Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects genius behind science fiction movies 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner, has passed away aged 79, per an obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.
Trumbull was clearly choosy about the projects he worked on, with a total of 11 credits for visual effects. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was his first film and what a start to a career. Considering that he was working before computer generated imagery, what he achieved especially in the final act of that film is extraordinary.
Trumbull also worked on ’70s classics The Andromeda Strain, Silent Running (which he also directed), Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His work on Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner should be considered up there with the effects of 2001.
Trumbull has no visual effects credits between Blade Runner in 1982 and Terence Malick’s epic philosophical work The Tree of Life in 2011. He did direct a film called Brainstorm in 1983, however. He made time for just one more film after that – The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (2018).
When Natalie Wood tragically died during the making of Brainstorm, this was what prompted Trumbull to leave movie-making. He continued to work on technology that would be used in cinema and he created the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios.
Despite only working on the effects for nine feature films, Trumbull won Oscars for three of them – for Close Encounters, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Blade Runner.
Trumbull invented many ground-breaking new techniques while working on special effects, including the ‘corridor of light’ or Star Gate sequence in 2001, the cloud effects in Close Encounters and the use of smoke and fireballs in Blade Runner’s stunning opening.
He was lured out of a thirty-year retirement to create the twenty minute ‘creation of life’ opening in The Tree of Life.
If you’re a fan of 2001, Blade Runner and the rest of Trumbull’s work, check out our guide the best science fiction movies.