Star Trek Community Remembers VFX Pioneer Douglas Trumbull, ‘Picard’ Will Name A Ship In His Honor

On Monday, legendary visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull passed away at the age of 79.  The Academy Award-winner died from complications from mesothelioma, according to a post from his daughter on Facebook. Among his lifetime of achievements was his Oscar-nominated contribution to the first Star Trek feature film. His passing has generated an outpouring of memories from the film and sci-fi community as well as prominent Star Trek personalities.

Remembering Trumbull’s contribution to Star Trek

In addition to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Trumbull worked on groundbreaking films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Throughout his career, directors like Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and Steven Spielberg looked to Trumbull to help realize their visions. He was also a director in his own right, with credits that include the 1970s sci-fi classic Silent Running.

Director Robert Wise, who had worked with Trumbull on The Andromeda Strain, brought him in to take over the visual effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The previous effects team was unable to complete work in a timely manner, requiring Trumbull to enlist fellow FX pioneer John Dykstra (Star Wars) to help complete the visual effects in time to meet an unmovable release date. Their efforts earned them an Academy Award nomination. Trumbull’s work on Star Trek The Motion Picture (which is detailed in his 2019 TrekMovie interview) included finishing the USS Enterprise model as well as directing some of the movie’s sequences, like Spock’s spacewalk.

In 2016, Trumbull recorded a special feature (which you can see below) for the Toronto International Film Festival, which showcased his work with a screening of the film.

Trek community remembers the legend

Many members of the Trek community mourned Trumbull on social media, including veteran Star Trek visual artist Mike Okuda, who described Trumbull as an “artist and an innovator and a personal hero.”

Okuda followed that up with a fun behind-the-scenes moment at Star Trek Las Vegas 2019 with William Shatner and Trumbull.

The Inglorious Treksperts podcast hosts Mark Altman and Daren Dochterman expressed their thoughts, showing off some of his best work.

Dochterman, who is currently working on updating the Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director’s Edition for 4K UHD, followed up with a picture of himself with Trumbull and a personal message about having the chance to get to know Trumbull and now standing on his “big shoulders.”

Trumbull’s death was also noted by the official Star Trek account on Twitter.

Trumbull to be honored in Picard

In addition to Mike Okuda, some other folks working on Star Trek: Picard mourned the loss of Trumbull on Twitter, including production designer Dave Blass.

On Monday, executive producer and co-showrunner Terry Matalas retweeted a number of remembrances for Trumbull, and today he revealed that Star Trek: Picard will be honoring him with a Starfleet ship named USS Trumbull (NCC-72370). Dave Blass followed up the tweet, revealing it was suggested by Mike Okuda. The Picard team is currently in production on the third season, so this ship will likely be part of that.


The entire TrekMovie team would also express our deepest regards for Trumbull and his contributions to cinema as well as our condolences to his family.

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A true visual artist and creative inspiration. He’s sorely missed already.

Rest in peace to a true legend.

It’s amazing that his VFX for TMP remaining the best Trek VFX for thirty years, up until Trek 2009.

RIP, legend!

Best Trek VFX effects still after all this time!!!
Amazing how clear, visible and seemingly functional everything was (self lit-logos, impulse crystals, torpedo launchers and phaser bank turrets, etc). And they seemed to match the sets and be well thought out and scaled.
Now with CGI for some reason it is hard to make out the ships, they look like blobs and the scales always seem off! Always thought it would just be better and more functional, not sure what happened there(?!?!)

None of that is inherent to CGI, just bad CGI. Check out the work of “JTVFX” on YouTube sometime, which is remarkably faithful to the look established by the early Trek movies and TNG.

With all due respect, that JTVFX stuff on Youtube looks like videogame space animation, circa 2010.

The new Enterprise previewed in DSC, and which will be seeing every ep in SNW is phenomenally awesome from a VFX perspective. Can’t wait to see her in action soon!

**Shrugs** Whatever suits you, pardner. You might check out the Hike Animation recreation of Trumbull’s drydock sequence, which I also liked very much. Frankly, I’d take either over the Enterprise shots in “Discovery” any day. John Eaves’ redesign ain’t bad — certainly, better by light years than the Kelvin monstrosity — but the textures and lighting leave a great deal to be desired, and I’m forced to agree with the Cmdr. that it comes off as a murky mess. Maybe the new show will do better by it; I hope so.

Wow, OK, your opinion.

Yes, my opinion. (I’d think that would have been clear.) Note that I didn’t question anyone’s taste or eyesight for feeling differently.

Note that I did explain my reasoning on that to Denny C, plus apologized. (I’d think that would have been clear.)


Perhaps get a new eyeglass prescription and/or pay for a higher quality streaming device like Apple TV?

The VFX in the new movies since 2009 are vastly superior to the VFX in Star Trek’s II through IX, and similarly, the VFX in DSC and Picard is vastly superior to the VFX in Voyager, Enterprise, DS9 and TNG. I mean, the DSC VFX team just won a freaking Emmy Award for goodness sake.

And in my own eyeball testing, the ships in DSC and Picard, especially the main ships, look freaking crystal clear, not blurry blobs that you can’t see details on…what the heck are you talking about?

Did you see the Voyager-J or whatever the chamfered 3D triangle was? It looks like something off a first year CGI class with shapes. I think it had one logo sticker that looked oversized. The USS Nog sometimes you can see in the background far out. Also there is a “New Constitution” class Armstrong, potentially but again only had one logo and was pretty hard to see.
Can anyone think of some epic battle scenes from the Klingon war in Discovery? The ships zoomed around like fighters that you couldn’t see anything and they fired generic shots all the time of little to no tactical thought.
The only exception is the Discoprize, that stands up well, probably because it looks like the TMP refit by Trumbull.

You are confusing creative decisions on ultra-futuristic starship design (Voyager-J) as well the behavior of starships in an ep (Klingon War) with the quality of the VFX. Apples and oranges.

Also, nothing is blurry so that things look like blobs as you originally posted — a weird comment that leads one to naturally wonder about your streaming set-up and/or your vision?

Furthermore, it’s hard to take you seriously when you throw out that “Discoprize” slam — that tells me you can’t stand the show and will not even try to be objective about it. Almost like you are trying to bait people here, perhaps? ;-)

Yes, getting testy over this stuff really is unnecessary; it’s just rock-and-roll, remember.

Some people will find any excuse to trash NuTrek, even when the conversation isn’t about that. I wouldn’t bother engaging with these attention seekers.

It certainly seems like that their dislike for DSC, combined with their over-sentimental opinions on any amateur hobbyist traditional Trek space scenes they find on YouTube, colors their opinions on the Emmy-winning level of VFX that we are seeing on DSC.

I like DSC, but I have my own issues with it…but VFX is not one of those issues. The VFX on DSC is “big budget sf movie-quality,” and it’s been largely recognized as such across most professional reviews of the show. I find it surprisingly funny that the detractors of the show can’t even acknowledge how great at least this element of the show is. By going overboard and saying this obviously excellent supporting element of the series is bad, it’s like “the boy who cried wolf” — it’s then hard to take them seriously on any opinion they have on this series.

The physics of season 1 felt a bit off which negatively impacted the look of those battles and was pretty much a departure from everything which had preceded it from the original series through the each of the Kelvin films.

There were a number of adjustments made in season 2.

Perhaps be a bit more gracious in your responses? No need to be rude, especially with Cmd. Bremmon and Michael J. Hall are who are both passionate fans and enjoy engaging with other fans.

As for the Emmy, it’s unlikely they won it for shots of Discovery flying around but for the other effects work in that episode. Emmy voters are looking for things that the average viewer is not.

You may want to take a look at the TNG remasters and the remastered DS9 elements in “What We Left Behind”. Prior to “Enterprise”, all series were shot on film but mastered for playback in standard definition resulting in a much softer look. The remastered elements in “What We Left Behind” are on par with what we see in the latest generation of series.

If I offended anyone, I apologize. I would note though that if you watch something on an inferior streaming device, it’s not going to look as good as on a premium streaming device, and in turn, that will not approach Blu-Ray quality. So comparing DSC watched on a cheap streaming stick to Trek remastered and movies on Blu-Ray is not an apples to apples comparison. That’s why I was trying to figure out what the issues might me with Cmd Bremmon seeing blurry blobs on DSC — I don’t see those when streaming from my Apple TV premium device, and I also recently revised my eyeglass prescription. So that comment of his still makes no sense to me?

As a $500 contributor to What We Left Behind who attended the premiere in person at Paramount, I did really enjoying seeing those new HD DS9 battle scenes that were produced for that production. That being said, they are in no way comparable to the VFX on the current series. They have too much of an animation/simplistic look and it brings to mind the sort of borderline cheesy special effects for the space battle in the trailer for The Orville that was released this past week.

I get that some fans, out of sentimentality, like that sort of “modernized/bigger budget Star Trek Continues look,” but that is not to be confused with more realistic looking space scenes and SOA space special effects. That’s a twenty-year old kind of look, or a videogame sort of look. If you like that, fine, no worries.

All I can say is when you think Klingons do you think any scene from Discovery or do you think 3 massive K’tinga class Battlecrusiers moving in attack formation in front of a dramatic stellar environment with their photon torpedo launches activating with a blood red glow.
I think I’ll rest my case with that. Trimble did more in 1 minute than new Trek has done in 25 years.
Now was it the script, maybe. I don’t see why that scene couldn’t be updated x 10 with turrets, support ships, carriers, whatever. But it’s just not happening and I don’t get why. Star Wars seems to be able to get it working, the battle scenes in Rouge One were fantastic.

As I said, “the VFX in the new movies since 2009 are vastly superior to the VFX in Star Trek’s II through IX.” I did not include TMP, and that is the best Klingon space scene ever in Star Trek, for sure…but it’s also light years better than any Klingon space seen we saw on any Berman-Trek series as well.

But again though, watching that on Blu-Ray versus watching DSC off a streaming device is not a fair comparison, and the comparison is even more problematic if you are using a cheap streaming device or streaming it from your computer.

Not only does that image come to mind, the soundtrack accompanies it. TNG reduced the Klingons to caricatures, but that’s a different conversation.

The “Discoprise” looks vague and amorphous even in rendered stills compared with those from previous shows, so the quality of the streaming video has nothing to do with it. Nor is it anything inherent to CGI — I thought DS9 did the jump from models to computer renderings very successfully, which made the massive battles involving flotillas of ships possible in the later seasons. And it doesn’t reflect any prejudice against “Discovery” or Alex Kurtzmann or whatever, I being perfectly capable of enjoying good FX work even in films or shows I otherwise loathe (and I don’t actively dislike DSC in any case).

CGI, in the end, is just a tool like any other. I’ve played a fair amount with it over the years just for fun, and so can say from personal experience that in the right hands the results can be awesome, while in the wrong ones (like, say, mine) not so much.

I could not disagree with you more — it’s look’s clear has a realistic quality similar to that of a model, and is presented with limited lighting to further present the realism.

They try to avoid direct lighting — unlike we got with the D the original Enterprise on TOS, The Orville, the new DS9 HD space battle scene, and that “wannabe weekend VFXer” stuff you referenced on Youtube — by using both the ship’s lighting plus minimal lighting based on the star system they are in, etc. But if you like all that “white ship direct lighting” unrealistic, but sentimentally calming look for some fans, then I guess I could better understand why we could be seeing this so differently.

Again, you guys slam the ship as the “Discoprise,” so an objective person would likely make the observation that you have an axe to grind with this entire series. That’s you prerogative of course.

Oh, fer Chrissake. I already stated that I was okay with the John Eaves redesign for the ship, and in fact there’s an Eaglemoss model of it sitting on a bookshelf in my home’s master bedroom even as we speak. The reason I used “Discoprise” as written shorthand is because it’s easier and quicker to type on a smartphone than “the ‘Discovery’ version of the TOS Enterprise,” capiche?

I have no way of knowing your age, but if it’s older than sixteen drop the defensive attitude and grow the eff up. You love it; fine. It’s still just a TV show!

I’m going to have to agree with Michael Hall that “Discoprise” isn’t necessarily intended as a pejorative (though it can be) so much as a simple shorthand. It’s an effective way of referring to that particular interpretation of the Enterprise that uses the same exact number of characters as “Enterprise” itself does, while clearly, unambiguously, elegantly specifying exactly which of the dozen-plus Starships Enterprise is meant. Plenty of people in a Star Trek modeling group I’m in on Facebook use “Discoprise” to refer to the very same ship they spend countless hours painstakingly assembling, painting, lighting, etc. from kits they purchased with hard-earned money. I doubt they’re doing that and then proudly displaying these models if they loathe the ship.

Are you also under the impression that every fan who uses “Riker maneuver” to refer to the way the -D’s second-in-command sits in a chair has some sort of vendetta against Jonathan Frakes, or who uses “badmiral” to refer to anyone in Starfleet’s surprising abundance of less-than-ethically-pure higher-ranking officers hates the actors who play those characters or the stories in which they appear or the writers of said stories or some combination thereof? One Lion… it’s just fandom English. It’s a thing.

OK, thanks for the explanation. My bad.

That being said, that dude keeps cherry-picking a couple minor comments of mine while avoiding much of the actual points I am trying to make.

I am going to take M1701’s advice and try not to engage that dude anymore. I mean, I’ve commended him multiple times on some comments of his here and receive zero response on those, but then on these comments he focuses on it’s all about acting all offended to my comments instead of having a Star Trek discussion. It’s getting old. And then that kmart dude sweeps in to back him up and I guess (in his mind) insults me by suggesting I must be a “Roger Moore is the best James Bond” fan…lol, that’s just bizarre???

OK, enough, I’m moving on…

Me too I like the Discoprize (that’s what the Kelvin Enterprise should have liked). My only recommended changes would have been straight nacelle struts and the single impulse deck (add the cool impulse crystal if you want).

The original design by John Eaves had straight struts, but that and a number of other small details were changed once it went to the modelers. It’s not at all bad, but my favorite is still Matt Jeffries’ original. I only take my Master Replicas model out on occasion, but I had to move it a couple of weeks ago, and seeing it reminded me all over again how much I love that ship.

Of all the projects Doug Trumbull took on over the course of his career, TMP was the least close to his heart. He accepted the assignment mainly in exchange for Paramount releasing him from a multi-year contract (and of course for being paid very well). Yet his craft and artistry were such that his design choices have informed every incarnation of Trek that came after. He was one of those rare people like Miles Davis who never seemed all that comfortable talking about his work, preferring to look ahead to new creative and technical challenges. We won’t see his like again.

Well said. He was a giant. I mean look at Blade Runner still today as well. His work stands the test of time.

He and Goldsmith gave the movie the enduring artistic qualities which are not typical in Trek films that last through this day, which makes this movie shine still today despite wooden acting and a poorly written screenplay that didn’t take advantage of TOS character interplay.

Douglas Trumbull’s works in the special effects are his greatest legacy. He will be missed by all. RIP

Thank You, Legend.

The man was a titan. He’ll be sorely missed.

Really, really sad to be reading this. Mr. Trumbull was a true visionary with boundless imagination and an incredible visual eye. He made so many contributions to the film industry and as I look thru my movie collection I’m amazed at how many of them had his imprint in one form or another. He will be greatly missed. R.I.P.

I don’t think Star Trek would be a featured item on Mr. Tumbull’s resume. Although it demonstrated the breadth of his technical and creative management mastery as a logistician, the VFX are just a mess from beginning to end. (however, the Enterprise tease and reveal in dry dock combined with Mr. Goldsmith’s brilliant Enterprise theme NEVER fail to leave mean breathless and with a tear in my eye at the moment of the reveal).

I – and I hope anyone in the world who notices – am so grateful to Paramount for turning over a medium-sized-fortune to Mr. Trumbull for bringing 90% of the Star Trek work in by the release date. Without that money Mr. Trumbull would not have had the money and cache to bring Showscan to fruition and the world would be without the Back to the Future rides, the necessary innovations to bring IMAX to architecturally non-specialized auditoriums, and the ongoing roll-outs of technologies in ride-show performance that came out of the Showscan patents.

I will always remember Mr. Trumbull’s kaleidoscopic and model work on 2001, to Close Encounters, Blade Runner, and the films he directed – Silent Running and Brainstorm.

He was a true Renaissance man in many, many ways. From a gifted mechanical and optics engineer, storyteller, director, project manager, human resource manager, and showman. Also, as is essential, an energetic self-promoter.

As a former Quaker, I deeply appreciated his quiet, determined approach to anything and his willingness to contribute his knowledge and support to good ideas and worthwhile, but doomed-to-fail, projects (see The Starlost amongst a pages long list of others) as well as his determination to let the work/results speak for themselves.


What did Trumbull have to do with “The Starlost”?

He had invented Magicam and it was going to see heavy use on this (which is why the space stuff was shot on video, back at a time when even shot-on-video shows did their fx on film), but he saw the writing on the wall and got out early, as did Ben Bova, well before Ellison was able to skedaddle. Rather than even watch one ep of the show, it’s best to just find Bova’s novel THE STARCROSSED and read it while keeping Ellison in mind. It is a hoot.

Hey — you’re always good for this kind of background information, thanks. Good to see you up and around again. :-)

I used to own “Phoenix Without Ashes,” the paperback novelization of Ellison’s original teleplay for the “Starlost” pilot, but lost it many lifetimes ago. It actually wasn’t half-bad, but was notable (of course) mainly for Ellison’s scathing introduction detailing his travails working on the show, as well as the third-kindest remarks he ever made in print about Gene Roddenberry.

I was thinking of coming back on a very occasional basis, but after seeing this onelion poster, it would be a wasted effort. Anybody who can’t see the murky mess of current trek’s exterior VFX for what they are – and in fact claims the opposite — is on par with those defenders of Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond as being truest to the character. Actually, no, it’s worse than that — I mean, Moore did manage a near-Bond moment once … in THE WILD GEESE. DSC’s VFX, except for a CG critter first season that looked damned good, have been horrendous, it’s as though their outer space exists within a dirty aquarium.

But it was nice chatting with you again, Michael! Shout out to Bremmon too.

Oh geez, there’s a post underneath yours. Lots of stuff I’ve never heard before about Trumbull, at least a few things that differ greatly from what he said when I interviewed him, and also stuff that seems way off from the record (losing money being different from being a modest success, for one, and Trumbull himself claiming to have written the final script himself, just grabbing bits from the existing separate drafts by Bochco, Cimino and Washburn.) Well, maybe one more post to bee dee tomorrow and THEN back to trekmovie posting cold turkey …

You are entitled to your opinion. Sean Connery was the best Bond through, by a long shot.

Welcome back. Although, I wish it were under more joy filled auspices.

Well, a lot of kmart’s info is incorrect. The Starlost was a 3-4 page outline that Mr. Trumbull wrote (or he said jotted down in a fit of frustration) in 1970 or so while trying to get his head right over the media/press misrepresentation of credits related to 2001 and his very unhappy falling out with Stanley Kubrick over those misrepresentations and the Academy award nomination.

That same year Universal Studios started funding a series of low budget counter-culture/young thinking projects and Trumbull stepped up with what would become Silent Running that he developed with Deric Washburn. When Universal bought, the script was developed further by Deric Washburn with passes by Michael Cimino and/& Steven Bochco.

The film was a moderate success and Trumbull and Washburn toyed with a sequel that never came to fruition – a lot of which involved space arks with humans – I imagine because the last of flora and fauna burnt up at Saturn…

Mr. Trumbull was approached by Fox television in London about TV to feed the burgeoning syndication market – and first-run syndication as Gerry Anderson’s financiers had been doing quite well.

Mr. Trumbull had done demonstrations of a system he called Magicam that allowed actors to be shot in front of a blue-screen with a moving video camera and to be immediately composited into a correspondingly moving shot of a camera recording a miniature model. Word/rumor has it that Fox decided to approach Mr. Trumbull because of Magicam AND the substantial number of litigatable intrusions upon Silent Running and notes of Silent Running sequel by the project Mr. Ellison’s representation had been shopping around. Fox and Trumbull made a deal and Mr. Trumbull was an executive producer/producer.

Fox overestimated what the syndication market would pay for the show and could only secure deals with North American markets. Budgets were slashed and production was moved from London to Toronto. Pre-production was already suffering as the Canadian govt had/has local talent production quotas like everyone else and the local talent pool lacked talent at every level for a low-budget Sci-Fi show.

(it ended up that a lot of directors and editors who grew up on Dr. Who were involved – and you can tell… mindnumbingly static shots with actors standing and talking – and frequently talking about the same thing over and over broken up with walking shots that have with action that is nothing but walking through the same set shown 10 times during the same episode.)

The writer’s strike and waivers are really a McGuffin created by some involved. The fact is Mr. Ellison started throwing his characteristic television-production-reality hullabaloo sideshow and demonization-of-the-company tantrums over the budget cuts (and salary cuts per script) and stopped work on the show’s bible and any scripts over a litany of things. Subsequently, a combination of Canadian and American writers developed scripts from episode synopsis and original pitches under the waivers.

Mr. Ellison refused to participate in selling the show to syndicators and local stations (as is typical and necessary for syndication – especially if you’re considered the show-runner and “creator”). Mr. Trumbull and the series star Keir Dullea appeared at syndication market events and made a promo vid directed at local stations.

Finally, I don’t know any of the specifics of Mr. Bova’s weekly activity with the show, but typically a science advisor would get a copy of a script, provide notes, and then attend the initial production meeting and maybe the initial table read. That said, the self-destructive Mr. Ellison was notorious for calling individuals he felt were most influential in developing his writing and bad mouthing the production, the company, and the other writers.

Although I’m a long-time fan of Mr. Bova’s novels, and found The Starcrossed very funny in an appropriately exaggerated way, I don’t think a lot of that was comedy of something he had first hand knowledge and it wouldn’t take it as satire of a reality.

In the end this is about honoring Douglas Trumbull and relative to this excessive reply, Mr. Trumbull would appropriately referred to as no-drama Trumbull (I know, it doesn’t rhyme…). Look elsewhere for the drama and distorted recollections.

Thanks Mr. Trumbull missing you for several years, and am happy you were able to spend your final years tinkering in your New England lab!

Ben Bova once, in print, referred to SILENT RUNNING as “the worst science fiction movie ever made” for its liberties that included a supposed botanist flummoxed by the mystery of plants failing to thrive sixteen times further from the sun than earth. And, indeed, the “science” of that film is pretty wonky — but c’mon, Ben, really?! Worse, say, than ROBOT MONSTER? A film featuring Bruce Dern in one of his best early performances, a soundtrack with two pretty fair Joan Baez songs, an all too-prescient ecological message, and visual effects that hold up, like those of 2001, pretty damn well even today? I enjoyed much of Bova’s work (though as a prose stylist Ursula Le Guin he ain’t), including The Starcrossed and Millennium, but that was just over-the-top.

Odd. I wrote it off as that any society stupid enough to launch their planet’s last remaining forests into space, had already dumbed-down their sciences, botanical, et al, to justify that political economic ignorance, whose real goals always seemed to shuffle them off to some forgotten corner to die of neglect, regardless.

I mean, no Lunar or Martian forests to welcome those orphans?

Still, I found the film had a profound effect on me. Not surprising, as Trumball always struck me as a profound visioneer.

He, is sorely missed.

Please forgive the typo. Trumbull.

I think that’s pretty unlikely given the near-future timeframe of the movie (and the fact that this society is sophisticated enough to build and navigate some pretty impressive spacecraft), but that’s a fascinating take I hadn’t considered nevertheless.

Though it’s impossible to know at this juncture exactly what Trumbull brought to the SILENT RUNNING screenplay, the finished work certainly reflects Bochco’s flair for drama as well as Cimino’s, um, enthusiasm for throwing various story elements at the wall to see what might stick. (I recently screened Criterion’s edition of HEAVEN’S GATE to see if it had improved with age; but, nope, it’s still a beautifully-shot narrative disaster.)

If you can find it, the magazine FANTASTIC FILMS #1 from the late 70s is worth getting hold of for an excellent career interview with Trumbull (it even mentions his title work on CANDY!) It goes into great detail on Trumbull’s original concept for SILENT RUNNING. Unlike the film itself, the story actually relates to the title and is a notion that would still make for a pretty nifty low-budget SF movie even today, though it lacked the ecology angle. I don’t recall ever reading that Trumbull’s STARLOST involvement — which, contrary to Bee Dee’s comment, ended early, apparently around the onset of live-action shooting — included being any part of the story development process, and would welcome any pointers to material — characterized in the post as word/rumors — supporting that view; there was nothing like that in the CINEFEX on SILENT RUNNING or the FF issue or anywhere else that I can think of. The only connection I can come up with linking Trumbull creatively with space arks is that sometime during the 70s, he was involved in development on an unmade feature based on Lloyd Biggle’s novel MONUMENT, which details a UNIVERSE-like notion of a colony on another planet forgetting totally about the existence of Earth. Am thinking this was perhaps around the time of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, so it may have been something he was considering as a showcase for Showscan, as he had moved on from Magicam and sold the company off by then. Incidentally, that FF issue mentioned above actually has some frame blowups from Magicam testcomps for Arthur P. Jacobs proposed JOURNEY OF THE OCEANAUTS series, which Trumbull was heavily involved with just prior to Jacobs’ untimely death. I remember suffering through a terrible TV movie called THE SPACE WATCH MURDERS, done almost entirely with actors chromakeyed into miniature sets. While ambitious for its time — they even manage to matte shadows successfully if I’m not misimagining this memory — the tech innovation doesn’t make up for the fact that every second of this thing is such an utter mess and so sluggish that even the presence of Tisha Sterling doesn’t make it worthwhile. The most casual of web searches seems to consistently reflect that Trumbull and Bova both left THE STARLOST early owing to growing dissatisfaction with the direction being taken — the promo footage with Trumbull was done ahead of production, and may have been a kind of sizzle reel since it included SILENT RUNNING footage and unused tests for STARLOST — well prior to Ellison, who wound up having action taken against him for writing during a strike by the WGA, though fortunately he was cleared as he should have been. As to Bee Dee’s assessment of Ellison’s behavior … well, we’re definitely seeing things from different ends of the scope. That’s as charitable as I care to get. I was a big fan of Bova’s work as a writer, and even spent half of high school trying to make an adaptation of his short story STARS WON’T YOU HIDE ME? (he was inspired by the folk song Sinner Man, which Nina Simone popularized and John McTiernan subsequently immortalized for its use in THE THOMAS CROWN remake), and remember spending 45 minutes on hold trying to talk to him on a radio show promoting space industrialization during that period. His MILLENNIUM was one of my favorite novels (it’s semi-sequel, COLONY, much less so), and I remember finding a journal entry from when I was 19 that read in part, ‘when I finally get to make a film of my own choice, MILLENNIUM is going on film — fast!’ (yeah, was pretty delusional about my chances!) It’s kind of Grand Unified Bova, uniting his Chet Kinsman with Ted Marrett of THE WEATHERMAKERS, pushing both his weather-control notions as well as his pre-Reagan-SW ABM orbital laser defense strategy. I think you can defend Bova’s criticism of SILENT on the basis that it was really trying to be an actual science fiction movie, as opposed to ROBOT MONSTER just aspiring to be crap. Also, it knowingly violated all those science concepts like artificial gravity, so it falls into the category of STAR WARS (which Bova also sdid not exactly admire), where GL specifically rejected notions that would have let him skirt issues like fireballs-in-vacuum and sound-in-space because he wanted to give audiences what they expected. Ellison’s review of SILENT is critical of the same issues as Bova, but he finds it worthwhile for what it does aspire to; I think for a lot of folks who see around the massive inconsistencies and shortcomings in SILENT, it became what ST 5 is for me, a not-entirely guilty pleasure … mainly because it has heart. Can make the same argument for BRAINSTORM, come to think of… Read more »

I’ll have to take issue with the notion that Bova’s criticism of SILENT RUNNING was somehow justified because it aspired to be legitimate SF while ROBOT MONSTER did not. Universal aspired mainly to produce a product that would appeal to a youthful demographic (Dern, the ecological message, Joan Baez) that the studios were coming to see as their (hopeful) salvation. For his part, Trumbull aspired to establish his bona fides as fledgling director — I’d say he scored at least a single there — as well confirm his ability to produce world-class visual effects on a limited budget while bagging the realistically rendered Saturn that had eluded him on 2001(that one he knocked out of the park).

Even films that have taken a far more rigorous approach to established scientific fact frequently put it aside in the interest of dramatic or visual impact. Stanley Kubrick’s magical, mystical orbital conjunctions in 2001are not only flagrantly impossible but resulted in a major visual continuity issue in the TMA-1 excavation sequence — and I wouldn’t dream of excising them from the movie, which wouldn’t be the same without them.

Say this for SILENT RUNNING: for all the silliness and awful science there has never been a time, when the camera pulls back from that dopey little robot with his watering can, caring for the solar system’s last garden while Joan Baez plaintively bids us to finally, at long last get it right, that I haven’t been profoundly moved. (Take that, Kubrick!) Not even once. I may have, on occasion, even shed a tear or two, though you’d be last person I’d admit that to and if you repeat it anywhere I’ll deny it.

Somehow, and I’ll just apologize for this in advance, I think Ben Bova was missing the forest for the trees.

My kind of green humor!

Honestly, both of Trumbull’s features skew toward emotion over logic, and do so successfully … otherwise we wouldn’t still be debating them. What I remember in particular about BRAINSTORM was how Trumbull initially insisted on a logical presentation of all the ‘memory’ visions, keeping them all subjective first-person, but then, after agreeing to the DP’s notion that they at least cover the scene with a two-shot of Walken and Wood, he acknowledged that the shot of husband and wife dancing was tons better than the subjective POV, and opened up the memory stuff to great effect.

I suppose that kind of falls into the same heading as ‘sound in space’ and other common cheats, but it shows that even having a scientist’s perspective, Trumbull had some of a filmmaker’s ability to see a moment for its cinematic import — which was evident back on 2001 when he pushed for subjective stuff in the ‘trip.’ By comparison, another 2001 fx guru, Con Pederson, has admitted that he was never interested in z-axis stuff, thinking it was too in-your-face and noting that you would have to be going some kind of crazy fast to get multiplaning. starfields.

BTW, I’ve been trying to edit posts so they don’t show up as one unbroken paragraph, even adding extra spaces between them, but that doesn’t seem to be working, so apologies for the ‘big wall blocs of text’ posts.

I agree with you about that KINSMAN amalgamation … there’s some pretty bizarre stuff in there, like Chet sleeping with his best friend’s wife in order to get an appropriation through Congress for moonbase. Contextually I’m making it sound even worse than it was, but I should have known it was coming, because even back when I first read the short stories, in his FORWARD IN TIME collection, he noted that he knew Kinsman from birth to death and that there would be an eventual novel. I just think MILLENNIUM did it fine and he didn’t need to do what I now think of as a SW-prequel matter of dotting an i and crossing those Ts. (still, it does have a good line about facing down a musclebound bully by mentioning that even if you get the best of me, I’ll have kicked your kneecaps off and you’ll never see the inside of a gym again — I used a variation on this line once and it did manage to stop a fight from happening.)

I remember that line! It’s in a scene where Diane, the folk singer, is introducing Kinsman to her hippie college friends who aren’t too taken with his Air Force uniform and crew-cut. One of the girls finally asks him, “Are you some kind of pig?” and when he demurs that he’s an astronaut she says, “An orbiting pig.”

Damn, I last read that decades ago, and these days I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast.

I’ve only seen it once or twice, but I remember thinking that BRAINSTORM turned out all right given the tragic circumstances that Trumbull had to deal with. (There’s a scene where one of the scientists is trying to talk a comely lab assistant into having sex with him while using the scanning equipment by imploring her, “C’mon, it’s for science!”, which I thought was pretty neat.) My biggest beef was Trumbull’s decision to intercut the efforts of the bad guys to break into the lab with the trippy visuals of Louise Fletcher’s death experience, which I thought greatly robbed them of their power. I suppose he didn’t want to just do another Stargate, which is understandable, but if you don’t have any better ideas not wanting to repeat yourself probably isn’t a good enough reason not to do something.

As I previously noted, I too was a big admirer of Ben Bova’s Millennium. I especially loved its main protagonist Chet Kinsman: lapsed Quaker, musical prodigy, and chiseled all-American flyboy/astronaut who carries a dark secret in his past that eventually causes him to stage a rebellion that may prove to be the salvation of the human race. The novel is a fascinating amalgam of Cold War political attitudes — unsparing in its contempt for the ideologues who insist on escalating the crisis, but ultimately settling on a variation of Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative as the only realistic means of resolving it. It’s definitely a book of its time, but might be worth a re-read.

I also concur with your assessment of Colony as an unsatisfying semi-sequel, though I thought it worked well enough on its own as a near-future thriller. But I’ll take it any day over The Kinsman Saga, an omnibus volume published years later that combined Millennium with the earlier Kinsman stories Bova had published in Analog magazine. Nothing really wrong with that in principle, but in an attempt to tie everything closer together Bova dropped the career Air Force officer who was Kinsman’s original love interest in Millennium, replacing her with a folk singer (!) with whom Kinsman had had a brief affair in one of the earlier stories, and who in the revised novel had enlisted (!!) because she wanted to follow Kinsman to the Moon or to live there herself (!!!), I can’t even bear to remember which. Gods, the whole thing was utterly preposterous and embarrassing. I can’t imagine what Bova and his editors were thinking.

Correction, I think … the issue with the Trumbull interview might be issue 3 of FF. I know I re-bought 1 & 3 multiple times in the last century, but in looking to reacquire again after making the above post, it certainly looks like #3 is the one with the big interview. With shipping, it goes for nearly 20 bucks (sometimes double that), so I am kicking myself for not keeping any intact copies around.

Will have to see if Trumbull’s lengthy descrip of his original SR notion is online someplace. I could summarizeit from memory, but don’t want to give any aspect short shrift.

It’s not impossible at all. You go to the Academy library and review the various drafts of the script and all the development notes within the process and from the studio. No attempts were made to flush anything down the toilet – many times it’s all there.

I’m sure over the next few years Mr. Trumbull’s family will choose an organization to care for his personal collection and that would be the other place to learn.

I really appreciate the enthusiasm for the art that “Hollywood” produces and elevating individuals for specific kudos, but reading fan mags, going to fan conventions, and consuming DVD extras is frequently not informative or educational – much less accurate… it’s just marketing spin and the afterglow of cocktails in the green room along with guidance from the DVD content producers.

“Well, a lot of kmart’s info is incorrect. The Starlost was a 3-4 page outline that Mr. Trumbull wrote (or he said jotted down in a fit of frustration) in 1970 or so while trying to get his head right over the media/press misrepresentation of credits related to 2001 and his very unhappy falling out with Stanley Kubrick over those misrepresentations and the Academy award nomination.”

As a huge fan of Bova, I noticed that was incorrect as well. Seems to be a trend on this thread.


I really can’t agree that the TMP visual effects are “a mess from start to finish,” as I think the drydock, V’Ger flyover and the “Spock spacewalk” sequences are fairly polished and still hold up pretty well forty years later. On others like John Dykstra’s opening (where the matte lines threatened to engulf the Klingon ships more than V’Ger itself); the wormhole; and the egress from the Enterprise saucer (much improved in the Director’s Cut), I would have to concur.

Well said. We agree on this.

oh, I wasn’t making an artistic judgement – just comment on the horrible compositing throughout the film. Mr. Trumbull always cited the technical problems with marrying source material from Paramount’s out-of-production VistaVision 65mm equipment with which most of the live-action blue screen was shot with and the 70mm format Mr. Trumbull and the many, many contractors used for all the “completion” material. Every incompatability was then highlighted by the negative and print processor’s lack of time to properly time and color correct the film.

Okay, I read you. I remember that Trumbull’s dictum to his staff was “‘Crop it, drop it, or flop it’ — there was no other way to get the film done.” Even so, that “wormhole” effect was just horribly conceived, let alone executed.

Have you ever seen the ‘negative image’ version of the wormhole? It was on the cover of issue 10 of ENTERPRISE INCIDENTS magazine and looked really good, though apparently Trumbull was the only person on production who liked it. Instead of looking like a mylar-distorted oscilloscope pattern, the tunnel seemed darker and more abstract, less like what now reads like a wireframe in previsualization. And there were nicely flared light elements that make me think of PLANET OF THE APES’ starflight titles (except these don’t have that ‘filmed through an old shower window’ distortion.)

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I remember James Van Hise’s Enterprise Incidents magazine very well, and believe I once had that issue, though I don’t recall the Trumbull stuff. It may be that, much as I tried to deny it in my heart, I was ultimately disappointed with TMP and was thus beginning at that time the process of detaching myself from the franchise before eventually coming back to it, a process that has repeated over the decades (most recently with the Picard season finale).

Sadly, all those items including one of a set of 500 Enterprise blueprints Franz Joseph had hand-printed before selling the rights to Pocket Books are long-gone, lost when my lacks of funds forced me to abandon the storage unit that had housed them. I miss that stuff, though not so much as I miss my youth.

So sad to hear this. This guy was a legend in visual effects and his work in films like Blade Runner, 2001 Space Odyssey and the Enterprise scene from TMP speak for themselves. Also if you haven’t seen them you should watch the movies he directed too. Silent Running is a classic. I know many people find the Enterprise drydock scene from TMP to be boring but I feel like Kirk in that scene, looking at every inch of the ship, appreciating it and finally getting a small tear in my eyes when that full reveal comes up.

as much as i loved his work on TMP, they could have cut back more of it with the DE and new 4k version.

all that v’ger footage almost killed the pacing of the movie stone dead

In addition to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Trumbull worked on groundbreaking films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

It’s incredible that he was responsible for the revolutionary visual effects on all of those films; effects that are still influentual in sci-fi today and also shape how many of us may imagine the real-life future, alien spacecraft etc. What an extraordinarily talented man.

Rest in peace, Douglas Trumbull. Thank you for shaping the imaginations of millions of us around the world.

Interesting sidebar: In AATIP guy Lue Elizondo’s lengthy interview with British GQ a couple of months ago, he claimed that the depiction of UFOs and their flight characteristics in Close Encounters of the Third Kind was so realistic that he thinks Steven Spielberg must have had “someone on the inside” leaking him information from classified UFO investigations. So Trumbull’s amazing VFX work for that movie was apparently far more similar to real-life than many people may realise. I have no idea if Trumbull himself was aware of that or if he was simply following Spielberg’s instructions, but it’s definitely food for thought the next time you see the film.

The film itself, of course, is rightfully a sci-fi classic, and as with so much of Trumbull’s work, the VFX for the various spacecrafts still holds up well today. I’ve previously praised TMP many times on this site too, so I won’t repeat myself here — other people on this thread have already made the point with great eloquence, especially regarding a certain spacedock scene — but I’m really looking forward to the impending updated version of TMP and seeing Trumbull’s magnificent vision reach its full potential.

With respect, as a UFO skeptic I found much of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS to be pretty silly (what Cinefantastique referred to as “aliens in rubber masks doing cute things”), but there’s no denying the power of Trumbull’s visual effects work. I remember attending a jam-packed screening of the film with my then-girlfriend the day after having a wisdom tooth pulled. I had foolishly left behind the codeine my dentist had prescribed for pain, and by the third act I was in agony. But there was no way I was going to miss that finale with the Mothership, and it did not disappoint.

CE3K is a lot darker than its rep suggests with the aliens snatching up children and planting thoughts in people’s heads regarding first contact that almost drives them insane.

roy loses his family because of his quest for answers.

and the government, military don’t come out of it well either, anticipating the paranoia of ‘x files’

Interesting. I don’t think Roy ‘loses’ his family so much as he willfully abandons it along with the rest of his ties to earth, something Melinda Dillon’s character was ultimately unable to do IIRC. And the tone of the film’s conclusion is pretty unabashedly triumphant. Still, I take your point.

he lose them because he cannot articulate what the aliens have done to him and it drives them away.
he leaves earth in the end because he cannot go back after going so far, as the last of the people who escaped and went up the mountain

Terrific artist. I watch TMP every year, and always find something new, and FX that still hold up. RIP.

Will the ship actually be a good design which is fully fleshed out or just his name slapped onto another reuse of a rejected design from STO like the fleet in season 1?

Godspeed and thank you, Mr. Trumbull. 🖖