age of 79.
His death was announced by his daughter Amy Trumbull, in which she said the “absolute genius and a wizard” died on Monday after “a major two-year battle with cancer, a brain tumour and a stroke”.
She added: “My sister Andromeda and I got to see him on Saturday and tell him that [we] love him, and we got to tell him to enjoy and embrace his journey into the Great Beyond.”
Part of the team behind a short film called To the Moon and Beyond made for the 1964 World’s Fair, Trumbull was hired to work on Stanley Kubrick’s epic science-fiction film 2001 after the director was impressed with its realistic visuals. Along with Con Pederson, Tom Howard and Wally Veevers, Trumbull was responsible for 2001’s boundary-pushing effects, including the eye-popping Star Gate sequence.
Trumbull subsequently embarked on a career dominated by supplying inventive visual sequences for landmark films. A dystopian fantasy called Saturation 70 was never completed, but Trumbull had considerable success with his work on the Michael Crichton-scripted The Andromeda Strain, released in 1971, which then allowed him to direct his own film, Silent Running, about a spaceship filled with forests in an attempt to preserve Earth’s trees.
Silent Running was a financial flop, but Trumbull still found himself in demand in 1970s Hollywood. He was in charge of special photographic effects on Steven Spielberg’s alien-visit sci-fi Close Encounters (for which he was nominated for his first Oscar) and as director of special photographic effects on Star Trek: the Motion Picture, having taken over after the previous effects supervisor failed to deliver what was required.
Though no longer keen to work for other directors, Trumbull agreed to work on Blade Runner for Ridley Scott – largely because no spaceships were involved – and left the movie half way through to start work on his second directing project, Brainstorm. A sci-fi thriller about a device that allows people to experience others’ sensations, Brainstorm became notorious as the final role for actor Natalie Wood, who died in mysterious circumstances during the film’s production. Trumbull did manage to complete the film but it fared poorly at the box office on its release in 1983.
Trumbull then distanced himself from Hollywood, working on the high-frame-rate ShowScan film format he developed, which found its niche in theme park rides and similar attractions, for which he was given a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award in 1993. Trumbull also became an executive at Imax for a short time.
Trumbull was subsequently lured back to film-making by Terrence Malick, working on the “creation” sequence in Malick’s 2011 Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life. Always restless, though, Trumbull continued working on new film formats, including the Magicam realtime video compositing system. In 2012 Trumbull was given an honorary Oscar to recognize his technological contributions to the film industry.