Late last evening I read the sad news of a great motion picture visual effects artist's passing. Douglas Trumbull's big widescreen break came when he was cast as a major contributor to, what would become, groundbreaking VFX for the great 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). He was just 23 years of age when director Stanley Kubrick hired him in 1965. "The Big Four", my own name for the space epic's "Special Effects Supervisor" team, consisted of Trumbull, Con Pederson, Wally Veevers, and Tom Howard. The visual success of 2001 shot the then very young Trumbull to the top shelf of experienced visual effects artists.
He was also a director: Silent Running, which I saw and enjoyed when it was first released in 1972, was packaged as another space film; but one with an on-its-sleeve heart, brought to life through a very fine performance by Bruce Dern -- guided by someone considered an 'effects' man. The ecological message inherent in Silent Running would have been newsworthy in the early seventies, but for some reason even this propellant did not make the relatively low-budgeted film earn its money back.
Mr Trumbull later directed Brainstorm, but unfortunately, the death of actress Natalie Wood before principle photography had been competed put a thorn into the side of the intended story. The director had to rewrite the script somewhat to account for his loss. Trumbull's insistence on completing the film did not go over well with MGM, which was willing to cut its losses then and there, and the director's name was then entered on a blacklist of sorts. The flick was released in 1983 and it tanked, unfortunately for the talented director helmsman. (I saw Brainstorm projected in 70mm at the Ontario Place Cinesphere, but its superior imagery and imaging was not enough for me. "There's an interesting idea in there, somewhere.")
Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Yes. The great Douglas Trumbull was convinced to take the visual effects helm on that one; a troubled production that, it could be argued, had access to way too much money and faith from Paramount Pictures (holders of "The Seven-Nine Jewels"). He explains the production's complications and successes, here in the very fine TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) video short embedded above: Douglas Trumbull - Lighting the Starship Enterprise
Final note: As a teen, I was aware of the man genius who had worked behind the scenes on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This lead to me, ultimately, working in visual effects as an 'optical camera/printer operator'. (Compositing.)
The 'motion picture Enterprise' never impressed me, actually. Mr Trumbull had nothing to do with the miniature's design, as that had been done before he was convinced by the studio to help save its butt. I've never liked those nacelles, and the swept-back pylons... which were conceived, it should be noted, by original series designer Walter "Matt" Jefferies when he was hired as a consultant to the planned new tv series in the mid-seventies.
There is no denying, however, that the sequence is lovely to look at... even if it takes five minutes of looking. (Is this sequence too long? It's a matter of opinion, of course.) Trumbull makes a very funny note towards the end of the video. "Stop talking for a while!" Exactly: "And just let it all flow."
Trumbull is correct about composer Goldsmith's music. (It's one of the great motion picture scores. Unfortunately, it has a connection with an okay movie.)
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