Watch: VFX Legend Douglas Trumbull Explains How He Saved Star Trek: The Motion Picture


Visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull was a late edition to the crew for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, after he initially turned  down a deal to do the effects for the movie. In a new video he talks about how he came on board to ‘save’ the movie. Watch it below.

Trumbull on ‘Saving’ Star Trek: The Motion Picture

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Douglas Trumbull talks about how he was brought in help save Star Trek: The Motion Picture after the "studio was panicking." In the end Trumbull’s work on TMP earned him an Academy Award nomination, but the amount of work literally put him in the hospital. Trumbull explains in the video below.

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I hate that he got sick, but Trumbull’s genius is up there.
I could wish they’d have trimmed the effects a bit… But that is another discussion. His comments also speak volumes about the utter lack of love for film studio execs have. “Just gimme cash and shutthef*@kup!” – Diller.

And to this day…no other Trek film have matched the scope and majesty of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Say what you will about it’s slow pace/boring…ect…..the movie gave 2001: A space Odyssey a run for it’s money. And read into that if you want to.

I remember seeing it in theaters when I was 10 years old. I was utterly blown away by the size of it and how gorgeously they had re-imagined the whole world of Star Trek.

The ending of that movie is my favorite ending of any ST to this date. I still get a chill watching it.

Alas, we shall never witness another Star Trek film with such depth of intellectual conceptions and beauty of images.
No I am not saying Star Trek needs to be slow and purely cerebral, it can be fast, funny and action packed, but above all it should be original from start to finish.
Not some hacked up job of retelling and slathering previous greatness as if those are the only story lines worth telling.

Douglas Trumbull is a genius and a legend. Star Trek was lucky to have him.

I love Star Trek the Motion picture. I was six when it came out that’s when it became my favorite entertainment thingy, or whatever you call it, of all.

when I was even younger (around 3 4 5), I hated it. My mother love it. The TV show would come on Saturdays and Sundays at 6. right when my sister and i would wake up from our nap. I’d wanted to watch something for kids and instead we got Star Trek.

That all changed with the Motion Picture. I don’t know why but I just loved it. The music, the effects-especially warp speed, and THE ENTERPRISE.

I didn’t get the boring complaints, like the long dialog-less scenes inside of V-ger. I loved it. To me that’s how it would be, standing there in awe studying this out-of-this thing from who knows where.

Yes, the effects were delivered. And they were good. Epic footage of 1701A. Unfortunately, the story was a rehash of The Changeling from TOS, but the script sucked the charm and humanity out of the characters, and the direction and editing had no clue what made TOS successful and legendary. If a sequel had been similarly written and directed, the franchise would have died right then and there. Fortunately, The Wrath of Khan brought back the essence of Star Trek: the charm of the characters. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. I loved 2001. One of my favorite movies of all time. But it ain’t Star Trek, and Star Trek ain’t 2001. Thank God for Khan, the original, that is.

I always thought that TMP was robbed at the Academy Awards, when Alien took the Visual Effects Oscar.

Alien had some wonderful effects, but the multi-element travelling matte shots of The Big E in space dock were fabulous. I suspect many people had no idea whatsoever how complex that image was, especially in the days before rampant motion control and CGI.

They made it look TOO easy…

I’ve always had a lot of love for TMP, flaws and all. It’s the only film in the series that attempted to do true science fiction and it also had a great, life-changing character arc for Spock.

I agree with #8 – the amount of layering in the FX was(and is) incredible. Trumbull is the only one who really knew how to shoot the refitted Enterprise; as much as I love ILM, I always felt they cut corners when it came to beauty lighting for the Big E.

YES and YES. It’s intriguing. As a child, I became wrapped up in that world. I love the novelization.

If you have not seen Doug’s MAGI or UFOTOG technology, you should. I was in Seattle to see the premiere of Doug’s new 3D movie and it was spectacular. The genius that is Doug Trumbull….whether he is using his latest methods or making special effects the old-fashioned way, he is incomparable.

Trumbull is a genius and a legend. Glad he saved it! =D

TMP is a masterpiece! =)

My love for “The Motionless Picture” has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I cannot ever forget those opening scenes with the Klingon Battle Cruisers being ‘stored’ by V’ger, and the super-love-fest, overdone, overlong reintroduction to the Big E to Kirk (and to us); That was simply amazing work, and deserves (and receives) the utmost respect. God, I love that Enterprise!

I don’t get how people say in the same breath, they like 2001 but don’t get/like TMP, yet there are those similarities with pacing, fantastic set design, true 65mm cinematography (scenes w/FX) and the involvement of a superbeing with the storyline. The often spoken lack of character development is way off. Did you not see how Spock’s character is transformed from the beginning, where he tries to purge his human half through Kolinahr, yet totally reverses himself and embraces it at the end? Which, by the way, sets up the self less emotional act that we see in Wrath of Khan? I was especially moved by Spock’s speech in sickbay, after the Vger mind meld, where he’s at peace with himself, no more conflict..he even laughs at himself. Re Comment #7 you miss the point. I have always suspected the aforementioned complaints and sentiments are from people who have not grown up with the series in at least syndication and have seen the TOS films in their original release. So, yes, you post Gen Y-ers and Millenials, I’m referring to your generation. Why must every movie be enjoyed with a nod to ADD sense of film editing and pacing? I remember seeing the movie opening weekend at around 2 am, only because every show, 36 hours before it was sold out..and it was being shown around the clock in several local theaters! This was in the day before they had megaplexes and 5000 screen openings that you have today. I think the movie opened in barely 800 or so screens and there was some controversy over the fact that admission prices were jacked up to the then unheard of $5 admission prices to take advantage of the demand to see the movie. The fact it had no competition, Spielberg’s ‘1941’ was the only other release but bombed at the box office, enabled TMP to open big breaking then box office records. The only other big film that would open during the holidays was Disney’s ‘The Black Hole’ which also did not fare well. So pretty much TMP owned the box office for several weeks since its opening and the winter months. Trumbull and his team of FX artists, John Dykstra, included really made the film. No doubt about it. The attention to detail in the Enterprise model, the Office complex, drydock and the Vger interior and the 65mm photography utilized to capture on film in greater detail than anything ILM ever did in the later TOS films, holds up to the test of time even today, imho. I enjoy Trumbull’s ‘first person’ approach to the VFX design. A great example is the warp drive jump. Seeing the movie in its original theatrical release and original soundtrack surrounds and watching the Enterprise warp with the transphotic effects onscreen, had the impact of pushing yourself back in your seat as if reacting to acceleration forces. My friend and I felt this..and in subsequent viewings, it was funny to see others move back in their seats during the warp sequences, too. I had hoped in Into Darkness, with its carte blanche budget, would have duplicated this cinema trick but didn’t. I really hated the pixie-dust warp trail effect after the ship warps. While, the ‘jump’ itself makes sense and with the image shake conveys a different take on ‘warp’, it didn’t surpass Trumbull’s version, imho, or ‘experience’ even in the IMAX-lite prints of Into Darkness. When they did TMP’s DVD Director’s edition, I had hoped Trumbull had been more candid about his involvement with the film than what they had in the extras. The clip above says a lot. I’m thinking there’s more. Perhaps when/if they release a BluRay edition of the the Director’s Edition, we can revisit Trek’s past with more in-depth interviews. And what of the VFX footage done by Bob Abel & Associates? That should be shown in its entirety in a future BluRay release. I believe the only part of their work that made it to the cut was the Vger probe sequence where Ilia gets zapped. That was a cool sequence that holds up pretty well today. I remember that for many audience members it was quite jarring after the ship travelling through Vger’s interior. When the probe, in all its ear splitting sound fx glory, has zapped Ilia and the sound goes to a deafening silence and the tricorder is all that is left behind and hits the seat and floor, there was always someone in the audience that yelled.. ‘damn!’ ;) I remember reading in the fanzine Starlog, in late ’79, that Trumbull had stated he would deliver ‘adequate’ VFX in time for its release date but if the film had opened in Feb 1980, he would guarantee the BEST POSSIBLE VFX. In the different seminars… Read more »

He was a late ADDITION. A late edition is some sort of publication, usually a newspaper.

i may be remembering it wrong but i think the only abel n co work to make it in the movie was the big e herself? i do remember someone in an interview said that after spending millions nothing they shot looked good enough for the movie…also remember someone describing a scene that looked like the enterprise flying over what looked like shaving cream…anybody remember watching xanadu…that was all abel efx which looked pretty cool…except the animated sequence which was don bluth…but the best vfx in that movie was olivia newton john herself…yum…

Quite honestly, given the utter chaos involved in making TMP, the original FX team were probably struggling to figure out what was needed as well, hence their less than stellar work. Not a good way to run a movie.

Trumbull’s work was excellent, but Alien won because its art direction by Ron Cobb and HR Giger was really groundbreaking and brilliantly transferred into physical reality. There’s little in TMP that hadn’t already been done a decade earlier in 2001 or in Star Wars. TMP was merely updating and elaborating on templates and techniques developed by other people, including Trumbull himself.

That said, imagine they’d merged the Alien films and the Star Trek franchise.

The Enterprise arrives at Acheron, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the Space Jockey’s ship. A red shirt gets infected by the Facehugger and the Xenomorph hatches from him on the Enterprise. Phasers won’t work on it and, basing itself in the Jeffries Tubes, it starts picking off crewmembers. Scotty would get the Harry Dean Stanton moment. Kirk would, shockingly, get jumped on by the Xenomorph in the Jefferies tube. McCoy would be revealed as an android (well, they did ‘repair’ him on the Shore Leave world!) Spock would escape, destroying the Enterprise and blasting the Xenomorph out of Galileo.

It might have ended the traditional Trek franchise, but I’d have loved to see the Trek/Aliens follow-up where the TNG crew and Spock take the Enterprise-D to Acheron on a bug hunt! ;)

I know some say it was slow. But this is still my all time favorite Trek movie. Intelligent character driven plot that was pure to the Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Trek. I have purchased the VHS, VHS special features, DVD and DVD remastered. It is the one movie I would buy again to see on BluRay.
“Out there..That-away….The Human Adventure is just beginning”

@2. al – September 5, 2014
“And to this day…no other Trek film have matched the scope and majesty of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Say what you will about it’s slow pace/boring…ect…..the movie gave 2001: A space Odyssey a run for it’s money. And read into that if you want to.”

Bingo! I’ve been saying this for years.

I remember seeing ads in the newspaper every week leading up to the premiere:
“4 weeks until Stardate 7912.7. The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning”

The local TV stations were even at the theaters to capture the event.
I’ve been enjoying the Trek theatrical roller-coaster ride ever since then.

@ 17 Dom

“Alien won because its art direction by Ron Cobb and HR Giger was really groundbreaking and brilliantly transferred into physical reality. There’s little in TMP that hadn’t already been done a decade earlier in 2001 or in Star Wars.”

A valid point. I don’t mean to take anything away from Alien. But I think the groundbreaking elements in Alien were the art and the *physical* effects (such as the Space Jockey).

From my own viewpoint, I return always to the Enterprise fly-around, as the huge triumph of TMP. The opticals in 2001 and Star Wars were largely ships matted against star backgrounds. And even today, if you watch Star Wars it has become easier and easier to see how blocky those mattes were (as film stock ages and color differentials increase).

By contrast, TMP’s “love making” scene with Enterprise is at least a 7 element matte construction with most everything in motion against other objects, while the camera is tracking around the entire thing. And those mattes are virtually flawless.

Driving home from the theatre, my passengers were all chattering about the various aspects of the film, while I drove silently. Finally someone asked what I thought. I gave the only answer I could:

“She’s G O R G E O U S !!”

@bob orci

Make THE ENTERPRISE more than just a vehicle to get from point A to point B in your Big Debut. THE ENTERPRISE is a beloved character in TOS. “That’s why we’re aboard her!”

Pleas do what JJ couldn’t/wouldn’t.

I am never surprised at how the suits handle movies. I do wonder how much of that blind bidding still goes on today?

As for TMP, it was my first movie and I will always love it. I stream it or watch the DVD in part or in whole on a regular basis.

To me it shows great love for a franchise and the work done by Trumball and the effects team shines every time. Thank you for a beautiful “motion picture” to behold.

Trumbull= Legend.

TMP put far too much emphasis on the special effects and far too little on the story and characters. Special effects are supposed to be like ketchup — something that enhances the main meal, not the meal itself.

Despite being rushed for it’s theatrical release date, I remember the great impact of seeing Dykstra’s/Trumbull’s effects for TMP on the big screen, accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic score. Overall they were wonderful.

Although they were diminished greatly on subsequent t.v. showings over the years, the advent of larger HD t.v. screens is helping to bring back a little of the impact of effects-filled movies like this in the home nowadays.

The enhanced effects of the ‘TMP:Directors Cut’ dvd look great on my home screen, and I only wish we could finally get a re-mastered Blu-ray to show them off to even greater effect.

25. Your comment bringing up the DIRECTOR’S CUT is another chapter in the saga that is the PRODUCTION of Star Trek (as far as Hollywood studios go) — and WOW did they do a bang up job of it! Tasteful isn’t close to how the newer “cut” can be described, and the love the crew poured into it was reflected in how ROBERT WISE, the first movie’s director, would finally state THAT’S HOW [HE] ENVISIONED the script, finally brought to life with added items that were written and even story-boarded in for the original production, but that were “left out” for all manner of reasons. Doug T’s efforts were not only PRESERVED, but were inspiring to the renewed edition. BRAVO EVERYONE, and here’s to STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE!

Like most everyone else, I was astonished at how amazing the Big E looked in this film: the 45-degree angle of the swept-back nacelle pylons, the hull plating details, and so much more … WOW!!!!!!!

My all-time favorite rendition of Star Trek’s jump to warp was introduced in this film — through the so-called “STAR-BOW” … and we might even surmise that if this movie had been give a title (such as ‘The Wrath Of Khan, ‘The Voyage Home, etc.), it might have been Gene Roddenberry’s own positive vision of our future spoken to us through what was shown in graphics after the last jump to warp at the end…. THE HUMAN ADVENTURE IS JUST BEGINNING. That’s what Star Trek is all about, isn’t it?

#24 “Special effects are supposed to be like ketchup — something that enhances the main meal, not the meal itself.”

You think ketchup enhances a meal? Remind me to never take you any place nice for dinner.

It’s really a shame that they find it so difficult to release the directors cut of this film on BluRay. Many of the mistakes that were made in their rush to finish this film were corrected. However the redone FX were done in 480p meaning that they would have to reshot in 1080p to redo this for HD. I really wish CBS or someone would take this on so this much improved version of the film would be available in HD.

Bump Delivered.

A few things. R/Greenberg did the animation in the opening titles for XANADU. Abel’s people did do some work on TRON, I think using the equipment they kept from TMP.

Magicam built the Enterprise, from a redesign by Abel’s Taylor and Probert that just basically put a spin on the Jeffiries redesign for phase 2.

Abel finished the interior wormhole stuff (or rather, it was finished at their facility while overseen by Trumbull’s bunch), but that is the only Abel stuff in the film.

The new preston jones book on TMP should shed some new light on the Abel issues (only one more month to go!)

The DE is hardly Wise’s vision. Go back and see his interviews after the film came out for what his vision for it was, this is SharpLineArts’ vision, along with a few bits Wise had always intended. I think the DE is a mess and a half, especially the sound mix, and the new ship shots are major disappointments, you could have gotten more credibility shooting high-resolution stills of the actual ship on the animation stand (and given the lack of movement in the new shots, you really could have gotten away with that.)

I wholeheartedly agree that the TMP DE’s sound fx are lacking. They play well for tv, but not for a movie theater. They toned down Vger’s plasma weapons. The warp jump has this odd whistling sound and not the cool ascending pitch that the original had. Also, the computer its original theatrical form was deleted, when the klaxon alarm would sound and the voice would blare out ‘Red Alert’ or ‘Intruder Alert’ or ‘Malfunction’ scared the heck out of me as it should..its an alarm! Its placement was futuristic cool and got your attention and was an essential element to the dramatic impact of whatever scene it was in. When the blu-ray version of the DE comes out, please put these elements back!

yup kmart the details on who did what n why on tmp has gotten a bit muddled in me mind over the years,thabx fir the clarification…i need to dig out my copies of cinefex n cinefantastique n reread em….

mentioning the computer voice…i remember i didnt like the flat male computer voices in tmp…majel woulda been muvh nicer….
there was only one other spaceship i thought as beautiful as tmp enterprise….the black holes cygnus.,.design n look of that took my breath away…oh ive liked a lot of star wars like the millenium falcon,the ships in 2001 etc…but almost nothin comes close to enterprise…

STMP is still the most complex Star Trek movie. $32m in 1979 dollars buys a lot of VFX thats how much they spent on a $44m budget. Incredible amount of money in 1979 & every cent is onscreen.

Trumball is a genius but lets not forget the other talented people involved. Sure Trumball brough it home but the VFX credits list is full of talented people many still working today.

Over the years I have frequently disparaged TMP and called it “The Slow Motion Picture.” After watching the clip and reading many of the comments here, I picked up the Blu-Ray from my local library last night and gave it a fair viewing. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. It is by no means a great movie, but it was no where near as bad as I remembered.
I think that one of the biggest weaknesses of the original series was the poor special effects they were forced to endure due to a limited budget. They certainly made that up to the fans with TMP. Lavish effects, huge sets, and a beautiful new look for the Big E gave the fans just what they always wanted.
As far as the characters, I didn’t find them quite as 2 dimensional as some have said. Kirk is emotionally affected by the transporter disaster and appropriately humbled when Decker rightly countermands his phaser order, McCoy is his usual irascible self, and Spock gets to show emotion. In fact, Spock reaches an important milestone in his emotional growth. He realizes that attaining Kohlinar is not the answer he needs and that emotional contact with others is necessary to his well being. This will be the beginning of Spock’s evolution throughout all the series and movies to come. He is no longer conflicted by his dualism. He becomes comfortable in his own skin, so to speak.
The story does seem to be a rehashing of “The Changeling” but it has more depth and more far reaching implications for the Star Trek universe. What was the machine planet that altered Voyager 6? Is it the Borg homeworld at an earlier stage? Where did V’ger go and will it return?
Of course these are just my opinions and I don’t expect everyone to agree, but by re-watching TMP with an open mind some detractors may come to see the movie in a new light. Thank you for reading this.

Star Trek the Motion Picture is the one movie in the series that I watch numerous times a year. I might go two or more years between viewings of the other movies. The effects and the soundtrack are far superior to anything that came later, imho. I think Mr. Trumbull and the others who came in to rescue the movie deserve plenty of accolades.
I hope one day the Director’s Edition will make it to hi-def, but I am happy that the original version is available on bluray now.

ST:TMP is way better than 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I tried to watch Space Odyssey and got so bored. I remember seeing this movie at high school because it was regarded so highly by so many and felt a bit bored as I watched, but liked the music. Now it turns out that the movie just repeats the same Strauss waltz over and over. Like the film Apocalypse Now, it is another very over-rated film. Space Odyssey was a bore and AN is a horrible bore.

No, I am not just into noisy, crazy action and big explosions blah blah and anyone who read what I have written here since July 2010 should know that.

This will always be my favorite Star Trek film. I always said it was when I finally watched this film sometime in 1986 that a Trekkie was born.

I agree with others above, the other Star Trek films were great too, but none ever matched the scope of this film. Even Star Trek (2009) was able to capture it quite as much. Certainly the 2009 film was arguably one of the most popular, with TWOK, but TMP just felt completely different too me. Part of it was probably it was the most sci-fi of all the films. And this was the only film, up until Star Trek (2009) where Paramount put up the big bucks and it showed.

Production wise, it is probably the best put together film of the series. I know some will say they Like Star Trek (2009) and STID better, but my tastes tend to me more toward steady, clear shots and not so much the lens flares, shaky camera, gritty camera work of today (just my own personal opinion).

At the time, it was clear that so much was gained going from TMP to TWOK that few noticed all that was lost. The success of Khan gave the impression that a large budget was totally unnecessary for a Trek film. But I think that Wrath of Kahn could have been a FAR better film if it had been granted a big budget rather than the TV movie budget it was given.

ST TMP, to this day, remains my favorite of all of the TREK films… all of them.

re 30-KMart:

I’m baffled that you think the Director’s Cut is a step backwards for TMP. Robert Wise is a classic hollywood director with amazing credentials, and everything I’ve read about TMP indicates the production was a deadline disaster. Robert Wise said this is what he intended to deliver in a couple different interviews I read, not sure why he’d bother to revisit otherwise.

I thought the director’s cut was a huge improvement over the theatrical release and I thought the added effects were more or less seamless when I first saw it, but now I’ll admit perhaps I need to rewatch it for the effects and sound mix.

My takeaway, Doug Trumbull did a stand up job with TMP, but more importantly, the Director’s Cut finally delivered a version of the film that lived up to it’s visual scope… and I agree, I wish they’d release a BluRay version.

The sound mix is somehow flat AND annoying, which is a neat trick in terms of being able to fail in multiple directions simultaneously.

Shots like the one showing the wide view of the refit doing deep toward the central core of vger just seem like animatics for a FANTASTIC VOYAGE remake to me, very cartoony. The other new ship shots fall under the heading of ‘nice try’ but simply don’t have the incredible presence of the original ship model elements — which is why I think they’d’ve been better off cutting up large photos and retouching them for use on an animation stand, rather than just doing it all CG because that’s the way we do things now.

I’m glad the ‘tear’ scene is in the DE, but we had that in the TV version, so it isn’t a revelation. Why Wise was so hung up on tiny details like Ilia crossing to Chekov, when there were huge embarrassing laughs to fix like the lil guy trying to escape epsilon 9, which is seriously more horrid than even the most incomplete matte painting in the theatrical, I just don’t know.

Wise was very specific in his post-TMP interviews about needing to shorted the drydock AND vger flyover (by whole minutes), so that is not precisely reflected in the DE cut either.

There are many different concepts for Vulcan and San Fran that were not realized for the theatrical, so the claim that those visions in the DE are what was always intended are also at best suspect. Nobody, not even the most dedicated of TMP enthusiasts I know, has been able to figure out why the original excellent Yuricich matte painting for Vulcan was replaced by somebody else’s shitwork in the theatrical release, but if they’d gone back to that, it would have been better than the cutscene looking thing they substituted in the DE. And the SF stuff is just so low-rez it is painful, while also not really fitting with the concept of how SF was supposed to look.

I kept the second disk of extras from the DE, but just watch the theatrical on bluray now. Yeah, there is the terrible side view painting of the E as the guys walk off the hull, but I can suffer through that when necessary.

#41. kmart – September 9, 2014

In my readings of Wise, he seemed to be universally appalled at how his movie was crammed into the home viewscreen on videotape after its theatrical run, i.e. he seemed to be very clear he didn’t think it got a fair shake viewed in that way that it was never intended. If anything, I always get the feeling the the DC DVD was merely his attempt to address that.for the pre-HD home TVs.

I do recall Paramount had a limited theatrical showing of the DC. Any idea how they did that? I assume it wasn’t afforded a 75mm film blow up transfer?

My recollection is that they just projected the DVD. There wasn’t any film print made for the screening, of that I’m certain. The unofficial word at the time was that Paramount only parcelled out a half-mil for the DE, and that is for editorial, sound and VFX, for everything, so it isn’t like they could budget for any luxuries. My principal criticism of SharpLineArts (well, among many criticisms) is that they agreed to do the job for that price, when to do the job properly they needed a lot more money or a drastically different approach.

To echo a few points made here:

1) The Blu-Ray of this movie is fantastic. There are details in the cloud scene I had never seen before!

2) I would also love to see the DE done on Blu-Ray, but I get why they haven’t done it.

3) Contrary to the opinions of some, I think the added effects on the DE largely blend well with the rest of the movie. The only thing that came off as jarring is the CGI nacelle seen from the viewport in the officer’s lounge. It always struck me as being set at the wrong angle. There’s one or two that don’t come off as quite photo-realistic, but then we are talking stuff made on 15 year-old computers…….

So Doug Trumbull saved (the deadline, anyway) ST:TMP?
THAT must have been what inspired Shatner’s TOS-post-season-1hammy Captain Kirk for his movie line:
“I need you, badly.”