Douglas Trumbull has spent more than 50 years at the technological cutting edge of moviemaking – from his iconic special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Andromeda Strain (1971), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Star Trek: the Motion Picture (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and The Tree of Life (2011), to his directorial work on the cult classics Silent Running (1972) and Brainstorm (1983). Now 77, the moviemaking legend admits he is “a complete outlier and weirdo relative to the entrenched motion-picture industry”. Indeed, he says he feels “much better understood by scientists and mathematicians than by studio executives”.
Trumbull’s career began on the short film To the Moon and Beyond (1964), which transports the viewer from Earth out to the entire universe before zooming back down to the atomic scale. Recorded at 18 frames per second using a fish-eye wide-angle lens on 70 mm film – a technique dubbed Cinerama 360° – the movie was projected onto a domed exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. Impressed by the special effects, director Stanley Kubrick hired Trumbull to work on 2001.
Since the 1980s he’s been based in rural Massachusetts, where Trumbull Studios is experimenting with new ways of making and showing films. These include a prototype 70-seat “pod” featuring advanced digital-projection technology as well as a slightly curved, torus-shaped cinema screen. “The work that I’m doing is predicated upon a belief that there’s an intrinsically, vitally important link between the medium itself and the movie experience you can deliver to audiences,” Trumbull says. “Kubrick was very conscious of this, he talked to me about it a lot. That has stayed with me forever.”