He briefly emerged in 2018 to supervise the effects for the Sam Elliott indie film The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, and was planning for the last several years to present a new digital system called Magi that would project images in 3D, 4K and at 120 frames per second — five times the speed (24fps) at which traditional film frames are viewed.
In the pantheon of visual effects titans who are no longer with us, including Ray Harryhausen, Willis O’Brien, Georges Melies, Stan Winston, Dick Smith and others, Douglas Trumbull now stands proudly among them. Here is a brief list of some of his most notable work:
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
After Stanley Kubrick decided not to retain Graphic Films for his then-developing space project, Trumbull called Kubrick himself and asked to stay on. Kubrick agreed, encouraging the young technician — who was only in his mid-20s — as he first created the data and computer displays for the spaceship interiors and eventually came up with the classic “Stargate” sequence, using a technique called “slit-scan photography.”
2001 singlehandedly elevated science fiction into a genre to be taken seriously in film, and its realistic depiction of space travel, the cosmos itself and a technologically advanced future all paved the way for everything from the space opera of Star Wars to the more cerebral, literary likes of Arrival. Given his first big break by Kubrick, Trumbull rose to the challenge and helped change film history.
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Robert Wise directed this incredibly tense, frightening adaptation of an early novel by Michael Crichton, in which a team of scientists struggle to contain an extraterrestrial virus before it escapes a lab and wreaks havoc on humanity. This was the first film Trumbull worked on after setting up his own production and effects company in Hollywood, and he was tasked with creating both the images of the organism itself as well as the many computer displays and readouts through the lab.
Although some aspects of the film are now dated, it’s still a marvel of design, suspense and paranoia, with Wise getting the most out of the material. In a world ravaged by a pandemic, The Andromeda Strain is worth looking at again.