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Trumbull, Douglas


Special Effects Technician. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 8 April 1942. Education: Studied architecture at El Camino College, Torrance, California. Career: Mid-1960s—educational and technical filmmaker for Graphic Films, Los Angeles; 1974—founded Future General Corporation: developed Showscan process.

Films as Special Effects Technician:


To the Moon and Beyond (+ d—short)


Candy (Marquand) (co); 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick) (co)


The Andromeda Strain (Wise) (co)


The Borrowers (Miller)


Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg)


Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Meyer)


Blade Runner (R. Scott)

Films as Director:


Silent Running


Brainstorm (+ pr)


New Magic (+ pr)


Leonardo's Dream


To Dream of Roses


Back to the Future—;The Ride


In Search of the Obelisk (+ pr)


By TRUMBULL: articles—

"The Slit-Scan Process," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1969.

With Jon Bloom and David Graham, on The Andromeda Strain, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1971.

Action (Los Angeles), May/June 1972.

Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1977.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1978.

Cinefantastique (New York), Spring 1978.

Take One (Montreal), May 1978.

Films Illustrated (London), June 1978.

Cinefantastique (New York), Autumn 1978.

Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 18, 1981.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1982.

Film Comment (New York), September/October 1983.

Cinefantastique (New York), December 1983/January 1984.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1984.

Ecran Fantastique (Paris), February 1984.

Starburst (London), February 1984.

Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1985.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1993.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 75, August 1994.

On TRUMBULL: articles—

Show (New York), 23 July 1970.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), January 1978.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1979.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1980.

Image et Son/Ecran (Paris), September 1981.

Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 26, 1982.

Duncan, Pamela, in Cinefex (Riverside, California), April 1982.

Revue du Cinéma/Image et Son (Paris), February 1984.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1984.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 73, August 1992.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 74, August 1993.

Sight & Sound (London), May 1995.

* * *

From the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, Douglas Trumbull symbolized the new Hollywood special-effects wizards. He showed that blockbusters could be built around more than a good story and a top cast of stars. Inventor/cameraman/special-effects masters such as himself could make such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain, Close Encounters of a Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner big hits. A cult of film fans began to worship his creative efforts which turned a motion picture into a complete new world. Directors Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, and Ridley Scott skillfully took advantage of Trumbull's considerable talents to create a handful of the most important science-fiction films in Hollywood history. And for a time even official Hollywood recognized him with Oscar nominations.

Yet however successful he was Douglas Trumbull possessed a strong independent spirit and chaffed working for others. As a consequence it was not surprising that in the early 1980s he turned to his own projects, wanting to present his world view on his own films. But total control proved harder than he had anticipated. For example, he tried his hand at the film Brainstorm which had been begun by others. In the process of filming, Natalie Wood, the film's star, died in a controversial boating accident; Trumbull took over a film no one else wanted and tried, through his technological magic, to turn it into a blockbuster. He failed. The released film lost millions of dollars.

New Magic and Leonardo's Dream did not do any better. Trumbull then tried to pioneer new cinema technology and unveiled Showscan. Shot at 60 frames per second (versus 24 frames per second for traditional 35mm film), Trumbull sought to bombard the viewer with 150 percent more visual information. By using a larger screen, set closer to the audience, plus a powerful, state-of-the-art stereo sound system, plus 70mm film stock, Trumbull wanted to make the ticket buyer unaware she or he was even watching a motion picture.

Trumbull's dream never passed the experimental stage. He and his backers were unable to persuade the public to want this "super realism." Ironically, during the very period Trumbull sought to develop Showscan, film fans were turning more and more to the inferior images found on home video. Trumbull gave up and turned his considerable talents to making rides for theme parks, most notably the "Back to the Future" attraction at the Universal Studios theme park.

—Douglas Gomery

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