Doug Trumbull: A VFX Great
February 9, 2022

Doug Trumbull: A VFX Great

There are so many people around the world who have contributed greatly to field of visual effects. And then there are the few, the industry’s greats, whose contributions impacted the craft and took it to all new levels. Douglas Trumbull was one of those greats.
Perhaps best known for his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Close Encounters, his efforts and visions drove many other films, including The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and more.

Sadly, he passed away on February 7 at the age of 79.

Trumbull has been recognized for his groundbreaking work, receiving an Academy Scientific and Engineering Award for the Showscan Camera System as well as the Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award for his career contributions. In addition, he received the Visual Effects Society’s 2012 Georges Méliès Award for his pioneering efforts and contributions to the art and/or science of the visual effects industry. 

Additionally, Trumbull was a featured speaker at many industry events and conferences.

In 2013, the filmmaking pioneer used Codex recording technology in the production of UFOTOG, the first high frame rate (120 fps), stereoscopic 3D film. Trumbull and his production team at Trumbull Studios employed Codex Onboard S Recorders to capture 4K raw data from a pair of Canon C500 cameras, each shooting at 60 fps. The project was designed to demonstrate the potential of high frame rate imagery and Trumbull's vision for a new form of immersive cinematic entertainment. The film debuted in 2014.

Visual effects work was in Trumbull's blood, having inherited the passion from his father, who handled the special effects for The Wizard of Oz.

Yesterday, when new broke of Trumbull’s passing, many throughout the industry shared their memories of this visionary and his amazing work, expressing sadness at his passing.

From ILM: “We’re remembering when Douglas Trumbull came to pay a visit to Dennis Muren and the ILM crew. He was a true icon, and in many ways the godfather of the modern era of visual effects. Following in the footsteps of his father who created special effects for The Wizard of Oz (1939), Doug had an illustrious career in the industry, working on films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, and The Tree of Life. ILM will miss him dearly.”

From Paul Debevec, himself an innovator in the field: “I'm very sad to hear of the passing of legendary visual effects supervisor and director Douglas Trumbull today. He was our industry's living connection to the pioneering visual effects work in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and led the creation of breathtaking sequences for Blade Runner, Close Encounters, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Doug reached out back in 1999 after seeing our SIGGRAPH film Fiat Lux, and he graciously gave a talk on his work to a packed auditorium at UC Berkeley's Soda Hall when he came to visit. We'd have the opportunity to see him several more times at USC and Google, and I was able to spend an afternoon at his impressive studio and residential complex in western Massachusetts, where he continued to shoot films and innovate filmmaking technology. Doug was an exponent of high frame cinema, earning accolades for his 60 fps Showscan process, and was continuing to develop far more real and immersive cinema systems even into this year. We owe him a great debt of inspiration and gratitude, and he will be missed. "

From Joe Letteri, senior VFX supervisor, Weta FX: “Doug stands out as an iconic figure in visual effects, one of the early pioneers who blended a deep knowledge of cinematography and mechanics to develop techniques that we still use today. An early evangelist of high frame rate processes, Doug’s vision for where we can take cinema is just now coming to fruition. He will be missed.”