Legendary Hollywood special effects wizard, filmmaker, and inventor Douglas Trumbull passed away on February 7th, 2022. The Oscar-winning Berkshires resident was responsible for the dazzling visuals in some of the most iconic films in cinema history.   

Later in his career, he turned to creating experiential rides like the Back to the Future simulator at Universal Studios, developing them right here in Western Massachusetts.   

Trumbull was still working on cutting-edge immersive cinema technology right up until his passing, and Executive Producer Tony Dunne takes a look back at Trumbull’s life and legacy through his own words and in reflections from some of those who knew him.  

Hear the Oscar-winning special effects artist talk about some of the pioneering immersive filmmaking techniques he created in his Berkshires studio in this digital exclusive. 

This story originally aired on March 24, 2022. 


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Legendary Hollywood special effects wizard and filmmaker Douglas Trumbull passed away in February of this year.

The Oscar-winning Berkshires resident was responsible for the dazzling visuals in some of the most iconic films in cinema history, and Executive Producer Tony Dunne takes a look back at his life and legacy through his own words and in reflections from some of those who knew him. 

Diane Pearlman, Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative: Doug’s whole body of work was about immersing the audience in just a more profound experience of film.

Kelly Vickery, Berkshire International Film Festival: And what he created in the special effects world, it changed film forever for us. We look at film in a whole different way because of the things that Doug put in place.

Rick Sands, Director of Photography: Name one movie that he’s done that hasn’t been elevated by his work. Not just elevated but made because of his work.

Tony Dunne, Connecting Point: By anyone’s measure, Oscar-winning motion picture director and visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull was a genius and a visionary and one to whom science fiction movie lovers owe a great debt.

Diane Pearlman: Well, first of all, there was nobody that created our vision of space better than Doug Trumbull. He just was the master at what space looks like.

And he had this incredible affinity for the stars. And he had telescopes that he would take around the world and — and look at the stars. And I can only hope that he’s up there looking down at us and finding all the things that he looked at through the telescope at this point.

Tony Dunne: But for the man responsible for the mind-bending visuals in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, for making the Starship Enterprise fly on the big screen for director Robert Wise, and for creating the dystopian future of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, special effects were merely tools in service to a greater cause.

Rick Sands: It wasn’t just as effects work, it was he brought story to the effects. He also gave a lot of his input to the directors about how he felt the story should go. And a lot of — a lot of directors listened to him.

Tony Dunne: Douglas Trumbull passed away on February 7th, 2022.

Though he called the Berkshires home, his career started in Hollywood with a passion to make going to the movies more than just viewing images on a screen.

Douglas Trumbull, Visual Effects Artist & Filmmaker: My interest is in experiential movies, what I call immersive cinema. And so, it’s a completely different way of telling a story. And I got hooked on it long ago, as a very young guy when I was working on 2001: A Space Odyssey for Stanley Kubrick. And so that was my introduction to feature film movie making.

And so, it led to a really terrific resume, because being associated with that movie in special effects was a calling card that would get me into any studio. And that led to Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Trek the Motion Picture. And, you know, a lot of those kind of movies.

Tony Dunne: Not satisfied with bringing others visions to life, Trumbull soon turned his own hand to directing.

But the bureaucracy of the entertainment business left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Diane Pearlman: He had been in Hollywood for many years, developed a high frame rate film technique called Showscan, and had directed two films, Silent Running and Brainstorm, and he was hoping that the studios would do the films at a higher frame rate. And they wouldn’t do it. So, he got very frustrated; he moved out here to the Berkshires.

Douglas Trumbull: And I started looking for work that would not be feature films, because I was just completely burnt out on the whole thing.

Diane Pearlman: And in 1989, Steven Spielberg was hired by Universal Studios to do the Back to the Future ride. And he said, there’s only one person on the planet to do it, and it’s Doug Trumbull.

Douglas Trumbull: And it was a simulation ride, and I had developed the whole simulation ride concept years before when I was at Paramount. And they couldn’t figure out how to make it work.

And I said, “Well, I’ll do it, I’d love to do it.”

So, we did the whole Back to the Future ride in these old textile mills in Housatonic, Massachusetts, about, you know, 20 minutes from here. And that was proof to me that we could actually do world class filmmaking in a remote location like this.

Kelly Vickery: We have a lot of people in this community that are very, well film oriented, but very creative. And I think that that really energized Doug’s soul.

Diane Pearlman: Doug always had a vision of what he wanted to do, and then surrounded himself with people and just said, “Make it happen!” So, we had this incredible sort of the best of the best here in the Berkshires working with him.

Tony Dunne: Not only did Trumbull bring amazing talent to the region, he gave generously of his time to help up and coming filmmakers.

Kelly Vickery, Berkshire International Film Festival: He was incredible. I mean, his generosity, people talk about it all the time. But I witnessed it with, I mean, literally dozens of filmmakers that we would bring to his property. He would spend time with them. They could reach out afterwards.

He was 100% about the next generation. He was 100% about being a mentor, being an inspiration for films and filmmakers.

Diane Pearlman: You know, I came here 30 years ago and I met my husband. I had two children. I created another company, Mass Illusion, after working with him.

And, you know, I told him maybe not enough, but I’m grateful because my life and my career are here because of him. And it happened for me and so many people.

Tony Dunne: And while his impact on the art and craft of filmmaking is undeniable, Douglas Trumbull’s greatest legacy might just lie in the people that he touched along the way.

Rick Sands, Director of Photography: To me, and most people on the set, he wasn’t a technical person. He just he brought everybody together and his — his gleam in his eye was contagious. Everyone was drawn to it and wanted to make it work the way he saw it.

So, he was a storyteller more than anything else.

Diane Pearlman: He taught us how to think out of the box. And that was I think the biggest lesson from Doug is, not to do what’s already been done, but to figure out what’s next and what’s going to create that excitement for the audience.

Kelly Vickery: Doug lived up here. We live here, but Doug lived up here and he was…he was, yeah. He was an incredible person.