DOUGLAS TRUMBULLS GREATEST VISUAL EFFECT
Sometime in the late 1980s, my wife and I were invited to a warehouse in Marina del Rey for a demonstration of Douglas Trumbull’s Showscan. A new movie format from the man who was largely responsible for Stanley Kubrick’s incredible looks 2001: A Space Odyssey and the modern era of visual effects? The same guy who instructed Quiet running? Who could refuse such an invitation?
We were shown into a room with room for several dozen people; it was pleasant but of an industrial nature. There was no masking for the screen, which stretched from floor to ceiling, surrounded by a tangle of boxes. At one point, a man walked in between a stack of those boxes and explained what we were going to see. Only after several minutes and a carefully orchestrated “revelation” did we understand that the man was not standing in the room, but was projected on film!
The rest of the “demo wheel” was just as amazing: the images of birds, insects and underwater fish were particularly potent because I had never seen colors so bright or footage so sharp and clear.
This was Showscan: a large format movie (not unlike IMAX) that also enjoyed being shot at very high speed. Trumbull hoped it would be adopted by Hollywood, but its only real exposure came as a dramatic device in the fateful 1983 Natalie Wood film. Brainstormwhich Trumbull directed, and which was released some time after her tragic death.
Trumbull gave everything to Showscan, and when that failed, he left the film industry and moved to Massachusetts, where he worked on a number of projects in his own laboratory. Terence Malick persuaded him to work as a consultant on Tree of Life. He had harsh words for the declining quality of modern filmmaking and told a journalist: “” I do not blame people for wanting to watch movies on their laptops, because in many ways it is better than a cinema. “
His pioneering work on 2001 will never be forgotten, nor will his contributions to other landmark films The Andromeda Strain, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner. You can read about his credits in the obituaries that have been posted since his death on Monday at the age of 79.
But I will never forget the night I sat in a theater and thought there was an “actor on screen” right in front of me. Thank you, Doug Trumbull, for sharing your vision of a potential film future with people like me.